If someone were given the choice between getting what they wanted and not getting what they wanted, they'd probably choose the first option every time. This satisfaction of desire, the person would believe, would make them happy. In order to maintain its stability, the World State in Brave New World ensures that all its citizens get exactly what they want all the time. This universal "happiness" is achieved in three ways. First, psychological conditioning is used to ensure that each citizen is not only suited to their job and role, but actually prefers that role to anything else. Second, through the promotion of promiscuous sex as virtuous and the elimination of families or any long-term relationship, the government ensures that no one will ever face intense and unreciprocated emotional or sexual desire. And third, whatever sadness slips through the cracks can be brushed away by using soma, a drug with no side-effects that gives the user a pleasant high and makes all worries dissolve away. All three methods are successful: in the World State, almost everybody really does seem to be happy all the time. But through Bernard, Helmholtz, the Savage, and even Mustapha Mond, Brave New World poses the question: at what cost does this happiness come? What gets lost when every one of an individual's desires is immediately met? The novel's answer is that the satisfaction of every desire creates a superficial and infantile happiness that creates stability by eliminating deep thought, new ideas, and strong passions. Without these things, humanity loses the possibility of the more significant fulfillments provided by the pursuit of truth in art and science, or the pursuit of love and understanding with another person. Brave New World thus argues that guaranteed happiness and stability are fool's gold, making adults into infants who do not care about truth or progress.
When Mustapha Mond gives students a facility tour, he portrays the distant past as a repugnant place where people were entangled in stifling relationships and constant suffering. The pre-modern world “didn’t allow them to take things easily, didn’t allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy. What with mothers and lovers, what with the temptations and the lonely remorse, what with all the diseases and the endless isolating pain, what with all the uncertainties and the poverty—they were forced to feel strongly. And feeling strongly […] how could they be stable?” This sums up the way citizens have been conditioned to think about the meaning of life: the feelings brought about by close human bonds and struggles have no redeeming value. When stability is equated with happiness, anything that undermines stability—many of the very things that had once been seen as enriching and character-forming—must be rejected as harmful.
This idealization of comfort and stability as society’s highest virtues effectively trickles down to the rest of the population, leaving them completely unequipped to think critically or even conceive of taking risks for the sake of their own freedom. On their date, Bernard tries talking about happiness with Lenina: “[W]hat would it be like if […] I were free—not enslaved by my conditioning […] Yes, ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We begin giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.” But perfectly conditioned Lenina is distressed by Bernard’s words and his strange fondness for activities like viewing the sea in solitude, and she lacks the capacity to make sense of his ponderings. This conversation illustrates the disconnect between someone who questions the World State definition of happiness and someone who’s never considered anything else. To someone like Lenina, who clings to an infantile happiness, the freedom to “be happy in some other way” is merely frightening nonsense.
When unhappiness is excluded from life, things like deep connection, grief, and remorse are absent, too. When his mother, Linda, dies, the Savage’s outcry at her bedside scandalizes the nurse: “Should she […] try to bring him back to a sense of decency? Remind him of where he was? Of what fatal mischief he might do to these poor innocents? Undoing all their wholesome death-conditioning with this disgusting outcry—as though death were something terrible, as though any one mattered as much as all that!” The idea that death is terrible, and that individual human lives have value, would unsettle the children’s conditioning by opening the possibility of deep relationships, which are inevitably complicated and unstable. Not having been conditioned, the Savage threatens the World State view of human life with his uninhibited grief.
One of the ironies of Brave New World is that the Savage, the figure that Society objectifies as uncivilized because of his lack of conditioning, is actually more advanced than they are. The Savage’s frequent tears, his Shakespearean outbursts, and finally his self-imposed exile from Society show him to be completely different from everyone else. These differences are rooted in his strong emotions about the world around him and his personal desire for goodness—things that inevitably entail a willingness to bear unhappiness if it means being free. The World State conception of stability and happiness are totally at odds with these characteristics, and the Savage’s tragic death suggests that there is no place for a free-thinking individual in such a world.
The Cost of Happiness ThemeTracker
The Cost of Happiness Quotes in Brave New World
“And that...is the secret of happiness and virtue—liking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”
“Ford, we are twelve; oh make us one,
Like drops within the Social River;
Oh, make us now together run
As swiftly as thy shining Flivver.
Come, Greater Being, Social Friend,
We long to die, for when we end,
Our larger life has but begun.
Feel how the Greater Being comes!
Rejoice and, in rejoicings, die!
Melt in the music of the drums!
For I am you and you are I.
Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun,
Kiss the girls and make them One.
Boys at One with girls at peace;
Orgy-porgy gives release.”
“Why was [Shakespeare] such a marvellous propaganda technician? Because he had so many insane, excruciating things to get excited about. You've got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can't think of the really good, penetrating X-rayish phrases.”
"Free, free!" the Savage shouted, and with one hand continued to throw the soma into the area while, with the other, he punched the indistinguishable faces of his assailants. "Free!" And suddenly there was Helmholtz at his side–"Good old Helmholtz!"—also punching—"Men at last!"—and in the interval also throwing the poison out by handfuls through the open window. "Yes, men! men!" and there was no more poison left. He picked up the cash-box and showed them its black emptiness. "You're free!"
Howling, the Deltas charged with a redoubled fury.
“The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get... And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.”
You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art.
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for 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.”
“There's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is.”
"In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you're claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I'm claiming the right to be unhappy.”