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Total Happiness

"What happened in school today, Tony?" asked Tony's mother as she served him his helping of spaghetti and meatballs. The Allen family was seated around the dinner table for their evening meal.

"Actually, there was something kind of cool," replied Tony. "This new kid in the class, I think his name is Roy, he cracked everybody up by something he said."

"What did he say?" asked Tony's sister, Heather..

"Well, you see," explained Tony, "our teacher, Ms. Hernandez, was talking about this story in which some kid said that she wanted to be totally happy. Ms. Hernandez asked us if we could think of a time when we were totally happy."

"That's an interesting question," put in Tony's father.

"Yeah, well, what this kid, Roy, said was that if he had an insect bite on his seat, you know, on his rear end, and it itched like crazy and he could scratch it as hard as he wanted to, he would be totally happy."

"That's pretty gross," said Heather, making an ugly face.

"Yeah, it was pretty gross all right," Tony agreed, "but it cracked everybody up. Kids laughed so loud you couldn't hear Ms. Hernandez trying to get us to shut up."

"That was a disgusting thing to say," said Tony's mother disapprovingly.

"Yeah," agreed Heather, "it was a yucky thing to say, but, you know, it's right! If scratching a very itchy insect bite gives you so much pleasure that , at that moment, you don't want anything else, then you're totally happy."

"I wouldn't call that total happiness," protested Tony.

"Why not?" insisted Heather; "total happiness is just enjoying something, it doesn't matter what it is - scratching an insect bite, stuffing yourself with chocolate cake, whatever - enjoying it so much that you don't at that time want anything else. Do you have some other explanation of what total happiness is?"

Tony decided to change the subject. He wished he hadn't told his family about what Roy had said in school. He didn't think Heather was right about what total happiness is, but he didn't know how to prove she was wrong. She was always winning arguments. He hated that.

Still, Tony was puzzled about what happiness is, and especially about what total happiness is. Is it just enjoying something so much that the thought of everything else is blanked out? Somehow that didn't seem right to him. But what could he say about total happiness that he could defend against Heather?

[Note: The idea for this story beginning comes from Plato's dialogue, Gorgias, at 494c-e.]