“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” those are the three virtues bestowed on American citizens as dubbed by the Declaration of Independence. Notice the attention to wording when saying “pursuit” of happiness; though one may never get happiness, you are allowed to go for whatever you determine to provide happiness to you. London in Brave New World makes attaining happiness very simple; by devaluing both liberty and life, you are able to obtain happiness.
The conditioning of people from birth to death sets the boundaries of a person, determining both what is considered “happiness” and, more strictly, what isn’t. When everything is meticulously planned out and limits are set, then a person does not realize what they’re missing something and must by default be happy; the old adage of “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind. And Mustapha Mond/the other controllers of the world realize this:
“‘Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel‒and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get.’” (p.198)
“… and they never want what they can’t get,” the conditioning that everyone undergoes prevents people from even yearning for something more. This clearly eliminates a person’s ability to have free-will; meaning you can’t choose how you attain happiness, happiness is given to you and you accept it because the scope of your understanding is limited strictly by your worldview. But in turn, this is a limiter on people’s ability to live life the way they want to and are thus not free.
But even happiness itself is an obstacle, because how can you be happy while not knowing what other emotions are. We know what darkness is because we have light, and so on. The struggle of getting happiness in turn creates dullness:
“‘Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations of misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.’” (p.199)
There is no point to living without having a struggle, which is why we in our society “pursue” happiness rather than full on obtain it. The journey is more rewarding than the destination; as shown with John appreciating self-sacrifice (self-flagellation) more than being given everything, seen throughout the entire last chapter of the novel.
In the end, real happiness is obtained through the ability to freely think about what you want to do and then go after it. Helmholtz and even the Controller both strive to do more than be complacent with being constantly, positively stimulated:
“…Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for. You’re paying for it, Mr.Watson‒paying because you happen to be too much interested in beauty. I was too much interested in truth; I paid too.” (p.205)
Helmholtz, loving the idea of being expressive, is not happy because he’s shackled by the ability of having free-will and knowing he wants to do more in a world that universally sees happiness as over-stimulation of sex and drugs. The Controller, in an oddly sympathetic way, is striving to make everyone else happy and to maintain a status quo; that’s his goal in life, to make everyone else happy while suffering himself to not pursue his true passion of science.
So are you truly happy when you’re completely complacent with yourself and what you currently have? Or are you happy when you do what you want to do, yearning to make more out of what you don’t currently have/achieved? In other words, should you strive for happiness or for freedom?