Adam Phillips on the happiness myth | Books | The Guardian

Happiness and the right to pursue it are sometimes wildly unrealistic as ideals; and, because wildly unrealistic, unconsciously self-destructive.

Interesting essay with some good tidbits. This bit on pathologies could also apply, more mildly, to how we react to differing opinions:

We tend to pathologise the forms of happiness we cannot bear.

And on education:

There are, for example, only two reasons for children to go to school – apart, that is, from acquiring the werewithal to earn a living: to make friends, and to see if they can find something of absorbing interest to themselves.

Adam Phillips on the happiness myth | Books | The Guardian

The Happiness Hypothesis (review: 5/5)

The Happiness Hypothesis
Awesome book. I thank Justin for the recommendation. What you have in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is a perfect balance between nerdy science/philosophy and distilled layman’s explanations. Jonathan Haidt is so efficient with this book. It’s an impressive balance of general theory and immediately useful information. Below lie a bunch of quotes or scraps I found particularly worthwhile. You can find a lot more in Derek Sivers’ notes for the book, which I recommend very much for a solid overview. Read this book, y’all.

Scandal is great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return. With contempt you don’t need to right the wrong (as with anger) or flee the scene (as with fear or disgust). And best of all, contempt is made to share. Stories about the moral failings of others are among the most common kinds of gossip.

Set for yourself any goal you want. Most of the pleasure will be had along the way, with every step that takes you closer. The final moment of success is often no more thrilling than the relief of taking off a heavy backpack at the end of a long hike. If you went on the hike only to feel that pleasure, you are a fool.***

“Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” -Shakespeare

The human mind is extraordinarily sensitive to changes in conditions, but not so sensitive to absolute levels.

Conditions include facts about your life that you can’t change (race, sex, age, disability) as well as things that you can (wealth, marital status, where you live). Conditions are constant over time, at least during a period in your life, and so they are the sorts of things that you are likely to adapt to. Voluntary activities, on the other hand, are the things that you choose to do, such as meditation, exercise, learning a new skill, or taking a vacation. Because such activities must be chosen, and because most of them take effort and attention, they can’t just disappear from your awareness the way conditions can. Voluntary activities, therefore, offer much greater promise for increasing happiness while avoiding adaptation effects.

“Happiness formula”: H = S + C + V (set point, conditions, voluntary activities)

External conditions with significant impact on your happiness, that you can never fully adapt to: Noise. Commuting. Lack of control. Shame. Interpersonal conflict.

Variety is the spice of life because it is the natural enemy of adaptation.

The extensive regulation of sex in many cultures, the attempt to link love to God and then to cut away the sex, is part of an elaborate defense against the gnawing fear of mortality.

Our life is the creation of our minds, and we do much of that creating with metaphor. We see new things in terms of things we already understand: Life is a journey, an argument is a war, the mind is a rider on an elephant. With the wrong metaphor we are deluded; with no metaphor we are blind.

Religious experiences are real and common, whether or not God exists, and these experiences often make people feel whole and at peace.

Life is much like a movie we walk into well after its opening scene, and we will have to step out long before most of the story lines reach their conclusions.


***This reminds me of one of Chris Willett’s rules for long-distance hiking. #1: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing something wrong. [I construe broadly the term “enjoying” here]. To round out the list, Rule #2: Never leave good trail for bad. Rule #3: Only a great fool leaves a dry place.

The best vacation ever – The Boston Globe

Lots of good ideas here. Positive psychology seems cooler and cooler every day.

How long we take off probably counts for less than we think, and in the aggregate, taking more short trips leaves us happier than taking a few long ones. We’re often happier planning a trip than actually taking it. And interrupting a vacation — far from being a nuisance — can make us enjoy it more. How a trip ends matters more than how it begins, who you’re with matters as much as where you go, and if you want to remember a vacation vividly, do something during it that you’ve never done before. And though it may feel unnecessary, it’s important to force yourself to actually take the time off in the first place — people, it turns out, are as prone to procrastinate when it comes to pleasurable things like vacations as unpleasant ones like paperwork and visits to the dentist.

The best vacation ever – The Boston Globe

The Happiness Project (review: 3/5)

The Happiness Project
I felt pretty torn about this one. I’d been following Gretchen Rubin’s blog about the Happiness Project for a while and wondered what extra stuff would be in the book. I got it from the library, so I’m not sure that it matters as the only cost to me was time. Luckily she’s a really fluid writer and it’s a quick read, so it’s not in the “waste of time” category. Good parts:

If there’s a downside, it’s that I wish she’d shared more of the studies she read up on (surely a ton), and less of the personal anecdotes of how she applied them. But then again, I wonder if I’d say the opposite if the reverse were true? Either way, you can probably get the most bang for your buck by ripping through the best-of section over on her site. Tyler Cowen says “On net, Gretchen’s tips will enhance your happiness.” I suspect this is true.

Satisfaction is a product not of where you are, but of where you’re going. To get calculistic, it ain’t about your value, it’s about your first derivative (and maybe your second). In this light, statements like “When x happens, I’ll attain happiness” don’t make sense, but ones like “While x is happening, I’ll be happy” make somewhat more.

Against Happiness (review: 2.5/5)

Eric Wilson‘s book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy “challenges the recent happiness trend and celebrates the meditative virtues of melancholy.” He’s most successful when talking about the meditative virtues. The argument is simple: acknowledging the tragic, the struggle, the rain, and the inevitable decline of all things makes joy, success, the sun, and livelihood all the richer in the here and now.
Our manic urge to avoid mere discomfort keeps us from exploring these fuzzy edges, keeps us from knowing the whole. At our most important and emotional events like birth, death, and marriage, these edges become painfully, joyfully clear:

The tiny body quickly follows the head. A baby appears. You who have been watching are torn between weeping and laughing. You lament this infant’s tragic fall into the pain of time; you celebrate new life. While the baby cries in lamentation and celebration, you join it, with your tears washing over your ridiculous grin. You at this moment are two and one at once, melancholy and joyful, sorrowful and ebullient. You realize that the riches moments in life are these junctures where we realize, in our sinews, what is true all the time: the cosmos is a danced of joggled opposites, a jolted waltz.

The first quarter of the book, on challenging the happiness trend, should have been either much abridged or much expanded. It falls back on some tired excoriations of modern America (hitting all the right buzzwords: SUV, suburbs, McDonald’s, Botox, etc.), and ends up a little too thin and editorial. But later he does have some pretty interesting discussions of specific people, talking about the struggles of Colerige, Beethoven, and Keats, among others. On Beethoven:

Even though he clearly hates his inherited troubles—his melancholia, his gastric disorders, his hearing loss—he also acknowledges, though indirectly, that these very constraints are his muse. In rebelling against his “fate” by creating vital music, he actually transforms this same fate into an inspiration.

There are some funny parts, too, like talking about the strangeness of American Protestantism as a feel-good “happiness companies,” with “Jesus as some sort of blissed-out savior”.

Lastly, here are some works that Wilson referenced in his book that I also liked: