“I feel nothing but the accursed happiness I have dreaded all my life long: the happiness that comes as life goes, the happiness of yielding and dreaming instead of resisting and doing, the sweetness of the fruit that is going rotten.”
– Captain Shotover in George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House
No doubt it would be helpful if I had read the play, rather than just combing the Columbia Encyclopedia of Quotations, but the Captain seems to me to be making an experience machine-like point. Some kinds of happiness, the accursed “happiness of yielding and dreaming,” are worth less than other kinds of happiness, the happiness of “resisting and doing.” The problem with the happiness of yielding and dreaming, the “happiness that comes as life goes,” isn’t that it doesn’t feel good, but that it feels too good. The “sweetness of the fruit that is going rotten” is too sweet, and encourages our indolence. When we indulge in it, we become rotten. The special value of the happiness of resisting and doing lies not solely in the distinctive feeling of resisting and doing, but in the fact that we are exercising our capacities, that we are doing, that we are really living, rather than rotting sweetly, happily, and accursedly on the vine.