It seems to be a good time to revisit the concept of happiness. Rather than look at the many theories of happiness, it might be more productive if we stick to the show for evidence of what they consider signs of happiness.
What has been hardest for me is grasping how in two episodes Martin can go from, “Marry Me, I can’t bear to be without you,” to “You wouldn’t make me happy either.” It’s a bit easier to understand how Louisa, who has vacillated between finding Martin exasperating and being passionately drawn to him, could come to the conclusion that getting married might not be appropriate at this time. She hears all the jibes about Martin and his temperament and can only muster that he’s straightforward and moral when trying to describe him. For someone who’s been seen bicycling, surfing, enjoying the scene at the pub, and going out with friends, his preference for staying home and rarely doing anything beyond reading or working on his clocks might finally make her think twice. (I should say here that due to her upbringing and parents who were inclined to party a little too much perhaps, she might like someone who’s trustworthy and grounded even if he could be a bit dull.) We certainly have to take into account that throughout the final episode nearly everyone has been cautioning them against marriage and the Fates are against their marriage as well. We watch as Murphy’s Law takes charge. But if Martin can’t bear to be without Louisa, that would necessarily mean that he is miserable without her and bereft of any sense of happiness. That is exactly how he appears after their date goes wrong. Why is he now thinking that he wouldn’t be happy with her (ostensibly only 3 weeks later)?
Also, when in S4, Louisa snidely remarks that he may find being with someone prickly and emotionless like Edith makes him happy but she’d rather remain hormonal and filled with emotion, she is tacitly saying that she wouldn’t make him happy after all. Of course, Martin is once again totally baffled by her reference to Edith. Still, after S1, there is a concerted effort to keep Martin from looking happy in any overt way. The closest we ever get to seeing him look happy is a hint of a smile when he takes Louisa’s hand or when she says something complimentary to him, or when he looks at the ultrasound of their baby.
The first question we should ask is do we think there is evidence that ME has any awareness of the state of being happy? To answer this question we actually do have to consider the 4 major theories of happiness: Hedonism Theory, Desire Theory, Objective List Theory, and Authentic Theory. Simple descriptions of each can be found here. The proponents of the Authentic Theory believe that their theory takes all of the other theories into account. Happiness is a pretty complex subject that continues to be debated and refined. The dissertation by Ryan Hanlon Bremner written in 2011 does a very good job of addressing the various ways we use the term “happy.” While interrogating the philosophical approaches to this state, Bremner notes: “As long as the vast majority of people in Anglophone societies claim that one of their major, if not their main, goal is to ‘be happy,’ this desire and correspondent striving possesses a magnitude of importance that should not be ignored.” The fact that DM writers have made a point of whether Martin and Louisa are happy, both at the end of S3 and in S6, inspires us to look into what that means. They, too, are indicating that being happy is an important goal.
So what could Martin mean by saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy after recently being despondent that she doesn’t want to see him anymore? At the risk of overthinking this, and not simply dismissing it as a goof or miscalculation by the writers/producers, it could mean that he’s nervous that he will have to make too many changes in his life to accommodate her. Daniel Haybron, a contemporary philosopher, believes that “well-being consists mainly in the fulfillment of the self’s emotional and rational aspects—i.e., in being authentically happy, and in success regarding the commitments that shape one’s identity. But our subpersonal natures may also count, so we might add, secondarily, the fulfillment of our “nutritive” and “animal” natures: health and pleasure.”
When given a chance to reflect, Martin may have gotten cold feet because he has reached a sense of well-being by distancing himself from others, sticking to his routine, and being content to treat medical conditions successfully and even insightfully. In addition, he has his own diet that he follows quite faithfully. He’s been doing all these things for around twenty years which means they are rather entrenched. He is pretty inflexible when it comes to his daily regimen and he resists modifying it. When Peter Cronk stays with him, for example, Martin is lost because he has trouble finding a way to manage someone else in his home and he doesn’t do very well with it.
What makes him happy? Well, his sense of well-being comes primarily from his work. He is confident of his medical knowledge and ability and we see him display satisfaction in saving a life or making a diagnosis. He accepts the gratitude he gets from the many patients, who sometimes grudgingly admit that he saved their lives, with some puffing out of his chest or pulling down of his shirt cuffs. He’s clearly pleased with himself. Next may be preparing fish/dinner. He takes pride in knowing how to clean and cook the fresh fish and vegetables he buys regularly, and putting together a nutritious meal. We can’t forget the clocks he enjoys working on. Saving the clocks is somewhat analogous to saving lives in that he staves off likely termination.
All of the above touches him on some personal level; however, his connection to people beyond medical cases boils down to family, Edith, and Louisa. We know that the only affection he’s gotten from family really comes from Aunt Joan. He must have had some intimate contact with Edith considering she alludes to his having seen her naked before. Hopefully he didn’t get stabbed by her hair or protruding bones! Once he sees Louisa, he knows he wants to get closer to her. Eventually that happens and the embrace they have after he’s asked her to marry him and she’s agreed shows him with an expression of joy and relief. We see expressions akin to this when he holds her hand both at the concert and then at the Castle, when she gives birth to their baby, and when he sees her at the entrance to the church on their wedding day. I cannot imagine that we aren’t supposed to think that he achieves a sense of well-being when he’s with Louisa.
My conclusion is that Martin does experience happiness on many occasions, but that his life hasn’t always been happy. Conversely, as philosopher G. H. Von Wright believes, it would be possible to say that someone had a happy life, even if for a long period of time he was a most unhappy person. We see both of these scenarios being played out and now we hope to see the happy periods combined with an overall sense of well-being. He’s got a wife, a son, and Ruth. He’s got his medical practice and ability. He should stop being so miserable!!
Originally posted 2014-10-14 18:11:55.