On the surface, Kevin Spacey’s remarks that people who are happy with themselves are “boring”, and the “worst word in the world is ‘content’”, don’t seem particularly profound. But they are. The actor’s comments accidentally reveal a crucial progression in our understanding of happiness. For Plato, the pursuit of happiness was necessary for the scientific advancement, and greater good, of society. Contemporary philosophers such as Alain de Botton and, well, Spacey demonstrate that happiness now depends on the individual’s whims and desires, with society being not much more than an afterthought.
To be sure, western modernity benefits the individual over the collective. We can’t fault Spacey for the claim that the pursuit of individual happiness is paramount and he is correct that everyone’s pursuit can have a different complexion. While Spacey loves the thrill of new adventures, some might enjoy the contentment of family life. There must be room for everyone’s interpretations.