Welcome to our chat with Dan Russell of the final happiness lecture. If you were there for the entertaining lecture, you may have comments or questions. Please ask away. We will get started in just a moment.
Good question -- I think you're asking whether the feeling of happiness has to involve a contrast with its opposite. It's not a "problem" any of us will ever have! But here's an example to think about. In the movie Being There, Peter Sellers plays a character who feels happy all the time, because that pretty much exhausts his entire emotional range. That's just all he's got. The problem is, he therefore misses most of what actually goes on around him. So, he feels good all the time, without apparently experiencing any contrast. But I wouldn't trade lives with him!
This is a philosophical discussion. You can ask almost anything!
Ha ha! Yes, I often wonder what the take-away is supposed to be. I think the lesson here might be a couple of things. One is that we seem to do exactly what you say: we seem to focus on all the highlights in our imagination, but of course reality has a lot more than the highlights. So it's important to realize that that's sort of how imagination works; you have to be on guard against that if you want to be realistic about your plans. The other thing I'd point out is that scientific measures of happiness are, for the most part really, measures of the person's mood when they're surveyed. So the planning phase involves a good mood -- no surprise. But the actual vacation itself is, well, a week or two of living your life, and life isn't just a long string of good moods.
By the way, Jo, something similar happens even with money. People tend to overestimate how happy they would be if they were given money for free -- even as much as $1,000.
Daniel Kahneman makes a suggestion about vacations: for your next one, imagine that at the end all of your photos would be erased & you'd forget the whole thing. How would you plan your vacation then? You'd probably spend less time rushing around & making sure you got in all the "obligatory" sights. And you might actually have a much better time. Planning all the stuff you're going to do on vacation might be really fun. But actually running at the pace you plan for yourself can make a vacation a lot less fun.
Being ready to say no to the next $1,000 is a good place to be.
I've wondered about this myself a lot lately -- why is happiness discussed so much these days? I don't have an answer, just some guesses. I like your suggestion -- I suspect we definitely do talk about different parts of our lives in public today that were kept much more private in earlier times.
In the literature, it seems to have become just a truism that increased wealth in the modern world has allowed more scope for talking about happiness. The funny thing is, right after someone says that they'll go on to talk about Jeremy Bentham or even Aristotle; so, evidently, it's been a pretty big focus all along. My own guess -- which is not very inspiring -- is that that's where a lot of the grant money is these days in the social sciences.
I wouldn't say they're the same. A person could think that a life that isn't very happy is still no worse than they deserved. Even so, I would say that contentment is very important to happiness. When desires start taking on a life of their own, that's when we really stop enjoying life, and I think it's also when we start making a lot of bad choices and bad trades. Incidentally, this idea was fairly central to some very diverse schools of thought in ancient Greek philosophy.
I think people have always known that money can't buy happiness. The pioneering economist Adam Smith was really clear on this point. Still, what money can do is give you back more of your time so that you can have a wider range of options for how you spend it. So, why not just take it from here & put it over there? Well, obviously, that's a huge issue. I'd just point out that when people make money, they do it so that I can do what I just said -- they do it so that they'll build up future options. I'm not sure it would make for a happier society to take those options away.
We study freedom in a wide array of contexts -- political freedom or liberty; personal freedom, or freedom of the will; economic freedom; and also the things that people might aspire to do and to be when they are free.
Well, there's a lot of truth in that. The Greek philosopher Epicurus thought that, really, being happy in your life is far easier than we think it is -- in fact, the world is pretty much set up for it to be easy. The only thing that gets in the way is us, because we want the world to change in order to meet our desires, instead of changing our desires so that they'll be met by the world. Keep in mind, though, that this was a guy who lived on pennies a day and thought of having a little cheese as a really special extravagance. And we can also think about major losses we sustain in life -- losing loved ones, for instance. It seems to me that being in a position to want what I have no matter the loss might threaten just how close I might be able to get to others.
Surely someone has a question about happiness, the future or how to live a life as happy as your dog?
Aristotle thought (1) that people, like other animals, have to be categorized by saying what their natural habitat is (among other things), and (2) that for people, that habitat was a social group of enough size and structure that the group could be relatively self-sufficient. (I'll bet Munich is like that, although I've never been there myself.)
There isn't any -ism that it advocates. It's a place for people to work.
Do you think so? Sorting out happiness for 300 million people -- how hard could it be? ;)
More seriously, you make an excellent point. I always wonder what, exactly, public officials are supposed to be doing to make me happier. (And then I cringe.) The idea seems to be that if something is really important, then it's something that public policy should be about. Frankly, I'm glad that a lot of important things have so far escaped that net. We tend to ignore the question of whether some important thing is something that public policymakers are very like to be any good at. It's always important when you hear of some big idea like that to ask, "And then what happens?"
There are lots of things to be happy we have. The thing is, I'm not sure what the happiness arguments really add. Life is pretty stressful when you're cut off from places, goods, & services. But then, we always knew that, and we always had lots of reasons to solve that problem. A lot of the happiness literature now seems to focus on the importance of doing things that, well, we already knew it was important to do.
I had a teacher once tell me there are no stupid questions, so don't be afraid to ask questions now.
It depends on how much luck matters. Aristotle, for instance, thought luck mattered a lot, so he thought Solon was right that you can never really know if someone's life was happy while they're still alive. Others, though, have thought that it really depends more on your choices and what you make of what life presents to you; on that way of thinking about it, happiness can be complete any time.
The main thing I would say is not to go it alone. Disappointment and even misery have struck everyone at some time or other; sometimes it seems like there's just nothing left. In my experience, it always turns out that there really is something left. Reach out. Find help. You're not alone.
I seem to remember the line, "I come that you may find life, and that more abundantly." I would have thought that if the New Testament were about one thing, it would be reconciliation. But I'm not a professor of that.
I think you're probably right. The emphasis, I take it, is on *pursuit*. As you mention, there is a lot of value to being more appreciative of how good things are right now. The times when happiness is really at the fore of our thinking are not necessarily happy times. I suspect they tend to be times when we're very uncertain about ourselves and our futures. When life is going well, I think, we're just getting on with living for the things we're living with, and noticing how great an opportunity that is.
Thanks, everyone! You can find some more stuff, including links to videos & interviews, on my site: www.danielcrussell.com