Benefiting and hurting others are ways of exercising one’s power upon others; that is all one desires in such cases. One hurts those whom one wants to feel one’s power, for pain is a much more efficient means to that end than pleasure; pain always raises the question about its origin while pleasure is inclined to stop with itself without looking back.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
I was thinking about the fact that reflective, introspective sorts are, stereotypically, also brooding sorts—Strong Sad from Homestar Runner, if you want to get into really extreme caricature. If anything’s worse than archetypally angsty bad teenage poetry, it’s got to be upbeat poetry—the stuff that purports to be inspirational. Anyway, it occured to me that the Nietzsche line is a nice succinct explanation. We don’t learn a great deal about ourselves from joy and euphoria because, hey, we’re too busy being happy to want to think very much about why (unless, perhaps, it’s an uncharacteristic spot of happiness at a time we’re otherwise unhappy). I’ve never thought much of the old saw that artists are supposed to “suffer for their art,” but now that I think of it, it does seem like a certain amount of unhappiness might be a good prelude to art, to the extent that it tends to push us to excavate our heads more than we usually might.