Happiness in Disability

Bethsaly Alarcon

Per. 6


Are Quadriplegics able to achieve happiness?

There are many different people in the world who live with a disability, although some are not as restricting as others, some are extremely severe to the point of full body paralyzation.  Some people live with an amputated limb or a mental illness, others live with restrictions such as only having movement of their neck and minimal usage of their hand. These individuals are quadriplegics, more specifically C5-C6 quadriplegics.

These people were not born with the spinal injury; rather they suffered an accident that made them that way.  C5-C6 Quadriplegics require assistance with everything in their daily lives such as washing, dressing, and bowel and bladder management[1]. The only thing they do not need assistance with is breathing. Although they are not able to move their bodies, they can still feel the pain of infections, fevers, bruises, cramps, and aches. In short, days of ultimate and uninterrupted happiness are seldom.

If you are not part of the disabled society, whether you are a disabled individual, take care of a disabled individual, or know a disabled individual, then you most likely do not put too much thought into what they consider as happiness or pleasure. Now, you may be asking, how do they live each day with only full movement of their heads? How are they able to be happy living such a restricted life? What exactly brings them happiness now that they are not able to really do anything? To be frank, people each have their own definitions of happiness, they each have their own way of dealing with the disability, but some do group together, reach out, and plainly ask for advice as to how to achieve happiness when all seems lost.

There are individuals who choose suicide as a method of ending the unhappiness they experience day to day. This action, according to John Stuart Mill, author of “Utilitarianism”, is a desirable end for quadriplegics. Although Mill does not ever mention quadriplegics in his article he does say that a “desirable end” is freedom from pain[2] and that all desirable things promote the prevention of pain.[3] Yet is it right for people to promote happiness as the desirable end of one’s life? There is the argument that those who do want to commit suicide are entitled to their own opinions, that they are responsible for their own actions, that they can choose to do with their life as they please, yet people should not be promoting suicide as a desirable end.

With people like Mill, it almost seems logical that they would want the ultimate pleasure of not feeling their pain anymore.  Although not all of what Mill writes is pertinent to this subject, some of what is written does make sense in a way that people should be able to understand and think about more in depth. For example “a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness,” [4] makes sense in that people are not satisfied by only receiving the kind of pleasure that an animal can also receive. Instead, as humans, there is a need not only for physical pleasure, but mental as well. For quadriplegics, although they can receive physical pleasure [5](it takes more effort though), mental pleasure is more important. Their mental happiness sets their response towards everything that is happening to them. If a person is depressed, then they are not able to appreciate what is around them, the people there for them, or those who they could potentially impact. On the other hand, those who have accepted what has happened to them try to live their life with a new rigor and outlook. They try to help others achieve the state of happiness and acceptance at which they have arrived.[6]

It is important to recognize that there are pleasures more desirable than others, though. [7] For example, for those able bodied people, pleasure might come in the form of running a mile or going scuba diving in the ocean, yet for quadriplegics, pleasure might be as simple as not getting cramps or bruises that day or meeting someone new whom they find interesting. They see these pleasures as more desirable than just being able to flock around with others. There is also the importance of the quantity of pleasure one receives. Rather than have a small amount of quality, a large amount of quantity would be more beneficial for some.

Mill says that you cannot regard anything as happiness which does not include your gratification. If you are not able to receive gratification in what you do then you are not able to achieve happiness. For example, the ultimate happiness, the ultimate pleasure for quadriplegics would be to live life without pain, but most are not able to achieve that. For some, pain is a constant that is just there. Yet Mill does not believe that one can achieve it unless you are getting every bit of the happiness you have set out to receive. So really, do quadriplegics ever experience true happiness?

The estimation of pleasures should depend on quantity alone. There are some people who depend on the quality of the pleasure or happiness they are receiving.  On one hand, quality is important in anything: it is better to have the best quality item that is offered. Yet, on the other hand, by wanting quality, it means that you will be getting less of it. Is it not better, at this point, to receive an abundant quantity of what is offered? Although it might not be as good as the quality of something else, you are sure to have more of it. Therefore, you are sure to enjoy it for a longer period of time.

Yet there are those who will argue that the benefits of quality, no matter how small in size, are better than that of quantity. They would be willing to give up the safety of quantity in order to have the more desirable of the two. The feeling of superiority it brings, the fact that not many have it, by lack of means or by their own choice, gives the person a sense of “entitlement.” For example, not all quadriplegics can afford to travel abroad, yet those who do are only given a small amount of time. They would rather bask in the quality of their visit than use that money for something of longer quantity at home.  What is the point of experiencing something of high quality, yet short quantity, when you can experience something of vast quantity that is not as high quality? I guess people could say that they want the best in life, no matter what it costs.

For some quadriplegics, being stuck in a chair is what they have known since the early stages of their life. Those people know what it is like to live in a world where they have had to cope with stares and assistance for every little thing. Others, though, had a life before becoming dependent on others for everything. They have a harder time coping because they knew what it was like to be able to live a life of independency, a life of dignity. It seems that those people suffer more because they knew of a life that was taken abruptly from them. Then they resent the fools who only live one life because of their lack of knowledge. It is at this point in life when they are not able to see happiness in their lives, yet through acceptance, they are able to find it.

For Quadriplegics, happiness does not seem to be the first sentiment they look for. In fact, it takes some time to find it. With effort and help, they can find it. Yet hopefully not in the way Mill describes it. To be honest, Mill does not have a very happy light on what he considers happiness, but for each their own.

[1] “Spinal Cord Injury Levels – Functionality of C5 Spinal Cord Injury.” Spinal Cord Injury Levels. Accessed May 03,           2016. http://www.apparelyzed.com/support/functionality/c5.html.

[2] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government. London: Everyman, 1993

[3] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government. London: Everyman, 1993

[4] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government. London: Everyman, 1993

[5] Tiffanie. “Sex and Disability: It’s about Communication and Experimentation.” Disability Horizons. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://disabilityhorizons.com/.

[6] Blake, Katy. “Speaking Words of Wisdom..” Art on Wheels. September 11, 2013. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://rehabforkaty.org/speaking-words-of-wisdom/.

[7] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government. London: Everyman, 1993


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