Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

What does it mean to be happy?

June 20, 2009

How to find happiness? Good question. A few responses:

Smackdown! Homer (Simpson) vs. Aristotle: What Does it Mean to Be Happy?

Aristotle’s conception of the good life in a nutshell is: (pleasure + honour [in political/social spheres]  + contemplation) x excellence [virtue]

Thomas Hurka on Pleasure – some pleasures are more equal than others

The Happiness Machine – much like the above


Man does not want happiness

January 4, 2009

A warning from Nietzsche that the pursuit of happiness may not be an end in itself.

If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how. Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that.

Man, in his basic natural state, does not seek out happiness exclusively. He unavoidably makes many choices that sacrifice potential happiness for the sake of other life instinstcs, such as sex and competition for status.

The ‘Englishman’ is a socially-constructed identity; there is no Englishman (or Utilitarianism, the cloaked reference)  in nature. Happiness too is obscurely socially-constructed; it has come to mean much more than pleasure.

Beware of ends that may be little more than social myths.

Synthesizing happiness

January 4, 2009

A few TED talks that rate a mention, with the implications I draw from them:

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

  • Point: Choice limits our ability to synthesize happiness. It increases our expectations through retrospective value-comparison of other options. Gilbert makes this point as well, but notes that we tend to choose paths that keep our options open, to our detriment.
  • Implication: We must make a commitment to a single option, path or way of life, with a courgeous leap into faith, with no regrets and no looking back, and then choose to be happy.

Dan Gilbert: Why are we happy? Why aren’t we happy? and Exploring the frontiers of happiness

  • Point: We frequently misjudge the extent to which different circumstances projected into the future will make us happy/unhappy (pre-frontal cortex).
  • Implication: Be cautious in regards to ‘delayed gratification’; don’t worry about the future.
  • Point: We ‘synthesize happiness’; with time we will reinterpret the world and our past in order that we are happier.
  • Implication: Regret won’t last, bad circumstances won’t seem as bad in the future, you and I ‘get over it’ – all can be forgiven, so just speed up the process.

Happiness as a choice

September 29, 2008

In addition to the comments I made on happiness at Happiness Comes From Within, I would like to offer the following quotes and a few comments.

Where happiness comes from

No man is happy unless he believes he is.– Publilius Syrus (85 BC- 43BC, Roman writer)

Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them. — Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910, Russian novelist, philosopher)

Most people ask for happiness on condition. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set any condition. — Arthur Rubinstein

Happiness is not dependent upon circumstances but upon attitudes; it is not so much environmental as mental. — (William A. Ward)

A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy and nothing can stop him. — Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-, Russian novelist)

Happiness lies in the consciousness we have of it. — George Sand (1804-1876, French novelist)

How we ‘magically’ transform the world with happiness

The world of those who are happy is different from the world of those who are not. — Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, Austrian philosopher)

When I have been unhappy, I have heard an opera… and it seemed the shrieking of winds; when I am happy, a sparrow’s chirp is delicious to me. But it is not the chirp that makes me happy, but I that make it sweet. — John Ruskin (1819-1900, British critic, social theorist)

Cultivating happiness

Real happiness is not dependent on external things. The pond is fed from within. The kind of happiness that stays with you is the happiness that springs from inward thoughts and emotions. You must cultivate your mind if you wish to achieve enduring happiness. — William Lyon Phelps

Happiness must be cultivated. It is like character. It is not a thing to be safely let alone for a moment, or it will run to weeds. — Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911, American writer)

Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate. So practice happy thinking every day. Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit, and life will become a continual feast. — Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993, American Christian reformed pastor, speaker, author)

A few comments of my own

* Happiness is not found by looking for it outside of yourself (material possessions, love, etc.)
* Happiness is not obtained through finding it within yourself (self-development) or throwing off attachments to the world (Stoicism, etc.)
* It is not a matter of calculus where you weigh up your recent history of pleasurable and painful experiences and then determine ‘objectively’ whether you are happy or not
* You can choose to believe the above or you can choose to posit a condition for happiness that ‘lies outside of the individual or is within the individual in such a way that it is not there by virtue of the individual themself’ (Kierkegaard)
* The biggest obstacle to happiness is a self which does not want to identify with it, i.e. pride in being unhappy
* Happiness is found not by looking for it, but by thinking you have already found it
* It is a matter of reflecting on a whole life and the entire universe and making a choice
* Happiness is obtained by choosing it, by choosing to perceive the world with happiness

Final thoughts

There are men who are happy without knowing it. — Marquis De Vauvenargues (1715-1747, French moralist)

Happiness Comes From Within

September 27, 2008

I was planning to blog my own content on happiness until I came across this post: Happiness Comes From Within

I will make some comments on the blogger’s various interpretations and evaluations.

The philosopher seems to have a Cartesian (dualistic) view of mind and world and this leads to some unnecessarily complicated and incorrect explanations.

1. Happiness is not a product of our minds, rather it is a product of our experience of the world. Our experience of the world is the world. To clarify, what we perceive as the world is our world from a first-person point of view. Throwing ‘mind’ into the equation is redundant.

We can simply choose to be happy or unhappy at any moment, but cultivating character will make it easier, i.e. habitual.

2. ‘events filtered through our own values and desires’ make up experience, but experience also includes thoughts, reflections, expectations, emotions and moods. Happiness cannot come only from within if events are part of the experience that leads to happiness.

3. While the expression ‘happiness comes from within’ is not technically correct, it is true that people can choose to be happy.

It is not action (or in this case, reaction) that leads to happiness rather it is experience, with the essential element of thinking you are happy. The author is contradicting himself in assuming that a change in environmental conditions through action will be responsible for happiness.

4. The author understands ‘choice’ in this instance as a decision to take some action which may or may not ’cause’ happiness. We can take any action and afterward be happy or unhappy, it does not depend on the consequence of the action necessarily, it depends on our choice to see the world in a particular way.

5. This is too hypothetical for me to bother to comment.

6. I agree that a natural (appetite from our genes) reaction to unhappiness can be altered with practice (nurture), but I disagree that ‘situations’ cause unhappiness. Though, what exactly is unhappiness but another emotion like anger, sadness or melancholy?

7. I agree that we can adjust our ‘personality’ towards one that is conducive to a happy life, but I don’t know how hard it would be for each individual; it depends on nature and nurture (rather, nature through nurture – but this is a technical point).

A person starving to death can be happy or unhappy. This may seem impossible, but it is true. Granted though, the odds are that a typical individual will not be happy. Look for example at martyrs who have died for religious causes, some have been fanatically delighted at the prospect of death.

8. Happiness does not come from anything but our choice to experience the world with happiness.