Blog of Sara Jakša

Thesis Against Happiness as Highest Goal

In the last semester, I needed to present a topic of my choosing for the philosophy class. Alright, there was a restriction, that it has to have something to do with philosophy, but that is not the restriction that is hard to adhere to. Some of the other people had pretty interesting topics, like terror management theory, transhumanism, the role of questions and so on. My topic was about happiness, more exactly, it was a short thesis about the prevailing notion that happiness needs to be the highest goal.

The reason why I picked this topic is the prevailing notion that I have seen in some people. They honestly believe that they need to chase happiness, and by putting this as a goal, they will live the best life possible. And I always found the idea just a bit... uncomfortable. I never understood the reason for chasing some positive feeling. Maybe this has something to do with my low extroversion, as extroversion is also connected to the amount of positive feeling felt. Maybe I am just weird that way. Or maybe I just did not accept the notion that way too many self-help books are trying to promote.

There are some reasons for this. The first is connected to the Nozick's experience machine. Basically, we create a machine that we can program in any way we want. A person going to this machine can go on the adventure, have an orgy or enjoy their life on the beach, under the sun, without any worry. Anything is possible. Would people want take part in this and programed and entered the machine?

The answer is somehow mixed, as some people would and some people wouldn't. But the similar result can also be obtained in reverse. So lets say that a person knocks on the door and you answer. They tell you that you are a part of the above described experience machine. Would you wake up. Again, some would and some would not. So I guess that being in the world that you can program is not every person's fantasy.

If people would decide in mass that being in this experience machine is preferable, that could be a pretty good indication that happiness, at least in the hedonistic sense, is important. I guess some people don't think that way. :)

Also, people that usually talk about this are also the ones that want for some reason reach their potential. In comparison to the chasing of the happiness, from my point of view, a much more worthwhile goal. But in the flow state, the one that they seek some much, there is no place for happiness. Or at least that is according to the Csikszentmihalyi, the person that actually studied flow. There is no attention left over during the flow to actually feel happiness. Also, most people experience happiness when they are satisfied with their life, and people don't create when the are satisfied with the things as they are.

Which is in accordance to my own experience. When I see a problem is when I get multiple ideas of how things can be changed. If I don't find problem with it, then the ideas just never come. I wonder what does this say about my Toastmasters club, since that is the place where I got most of my ideas.

The next argument deals with the difference between dreaming and achieving something. Everybody can feel good dreaming about being an actor, being in great shape and having a perfect partner. But not many people would consider doing what these people are doing every day. Most people probably don't want to be stopped on the streets all the time to be asked who they are, just because some people find them familiar. Most people don't want to go the the gym and eat only what is allowed. And so on and so on.

Also, for this people, the anticipation is where the feeling of happiness is. Once we get what we want, the level of happiness do usually return to the normal level. Because these start feeling like the new norm. It is just life.

Plus, some of the things that people do for 'happiness' is really just to keep up the picture of doing things that was supposed to make us happy. This can be a new car, or eating organic or going to the church. I am not saying that some of this things can't improve life, and that they are not worth doing. It is just that the happiness is not really impacted on the day to day life. See the paragraph just above for reasoning.

And I left the most disturbing piece for the last, the Morioka's happiness drug thought experiment. It goes like this. The mother and a child walk down the street. The child is hit and he bleeds to death right there on the street. They give the mother the happiness drug and all she could feel is happiness. Now the question, is she happy? And is this the happiness that you would want for yourself?