Study Guide

Anthem Happiness

By Ayn Rand


We knew we had been guilty, but now we had a way to atone for it. We would accept our Life Mandate, and we would work for our brothers, gladly and willingly, and we would erase our sin against them, which they did not know, but we knew. (1.30)

When we meet Equality 7-2521 at the beginning of Anthem, he feels guilty about wanting anything for himself, including a career. He feels guilty about having a life of his own, in fact, because his society has taught him to feel guilty about being an individual. He thinks that what's good – and what will make happy – is obeying society and serving it. As a result, he half-convinces himself that being made a Street Sweeper for life is something to be happy about. Is he actually happy?

We cannot look upon International 4-8818 4-8818 and not smile in answer. For this they were not liked in the Home of the Students, as it is not proper to smile without reason. (1.36)

International 4-8818 is apparently a naturally happy person, who's capable of spreading that happiness to others. But society is apparently so tightly controlled that one isn't even allowed to be smile "without reason." If the people in society were actually happy, and if society genuinely wanted them to be happy, why would they worry about people smiling? Perhaps because, although everyone is supposed to be happy, no one is supposed to be happier than others, and whenever an individual is happier, that's always a danger. So no individual is supposed to be happier than any other, but everyone's supposed to be happy.

And yet there is no shame in us and no regret. We say to ourselves that we are a wretch and a traitor. But we feel no burden upon our spirit and no fear in our heart. And it seems to us that our spirit is clear as a lake troubled by no eyes save those of the sun. And in our heart -- strange are the ways of evil! -- in our heart there is the first peace we have known in twenty years. (1.70)

Equality 7-2521 is surprised to discover that he feels happy when he's alone and doing what only he wants to do. He feels guilty about this, but he can't deny it makes him happy. Part of that happiness is a sense of peace.

We do not know why, when we think of them, we feel of a sudden that the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live. (2.11)

Equality 7-2521's love for Liberty 5-3000 makes life itself feel much more worthwhile: it makes him happy. If love makes him feel as if "the earth is good and…it is not a burden to live," what does that mean about how he felt before?

We are singing because we are happy," we answered the one of the Home Council who reprimanded us.

"Indeed you are happy," they answered. "How else can men be when they live for their brothers?" (2.39-2.40)

Equality 7-2521 is reprimanded (just like International 4-8818 was) for showing signs of spontaneous happiness. Here the contradiction we mentioned earlier is explicit. Equality 7-2521 is reprimanded for singing for no reason, as a sign of happiness, as if it were a bad thing to be happy. Yet clearly he's also expected to be happy because everyone is expected to be happy.

It is forbidden, not to be happy. For, as it has been explained to us, men are free and the earth belongs to them; and all things on earth belong to all men; and the will of all men together is good for all; and so all men must be happy. (2.41)

In fact, not only is everyone expected to be happy: everyone is commanded to be happy. There's something ridiculously absurd about that. How can one be commanded to be happy? Is happiness something a person can control? And is commanding it more or less likely to make it happen?

It is not good to feel too much joy nor to be glad that our body lives. For we matter not and it must not matter to us whether we live or die, which is to be as our brothers will it. But we, Equality 7-2521, are glad to be living. If this is a vice, then we wish no virtue. (2.45)

Ah, here's a little more on the confusing matter of how Equality 7-2521's society thinks about happiness. It's not good to be too happy as an individual, because one isn't supposed to value one's own life – one should be willing to give it up any moment for the sake of the Collective 0-0009. In particular, one isn't supposed to take pleasure in one's own body (which is the most complete possession one has as an individual). But again, if no individual is supposed to be happy, why should society care about human happiness at all?

And if this should lighten the toil of men," said Similarity 5-0306, "then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men." (7.43)

Here a member of the Council of Scholars explicitly rejects the idea of making life easier for the community as a whole. Apparently, he thinks a harder life is better, because it makes toil more necessary, and toil is the only purpose of life. But if one doesn't work to "improve the lot of mankind," what's the point of working?

And we heard suddenly that we were laughing, laughing aloud, laughing as if there were no power left in us save laughter. (8.3)

Now that Equality 7-2521 is alone and in the woods, he's finally free from society's control. And freedom makes him ridiculously happy. He's just fallen from a tree branch and he can't stop laughing!

But the only things which taught us joy were the power we created in our wires, and the Golden One. And both these joys belong to us alone, they come from us alone, they bear no relation to our brothers, and they do not concern our brothers in any way. Thus do we wonder. (9.31)

Equality 7-2521 has learned that the only things that make him happy are the things which are his alone – not the things which he shares with everyone else. (Note that this is in direct contrast to what his society has taught him.) What matters to him is his science – his passion – and his love for one other individual (Liberty 5-3000). Those are the two biggest components of his happiness.