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From Thomas - A smart guy from Knol and Wikipedia


I'm impressed that you've clearly been doing some rather deep-level thinking about this whole subject of happiness, with what looks like Buddhist thinking with elements of Freudian analysis mixed in. I read over your chart. The way I interpret it is that you're suggesting that there are five components to the good life, or the fulfilling life, that is, what you term "happiness". And that it requires a balance of these five aspects to be happy. Am I getting this basically right? The idea of "balance" is always a winner in philosophy since Aristotle's golden mean, as you know. I'm not sure that I'm clear (or that you're clear) about what exactly you mean by each of your terms (eg what is "mind happiness" and how is that different from "heart happiness"). But if these senses can be fleshed out, it's an interesting construct which could conceivably be tested with real-world applications; for example, analyzing procrastinators to see if the reasons for their procrastination can be described using your categories, and seeing if your prescription (eg lower this, raise this etc) helped them. I wonder if there are assumptions in your analysis which you haven't really come to grips with yet, particularly that "selflessness" or seemingly "selfless" actions are necessarily good. Some biologists (possibly neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky) might suggest that there is no such thing as true altruism, that everything done for others (almost always) has some kind of planned payback or hidden benefit to the person. There are philosophical issues here too -- egoism versus altruism, selfish versus selfless -- tough questions without easy answers. Have you read Ayn Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness"?

But the whole issue of "happiness" -- tough one. I think the way you're using the term is that it's an adjective applied to a life-plan, a smart approach to living. So you're saying: happiness is good; here's how to get it. Examine your life against this construct. And where there are problems, you can see how to fix them by breaking down your views into these five categories, and making comparisons. Is this what you meant?

There are numerous other senses for the term "happiness" as you surely know. The popular sense is that it's something good, feeling pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, and it isn't really defined well (but this doesn't matter; people just think of it as something good). My spin on the word is that it's remembering a past pleasure, remembering a past experience in which a person gained in power or achieved something meaningful, or as Spinoza might think, of transitioning from a lesser perfection to a greater one. And, in my view, I think the idea that WHILE one is transitioning to a better state, it's hard to be fully conscious of the happiness-aspect of it -- you're too busy doing what you're doing to be cognizant of how "happy" you're feeling at the moment -- but that happiness is something that comes later, while remembering, kind of like watching a video of a fun moment in your past. This is how I currently think about it, but my view on this may change over time. So I'm kind of urging people to think of happiness in my (proposed) sense -- of something separate from the actual transition. And there are some researchers I've come across in positive psychology who distinguish between the transition period (what they call "flow") and the memory of it afterwards, and perhaps they might agree with me, but I haven't had any in-depth discussions with any of them yet.

But this is only my best guess at the moment. And philosophers have different senses of the term, and I doubt anybody can ever nail down this term once and for all.

I'm wondering: have you read much philosophy? What do you read? I'm kind of wondering what brought you to your current state intellectually, that is, what led you to this point in your life? And what have you studied?

-- tom

Reply from Scott - Cartoonist and smart life re-thinker

Refers to the formula on this blog post.

My email to Scott:

Scott! I realize you're super busy, but I'd love you to see what I've made. I came across your happiness formula about a year ago, and loved it, but I've been trying to integrate things such as self-worth, sleep and things like that.

Your formula:
Happiness = health + money + social life + meaning

My formula:
Happiness = positive body feeling + positive self-image + relationships + selfless contribution + oneness

It maps very closely to yours, but is more general - and to me, feels more complete. In fact, I made a table where you can extrapolate from one level to the next, but I'll explain that later.

How our formulas compare:

Your "health" is expanded to a general "body happiness", including things such as health, diet, illness, exercise and sleep. Excitement and life stability are also included.

"Money" becomes "positive self-image", including things such as feeling that you're making good life progress, have enough life freedom, enough money, and compare well to your peers. This includes the thoughts of "I exist", "I am in control" and "I am significant".

"social life" becomes "relationships", which is pretty much the same, but I include loving non-human objects in this too (Not sure if that part's right though)

Your "meaning" was really helpful to me, and set me thinking. To me, this is two things; "selfless contribution" (really throwing yourself into something, with no thought of benefit to yourself) and "oneness", which sounds strange, but is your connection to all that is, a consciousness of that which is outside your groups.

I've been thinking about this for years. I'd love to know what you think, or any improvements you can think of. Damn the INTP brain! :D

I made a table, and it looks like there's a logical sequence to the kinds of happiness:

Is this the meaning of life? :)


Scott's reply:

Hi Jonathan,

Notice how happy it made you to work on this!

I was aiming for the simplest, easy-to-communicate model, even if it gives up precision. You might have added complexity for the sake of completeness while giving up the "easy" part.


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