The Happiness Paradox

Question: Is western culture too fixated on happiness?

Dacher Keltner: 
It is an obsession, isn’t it?  This obsession of unhappiness and there’s a historian, Darrin MacMahon, who wrote a wonderful book on the history of happiness.  It’s one of my favorite books on happiness and recently he said, you know, only in America can this, an obsession with happiness make you unhappy, and it’s this, you know, you have this feeling that there’s perhaps there’s a little too much reflection on happiness. And I think there’s a very interesting philosophical point alongside that comment which is does this very willful strategic pursuit of happiness bring you happiness?  And we don’t know.  I think that the pursuit of happiness is essential and vital to our culture.  It’s guaranteed in our constitution, the right to the pursuit of happiness and we know from 250 studies in the social and biological sciences that as you cultivate happiness, you become healthier, you become a better neighbor, a better community member.  You’re more productive and creative at work.  You’re stronger in your family, with your friends.  It’s a good thing to go after and we’re lucky that we can, but everything has its excesses and I think there is a risk that it turns into navel-gazing and the one thing that I really felt in writing Born To Be Good is that we risk as our culture defining happiness in terms of sensory pleasures, wow, this is a delicious wine, or in terms of exercise or in terms of personal gratification.  That’s a longstanding tradition in western thought, that happiness is economic gain and what I’m trying to encourage is its more social dimension to happiness where you bring out the good in others.

The pursuit of happiness is essential and vital to our culture, but there is a risk that it turns into navel-gazing.

The ‘X17’ particle: Scientists may have discovered the fifth force of nature

A new paper suggests that the mysterious X17 subatomic particle is indicative of a fifth force of nature.

Surprising Science
  • In 2016, observations from Hungarian researchers suggested the existence of an unknown type of subatomic particle.
  • Subsequent analyses suggested that this particle was a new type of boson, the existence of which could help explain dark matter and other phenomena in the universe.
  • A new paper from the same team of researchers is currently awaiting peer review.
Keep reading Show less

Insects on Mars? Ohio scientist claims NASA images show life on Red Planet.

Entomologist William Romoser of Ohio University says NASA images depict insect- and reptile-like creatures on Mars.

Image source: NASA/JPL; William Romose / Ohio University
Surprising Science
  • Entomologist William Romoser gave a presentation this week in which he claimed NASA photos show evidence of creatures, some still living, on the red planet.
  • Romoser has worked as a professor of entomology at Ohio University for four decades.
  • It's likely that the real phenomenon in Romoser's work is pareidolia — the tendency to "see" recognizable shapes among random visual data.
Keep reading Show less

Distant cosmic body renamed over Nazi backlash

The object, originally dubbed "Ultima Thule," was renamed to "Arrokoth" due to the connection between the word "Thule" and the Nazis.

NASA
Politics & Current Affairs
  • When the New Horizons probe originally visited Arrokoth, the most distant celestial body to have ever been visited by a spacecraft, NASA researchers nicknamed the body "Ultima Thule."
  • Thule refers to a distant mythological civilization. Although it originated in ancient Greek and Roman literature, the Nazis co-opted the term to refer to a mythological homeland of the Aryan people.
  • The new name, Arrokoth, is Powhatan for "sky."
Keep reading Show less