How To Weigh Happiness?
“If it feels good, do it” is no formula for happiness. Happyologist and free-marketeer Arthur Brooks rightly calls it popular but “life ruining advice.” His essay mixes old wisdom with sciencey errors.
1. Locke believed we naturally seek “Happiness...the utmost Pleasure.” For him carefully calculating pleasures and pains meant weighing heaven’s “infinite Happiness... in one Scale” against hell’s “infinite Misery in the other.”
2. Locke’s weighing metaphor underlies a contradiction in Brooks’ essay. He says unhappiness isn’t “simply the opposite of happiness,” but also that assessing unhappiness “is really doing sums”: if H=happiness, U=unhappiness, you’re unhappy when U > H (that’s mathematically calling them opposites).
3. Doing U > H sums assume happiness is like weight. But weighing-scales ignore composition and future effects, but rational happiness assessments shouldn’t.
4. Happiness is more like food than weight (complex composite vs simple property). Weighing alone can’t tell if food is healthy. A healthy diet balances nutrient composition (and past and future meals). No single measurable property or calculated metric yet captures all that.
5. Before the Enlightenment few considered pleasure the only ingredient in happiness. Most believed happiness required various virtues (meaning life-skills, usually including self-control).
6. Now feelgoodism alarms Brooks and challenges multi-ingredient views (like happiness requires “love and work,” both involving effort and “unpleasure”). The feelgood parts are easy… the rest need work...
7. Hecht distinguishes three (often conflicting) types of happiness: everyday pleasures, euphoria, and life satisfaction. Her book describes how views about happiness are shaped by cultural norms/beliefs/stories (like Locke’s heavenly happiness).
8. Brooks says evolution has “wired" us to “seek wealth.” Well we’re nature’s least hard-wired species (we’re hard-wired to be highly “herd-wired”). As team survivors our impulses have faced counterbalancing social pressures for 10,000 generations. Self-control regarding social norms has been adaptive since we became human. Sadly popular free-market norms now encourage rather than constrain widespread wealth addiction.
9. Many an aspiring “Newton of the mind” has sought mathematical formulae for happiness (here’s Bentham’s). But patterns encoded in wise maxims remain resistant (Bentham worried about whether adding 20 apples to 20 pears was fruitful).
10. “The ancients may have known little about biology, chemistry, and physics, but many were good psychologists.” Some of their maxims can help us manage a "healthy happy diet" and avoid “reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.”
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.
The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.
- Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
- Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?
- Ghosting, or the practice of cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is a controversial method of dumping someone.
- People generally agree that it's bad form, but new research shows that people have surprisingly different opinions on the practice.
- Overall, people who are more destiny-oriented (more likely to believe that they have a soulmate) tend to approve of ghosting more, while people who are more growth-oriented (more likely to believe relationships are made rather than born) are less tolerant of ghosting.
"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."
- The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
- Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
- Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.