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.

In 1999, David Bowie knew the internet would change the world

Musican. Actor. Fashion Icon. Internet Visionary?

Technology & Innovation
  • David Bowie was well known as a rock star, but somehow his other interests and accomplishments remain obscure.
  • In this 1999 interview, he explains why he knows the internet is more than just a tool and why it was destined to change the world.
  • He launched his own internet service provider in 1998, BowieNet. It ceased operations in 2006.
Keep reading Show less

People who constantly complain are harmful to your health

Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer
popular

Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.

Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.

Keep reading Show less

​Is science synonymous with 'truth'? Game theory says, 'not always.'

Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."

Videos
  • Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
  • This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
  • On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.