A Break in Happiology

by phil on Tuesday May 31, 2005 1:38 AM

I've been going nuts with philosophy and psychology for the past week.

One problem that has confounded me, and is actually an unresolved problem in philosophy, is "what to do?" What is it that we ought to do? There are moral models which are relevant in moral dilemmas. And then there are models your parents or peers tell you, things like "make money" or "pursue your dreams."

For awhile, happiology has been my personal imperative. However, I'm finding serious flaws with it.

For three years, my belief has been that one ought to do "whatever makes them happy." My justification for this belief has been the seeming irrefutability of happiology. The following mock-conversation is a battle between happiology and a money-imperative:

Donald Trump: "I don't pursue happiness, I pursue money."
Phil: "why?"
Donald Trump: "Because money buys me the things I want, such as material goods, and pretty women."
Phil: "And why do you want to get these things"
Donald Trump: "Because they make me happy."

Happiology appears to have won, and it will win against every imperative using similar lines. i.e. "Q: Why would you want to be moral then? A: because it makes me happy." However, if we continue the conversation, we find the contradiction dissatisfying:
Phil: "So then, don't you actually care about happiness?"
Trump: "no."

I've always been aware of this contradiction throughout my subscription to happiology. However, I had justifications that seemed to explain this phenomena. One explanation is that modeling objectives based on things that relate indirectly to happiness may be more cognitively efficient than focusing on happiness directly. Another explanation is that happiology-as-framework may not be evolutionarily beneficial, or that personal happiness doesn't correlate with group success.

But then I found a similar contradiction in myself. I've measured my happiness before, and what I've noticed is that there's also this hidden X-variable: my attitude toward my happiness. I've been very unhappy for long periods of time, while simultaneously not caring that I was unhappy. Some would suggest, as does my friend Zack, that then "you were not really unhappy."

In which case, happiness has a dual meaning. On the one hand, happiness can mean, "do you have it, whereby it is that thing you are to be striving for." In which case, happiness is a meaningless term. It might as well be paraphrased as "are you getting what you want to get."

Happiness can also just mean feeling happy. In this definition, happiness is reduced to an emotion. Achieving this emotion doesn't have to be the grand imperative: one can live the "right" life without ever feeling that sense of happiness. That happiness-sensation could just not be important to you.

In which case, the conversation with Donald Trump is not a contradiction, for there is a happiness ONE and TWO. Happiness couched in my language was "do you seek that really great feeling of being happy?" while as his happiness was couched in terms of "these things matter to me, therefore having them makes me happy."

Later in my subscription to Happiology, my apathy toward happiness had to be taken seriously. This realization has brought an imperative-crisis because "if I don't care about happiness, what am I to do???" Sartre offers an annoying answer which is "you invent" what to do. i.e. you just make it up, and wherever your actions lead you to is what you were seeking all along.

Pfft. This is a dissatisfying answer, as it's the equivalent of saying, "do whatever."

But, I'm currently leaning toward an imperative of "do whatever's on the table." If you are in a moral dilemma, let's say, then morality will be at stake, and so focus in on that. If you are in a relationship, then how you deal w/ love will be what matters. If you are single and enterprising, then making money or self-actualization will be what matters.

And doing what matters is all that matters, right?

PS. I quit my job at Google recently, and this has afforded me the time to contemplate these kind of things.


Mandalope said on May 31, 2005 5:40 PM:

Man, Philip, I recently adopted happiology for myself as well and am having some of the same problems.... 'Cause as soon as you decide that you are going to be happy, you have to figure out what makes (and keeps) you happy -i.e., what "matters" to you. I am overwhelmed by choice. There use to be a couple of giant "themes" in my life that provided large, but defined sources for happiness. These themes were like happiness wells in which I could dip my bucket and drink and be filled.

Now, I think I am in transition, trying to settle on a new theme to carry me through for awhile. I recently changed almost everything in my life, so I think I am just still faultering, trying to find the next well. In the meantime, I am thirsty, restless, and not sure how to "set the table." I know I'm mixing metaphors here, but that is one effect of "doing whatever" in the meantime.

Anyway, I just found your site somehow and it sure made me happy to read what you had to say about happilogy. Thanks for letting me share. I'll be working on figuring out what really matters.

Min said on July 20, 2005 3:12 PM:

The happiology to me is a study of happiness. What't in your mind when you use it?


Philip Dhingra said on July 20, 2005 7:10 PM:

Here I used the term happiology to describe the process of actively seeking happiness through tools that measure personal levels of happiness.

Happiology also mainly means "the study of happiness." In my post, I am using the same word with two different meanings, maybe creating some ambiguity.

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