Michael Battalio

Monday, September 06, 2010

Serious Conversations (Part 20):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twentieth entry concerns happiness:

My friend began by saying that there is more to happiness than merely the secretion of chemicals in the brain caused by pleasure. She suggested that because we are a social species an activity that brings an individual pleasure may not cause happiness because that activity is “socially unacceptable, considered useless, or somehow otherwise doesn't fit in with what our higher reasoning values”. For something to make you happy it must make you happy on an individual level and be acceptable socially and be valued to you on a higher reasonable level. These activities will depend on the individual and depend on social influences and culture. Some are happy doing trivial things or happy doing socially frowned upon things because they have “eliminated internal conflict, either by changing what they do or by changing what they value”.

I answered by describing what some others have thought of happiness:
        Aristotle considers happiness the contemplative life, specifically contemplating what truths there are in the universe.  “the life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the happiest.”
        Eudoxus thought that happiness was pleasure.  Pleasure being an object of choice, and an object of choice is ‘excellent’ and good, and because he saw that all things move towards and do what they find pleasurable, pleasure must be the chief end and goal.  This is however a fallacious argument, appealing to the masses.
        Aristotle also thought that happiness was doing noble and good acts because they are self sufficient (i.e. that they are ends to themselves and “do not lack anything” [whatever that means]).  It was also widely agreed upon that you need to have other people around to be happy-to contemplate life with, to do pleasurable things with, to do noble acts with.
        Also I would say that if pleasure is the sole avenue towards happiness then it is obvious why no one is happy all the time.  Pleasure is the result of an activity.  Simply because we are human, we cannot be pursuing activity all the time; we get tired.  Thus pleasure cannot be continuous and then happiness is not continuous.
        So after all of this, I would say that happiness is a combination of things: pleasure, amusement, contemplation, and the achievement of “good” things.  Where a good thing is an end which is noble, virtuous and helps people.  I also think that some are content in simple pleasure and amusement because they don’t have contemplation and good things.  I also think that many are addicted to simple pleasure and thus don’t care about the contemplative life.  Lastly, I think that to be happy you must have a combination of all those things I mentioned above-one or two won’t really cut it.  
        I know I am sounding like an expert on this, and perhaps I’m just trying to be an expert on my own happiness and generalizing it to everyone else.  But I think that I’ll find it much easier to achieve happiness if I understand what it is, even if it is just my own personal happiness and not some universal truth, which I don’t believe exist anyway.

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