Tag Archives: happiness

Nick Bostrom

what hangs in the balance is at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 human lives (though the true number is probably larger). If we represent all the happiness experienced during one entire such life with a single teardrop of joy, then the happiness of these souls could fill and refill the Earth’s oceans every second, and keep doing so for a hundred billion billion millennia. It is really important that we make sure these truly are tears of joy.

Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Oxford, 2014, p. 103

Samuel Pepys

[W]hen I consider the manner of my going hither, with a coach and four horses and servants and a woman with us, and coming hither being so much made of, and used with that state, and then going to Windsor and being shewn all that we were there, and had wherewith to give every body something for their pains, and then going home, and all in fine weather and no fears nor cares upon me, I do thinke myself obliged to thinke myself happy, and do look upon myself at this time in the happiest occasion a man can be, and whereas we take pains in expectation of future comfort and ease, I have taught myself to reflect upon myself at present as happy, and enjoy myself in that consideration, and not only please myself with thoughts of future wealth and forget the pleasure we at present enjoy.

Samuel Pepys, Diary of Samuel Pepys, February 26th, 1666

Yew-Kwang Ng

[W]hile the problem of interpersonal comparability of utility is a tricky one, it is not insoluble in principle. It is conceivable that, perhaps several hundred (or a thousand) years from now, neurology may have advanced to the stage where the level of happiness can be accurately correlated to some cerebral reaction that can be measured by a ‘eudaimonometer’. Hence the definition of social welfare [in terms of the sum total of individual happiness] is an objective definition, although the objects are the subjective feelings of individuals.

Yew-Kwang Ng, Welfare Economics: Towards a More Complete Analysis, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2004, p. 4

Tyler Cowen

If the increase in well-being is largely illusory in the long term, once preferences and expectations have adjusted, the famous are trapped in the worst of all possible worlds. Their fame brings little benefit, while they are imprisoned by their need to preserve their reputation.

Tyler Cowen, What Price Fame?, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000, p. 160

Daniel Gilbert

[M]y favorite ad hominem attack of the week came from a blogger who read my Time essay on children and happiness and wrote: “Dr. Gilbert is a very bitter and misguided man who needs to experience fatherhood before he again attempts to write with authority on the subject.” Yes, it was painful for me to learn that I am bitter and misguided. But it was even more painful to learn that I am not a father. I called my 30 year old son to give him the bad news, and he too was chagrined to find that we are unrelated.

Daniel Gilbert, ‘Tears in the Wayback’, July 24, 2006

Nick Winter

Kahneman’s evidence shows that we suck at remembering and predicting our own well-being. We as a culture still ignore this empirical evidence, recommending to live our lives so as to avoid deathbed regrets. Deathbed regrets are like Hollywood films: they stir passions for a couple hours, but are poorly connected to reality. They are not good criteria for a well-lived life.

Nick Winter, The Motivation Hacker, 2013, chap. 10

James MacKaye

[J]ust as a boiler is required to utilize the potential energy of coal in the production of steam, so sentient beings are required to convert the potentiality of happiness resident in a given land area into actual happiness, and just as the engineer’s first care is to select a boiler having maximum efficiency of conversion, so the first care of Justice should be to populate the domain over which she has jurisdiction with beings capable of utilizing the available resources in the production of happiness, in a manner which will insure the maximum efficiency of conversion.

James MacKaye, The Economy of Happiness, Boston, 1906, p. 191

James MacKaye

All writers who have any practical and permanent contribution to make to the guidance of human conduct, perceive and proclaim some aspect or other of the philosophy of utility.  They may not explicitly recognize happiness as the end of life,–indeed they may explicitly repudiate it,–but their instinct enables them to identify means, even if the end eludes them.

James MacKaye, Thoreau: Philosopher of Freedom, New York, 1930, p. ix

James MacKaye

Quantities of pain or pleasure may be regarded as magnitudes having the same definiteness as tons of pig iron, barrels of sugar, bushels of wheat, yards of cotton, or pounds of wool; and as political economy seeks to ascertain the conditions under which these commodities may be produced with the greatest efficiency–so the economy of happiness seeks to ascertain the conditions under which happiness, regarded as a commodity, may be produced with the greatest efficiency.

James MacKaye, The Economy of Happiness, Boston, 1906, p. 183-184

Richard Wiseman

Researchers have spent a great deal of time looking at the link between people’s scores on these types of questionnaires and happiness. The findings are as consistent as they are worrying –high scores tend to be associated with feeling unhappy and unsatisfied with life. Of course, this is not the case with every single materialist and so, if you did get a high score, you might be one of the happy-go-lucky people who buck the trend. (However, before assuming this, do bear in mind that research also suggests that whenever we are confronted with negative results from tests, we are exceptionally good at convincing ourselves that we are an exception to the rule.)

Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, London, 2009, pp. 25-26

Eduardo Giannetti

[O] animal humano não se contenta con pouco. Assim como a descoberta da lei da gravidade permitiu ao homem deliberadamente manipular os seus efeitos e fazer um avião voar, os avanços da neurociência estão permitindo compreender e controlar cada vez melhor a mecãnica do bem-estar subjetivo. Chegará o dia em que a posteridade se divertirá ao relembrar como eram primitivas e precárias as drogas lícitas e ilícitas que usamos hoje em dia.

Eduardo Giannetti, Felicidade: diálogos sobre o bem-estar na civilização, São Paulo, 2002, p. 157

George Hartmann

If happiness be one of the major goals of living, if not the only consciously acceptable end of life itself (most people in practice behave as though they were hedonists or eudaemonists), surely an analysis of the conditions fostering or hindering its attainment is an intellectual obligation of the first order, since upon it rests the merit of all other human and social values.

George Hartmann, ‘Personality Traits Associated with Variations in Happiness’, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol, 29, No. 2 (July, 1934), p. 203

Lewis Mancini

Consistent with Bentham’s ideal of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, the quality of our world or universe (QW) could be assessed in terms of the ratio or quotient of the magnitude of the sum total of the subjective well-being (SWB) scores of everyone in the world or universe divided by the standard deviation of the distribution of all of the SWB scores.

In a similar way as the Dow Jones Index provides a means of assessing broad-based economic strength, this ratio, the QW, would provide a means of assessing broad-based (ideally universal) happiness and other aspects of SQB. It might also serve as a means of determining whether or not the lot of humankind were actually improving over time, that is, whether or not the changes which will come about in the world will actually be constructive. The larger the value of QW, the more worthwhile, humanistic, and heavenly we could consider our world to be.

Lewis Mancini, ‘Brain Stimulation to Treat Mental Illness and Enhance Human learning, Creativity, Performance, Altruism, and Defenses Against Suffering’, Medical Hypotheses, vol. 21, no. 2 (October, 1986), p. 217

Yew-Kwang Ng

I am against the insistence on the purely ordinal measurability of happiness only. In fact, I am not only certain that I am happier now than when I was 30-something, I am also absolutely sure that I am now at least 3 times happier than then. It is difficult to be sure that my happiness now is exactly 3.5 or 4.3 times my happiness then. However, I am pretty sure that it is more than 3 times.

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Happiness Studies: Ways to Improve Comparability and Some Public Policy Implications’, The Economic Record, vol. 84, no. 265 (June, 2008), p. 256

C. D. Broad

Among the things which we can to some extent influence by our actions is the number of minds which shall exist, or, to be more cautious, which shall be embodied at a given time. It would be possible to increase the total amount of happiness in a community by increasing the numbers of that community even though one thereby reduced the total happiness of each member of it. If Utilitarianism be true it would be one’s duty to try to increase the numbers of a community, even though one reduced the average total happiness of the members, so long as the total happiness in the community would be in the least increased. It seems perfectly plain to me that this kind of action, so far from being a duty, would quite certainly be wrong.

C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory, London, 1930, pp. 249-250

Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng

With adequate safeguards and cautious preparation, genetic engineering could be used to relieve suffering and increase happiness by quantum leaps. Our short-term prospect here would be the eradication of many genetic handicaps. The medium-term prospect could be the reduction of the proportion of the neurotic and depressed personality. The longer-term prospect might be the dramatic enhancement of our capacity for enjoyment. All these have to be done with extreme caution. The reason we should be very cautious is not so much to avoid sacrificing our current welfare (which is relative small in comparison to that in the future with brain stimulation and genetic engineering) but to avoid destroying our future.

Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng, The Road to Happiness, chap. 7, sect. 1

Torbjörn Tännsjö

The day starts when my alarm clock goes off. I leave a state of dreamless sleep and, for a moment, my situation is worse than it would have been, had the alarm bell remained silent. When I brush my teeth I begin to see some meaning in my life, however, and as soon as I taste my morning coffee the situation looks quite pleasant. However, once I start to read the morning newspaper things become worse. I am reminded of the miserable state of the world (in many respects). In particular, when I read about a famine in the aftermath of a war in Sudan, I feel despair. But when I catch the tube and embark on my journey to work, once again I feel fine. However, when I leave the tube station near my office, I see a child being knocked over by a car. I rush to her rescue and for a short while I stand there, holding the unconscious child in my arms, feeling the weight of her head on my shoulder. I feel miserable. An ambulance arrives and the child is taken care of. I continue my walk to my office. I start preparing a lecture. I call the hospital and learn that the child has not been injured seriously. I give my lecture and get a stimulating response from my audience. I go home by tube and prepare the dinner. My wife, who is a nurse at the hospital, returns home in the evening. We have dinner together, I tell her about the accident, and we go to bed early. The last thing I feel, as wakefulness merges into unconsciousness, is intense well-being.

Torbjörn Tännsjö, ‘Narrow Hedonism’, Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 8, no. 1 (March, 2007), pp. 81-82

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Meditation does produce lovely blissful feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and they don’t always occur. Furthermore, if you do meditation with that purpose in mind, they are less likely to occur than if you just meditate for the actual purpose of meditation, which is increased awareness. Bliss results from relaxation, and relaxation results from release of tension. Seeking bliss from meditation introduces tension into the process, which blows the whole chain of events. It is a Catch-22: you can only experience bliss if you don’t chase after it. Euphoria is not the purpose of meditation. It will often arise, but should be regarded as a byproduct.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English, rev. ed., Somerville, Massachusetts, 2002, p. 26

Randolph Nesse

Most people like to imagine that normal life is happy and that other states are abnormalities that need explanation. This is a pre-Darwinian view of psychology. We were not designed for happiness. Neither were we designed for unhappiness. Happiness is not a goal left unaccomplished by some bungling designer, it is an aspect of a behavioural regulation mechanism shaped by natural selection. The utter mindlessness of natural selection is terribly hard to grasp and even harder to accept. Natural selection gradually sifts variations in DNA sequences. Sequences that create phenotypes with a less-than-average reproductive success are displaced in the gene pool by those that give increased success. This process results in organisms that tend to want to stay alive, get resources, have sex, and take care of children. But these are not the goals of natural selection. Natural selection has no goals: it just mindlessly shapes mechanisms, including our capacities for happiness and unhappiness, that tend to lead to behavior that maximizes fitness. Happiness and unhappiness are not ends; they are means. They are aspects of mechanisms that influence us to act in the interests of our genes.

Randolph Nesse, ‘Natural Selection and the Elusiveness of Happiness’, in Felicia A. Huppert, Nick Baylis and Barry Keverne (eds.), The Science of Well-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. 10

Daniel Kahneman and Jason Riis

[M]oment utility is measured by collecting introspective reports, but this […] is not necessary. Appropriately validated physiological measures of moment utility could be used instead, and may have important advantages. The most promising physiological indicator of momentary affect is the prefrontal cortical asymmetry in the electroencephalogram (EEG), which has been extensively validated by Davidson and his team as a measure of the balance of positive and negative feelings, and of the relative strength of tendencies toward approach or avoidance. A portable measuring instrument is not yet available, but is technically feasible. When success is achieved, Davidson’s technique will be a candidate for a continuous and non-intrusive indicator of moment utility.

Daniel Kahneman and Jason Riis, ‘Living, and Thinking about it: Two Perspectives on Life’, in Felicia A. Huppert, Nick Baylis and Barry Keverne (eds.), The Science of Well-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. 292

Leonard Katz

Nature, by whatever mixture of chance and natural necessity, of natural selection and other less predictable evolutionary processes, has given us capacities for theoretical understanding in fundamental physics and higher mathematics that were of no conceivable use (as such) in the adaptive environments in which our hominid line evolved. For similarly unknown reasons it has made us phenomenally conscious experiencers of affective happiness and suffering.

Leonard Katz, ‘Hedonic Reasons as Ultimately Justifying and the Relevance of Neuroscience’, in Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 3: The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Brain Disorders, and Development, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008, p. 416

Adolfo Bioy Casares

Entre las cosas maravillosas que se manifiestan en la posesión algunas duran toda la vida, otras un instante. […] Fugaces: luego de una larga ausencia, en el primer despertar en el campo, la luz del día en las hendijas de la ventana; en medio de la noche, despertar cuando el tren para en una estación y oír desde la cama del compartimiento la voz de gente que habla en el andén; al cabo de días de navegación tormentosa, despertar una mañana en el barco inmóvil, acercarse al ojo de buey y ver el puerto de una ciudad desconocida[.]

Adolfo Bioy Casares, De las cosas maravillosas, Buenos Aires, 1999, pp. 17-18

Richard Layard

In 1998 the king of Bhutan, the small, idyllic Buddhist kingdom nestling high in the Himalayas, announced that his nation’s objective would be the Gross National Happiness. What an enlightened ruler!

Yet one year later he made a fateful decision: to allow television into his country.

Richard Layard, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, London, 2005, p. 77

Bertrand Russell

It appeared to me obvious that the happiness of mankind should be the aim of all action, and I discovered to my surprise that there were those who thought otherwise. Belief in happiness, I found, was called Utilitarianism, and was merely one among a number of ethical theories. I adhered to it after this discovery, and was rash enough to tell my grandmother that I was a utilitarian. She covered me with ridicule, and ever after submitted ethical conundrums to me, telling me to solve them on utilitarian principles. I perceived that she had no good grounds for rejecting utilitarianism, and that her opposition to it was not intellectually respectable.

Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1872-1914, London, 1967, pp. 44-45