There seems to be a lot of talk about happiness lately. Namely, what really makes us happy, if it’s an illusion or even a chemical imbalance.
I’m still struck by Scott Adams’ blog post earlier this week, in which he deduced that happiness may be nothing more than the absence of pain. And if you’re looking at it that way, existence as a rock might be “superior to life as a conscious entity.”
Perhaps you think that sitting around pain free would not be enough to make you happy. It would be boring and unfulfilling. And it’s hard to be happy when you are bored and unfulfilled. But boredom and lack of fulfillment are types of pain. Imagine sitting around doing nothing while having no tinge of boredom, or lack of purpose, or loneliness, or any other discomfort. I think it would feel like happiness.
The ideal happy creature would be a rock with consciousness. It would have no discomfort and no goals beyond eroding.
Harvard Psychologist and Author Dan Gilbert wrote an entire book questioning what really makes us happy. (In fact, it’s up next for me and D’s two-person book club.)
Gilbert looks, scientifically, at how our brain perceives the aesthetic of happiness and how we synthesize happiness—that is, how we create the illusion of happiness for ourselves. (Think: If I get this job; if I land this girlfriend, then I’ll be happy, etc.)
But here’s the surprising part: Synthetic happiness is not inferior to natural happiness, found Gilbert:
[Synthetic happiness is] every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for.
The bottom line?
Sure some things in life are better than others. A trip to Paris is more
enjoyable than gall bladder surgery.
But our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.
Gilbert follows this point with a particularly thought-provoking quote by Adam Smith, which I think would be a shame to miss:
The great source of misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from overrating the difference between one permanent situation and another.
Some of these situations may deserve to be preferred to others, but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardor which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice or to corrupt the future tranquility of our minds, either by shame of the remembrance of our own folly, or of remorse for the horror of our own injustice.
So what do you think? Can we chalk happiness up to a thing that is not to be found but just is? Is that adage true: When life gives you lemon,
make lemonade add vodka?
[Jam of the Day]: Rogue Wave, Chicago X 12