-Essay-

BOGOTA — Happiness, as beguiling as it is evasive, is now very much a product, one that is ubiquitous and marketed everywhere from newspapers to websites to your local supermarket. There is no shame these days in peddling it, in all its manifestations.

Today's happiness hawkers aren't so much witches as they are gurus of a modern religion, a religion involving managers, trainers, public speakers and text editors, all increasingly worming their way from personal therapy into the world of commerce. Clear the shelves of cheese, meat and juices, and make way for the latest faith!

The experts selling us heaven on earth aren't philosophers, as they were in ancient Greece, when wise men like Plato and Aristotle believed humans could change their perspective on life and left their pupils with questions to reflect on. That, after all, would be too risky. What they offer instead are infallible answers and formulae. And with so many religions in disgrace, they're able to set up shop in what has become a no man's land, a spiritual void that is for grabs and ready for exploitation.

This caravan of carpetbaggers comes in all shapes and sizes, from therapists, to sects that graze their flocks on weekend exercise, to serenity merchants, clad in the garb of Oriental wisdom, out to soothe all the bodies battered by the gym and other excesses.

The new joy preachers lack all scepticism or distance from their congregations. They are here to feed credulity, not break it. After Paulo Coelho and his ilk with their millions of blind followers, self-help is tightening its grip and expanding its sway to include not just the angry and insecure (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) but also firms and their employees. Corporations too need someone who can lead them to the heavens. What once required bloody altars is now, in the never-ending present, within everyone's reach. Today's promises come in the form of simple rethoric and remedies that can be applied as needed to ease life's many anxieties and quell our thoughts of mortality.

Coelho has some answers. Photo: NRKBETA

How does one compare philosphers, and their discretion, with the modern opportunists living off the instability of our times? Something — was it their ability to write? — made the thinkers find and keep so many followers. They could set off an echo in people's hearts and minds.

Generations past found an appropriate irony in Bertrand Russell. Others saw their constant living pains reflected by Kafka, Sartre or Camus. Some saw their own visions of the sacred in the theology of Teilhard de Chardin. These were reflective heavyweights who seemed to share people's personal discernment and doubts. They tolerated no sect or prefab theories about them, unlike the successors who are dishing out bottled thoughts to eager patients.

Self-help is a byproduct of the consumer society, a mess of a stew with few philosophical ingredients but enough soothing propositions floating within to make a person feel that this is just the right recipe. How can anyone be dissatisfied when we can all live so happily? That would be its first commandment, one that is silly enough to merit its proponent a sock in the face for helping idiotize the "congregation."

While the gurus entertain and console, eternity remains intact and happiness keeps smiling, out of reach as always.