Pursuing Happiness…

Here’s a pretty comprehensive article on the idea of happiness throughout the ages:

Pursuing Happiness: The New Yorker.

I found the following quotations particularly interesting.

We have been hardwired to emphasize the negative, and, for most of human history, there has been a lot of the negative to emphasize. Hobbes’s description of life in the state of nature as “nasty, brutish and short” is so familiar we can forget that, for most of the people who have ever lived, it was objectively true. Most humans have had little control over their fate; a sniffle, a graze, or a bad piece of meat, let alone a major emergency such as having a baby—all were, for most of our ancestors, potentially lethal.

Yes, we can be thankful for being alive at a time in which we can prevent our demise via antibiotics, vaccines, various surgical techniques, medical devices, and general health care methods. All these things are based on a much more precise understanding of how we work and of how things can go haywire. I cringe every time I see the crude instruments that “doctors” used to “help” injured people who apparently were willing to try anything. Case in point.

Of course The New Yorker piece overlooks the nature of collectivism, mysticism, and power relations in earlier times, many strong remnants of which humans still entertain. These memes can distract us from cultivating a heightened awareness of our inner world, in particular developing an emotional vocabulary that enables us to not be alienated from ourselves, or at war with ourselves. Many of the behavior patterns in earlier times kept people locked in the psychological and existential status quo; we must be keen to avoid falling into such traps.

People who have scant control over their lives are bound to place tremendous importance on luck and fate. As McMahon points out, “In virtually every Indo-European language, the modern word for happiness is cognate with luck, fortune or fate.” In a sense, the oldest and most deeply rooted philosophical idea in the world and in our natures is “Shit happens.” Happ was the Middle English word for “chance, fortune, what happens in the world,” McMahon writes, “giving us such words as ‘happenstance,’ ‘haphazard,’ ‘hapless,’ and ‘perhaps.’ ” This view of happiness is essentially tragic: it sees life as consisting of the things that happen to you; if more good things than bad happen, you are happy.

As the saying goes, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all,” we all have those moments when Murphy’s Law seems enforced just for us. Nothing seems to go right. Reality fails to meet our hopes.

Naturally, some cope with this by adopting a credo of contentment, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” As I noted in a previous post, if people’s expectations aren’t high, then they can casually remark that shit happens, and proceed to move on in their lives. And a favorite phrase of those who try to turn their sour lemons into sweeter lemonade is that “Everything happens for a reason.” To that I say, yes, things do happen for a reason: It’s called the laws of identity and causality! There’s no need to imply that the causes are essentially unknown in life, and so the best we can do is focus on how to proceed optimistically from that point onward.

In order for us to anticipate things possibly going badly for us in any particular facet of our lives, it helps to understand the nature of the things involved in this bad-luck process. Some things are within our range of choice and control. Many things are not. Thus, it’s important to focus on the things that we can have a positive influence on, in order to achieve or maintain what we truly desire. As the Serenity Prayer notes, the key is having the wisdom to know what we can and cannot change in our lives, being courageous about the former and accepting about the latter.

Acceptance of that which we are powerless to alter or control vitally redirects our energy into more constructive endeavors. Yet, discovering whether we can change something sometimes requires a bit of trial and error, or empirical investigation. The more we are active participants in pushing our volition to the limit, the more we are living up to our potential as reasoning and creative beings. And as a result, it becomes easier to know when it’s time to cut our losses and try a different approach.

“Call no man happy until he is dead” was the Greek way of saying this. It was only when someone had passed beyond the vicissitudes of chance, and reposed honorably in the grave, that one could finally render the verdict. The original challenge to this idea came from classical Athens, the first place where men were free and self-governing, and, not coincidentally, a culture in which a great emphasis was placed on ideas of self-reliance and self-control. Socrates seems to have been the earliest person to think critically about the conditions of happiness, and how one could be happy, and in doing so he caused a shift in the way people thought about the subject. Socrates made the question of happiness one of full accord between an individual and the good: to be happy was to lead a good life, one in keeping with higher patterns of being.

So, in addition to “There’s enough time for sleep in the grave,” they added achieving happiness into the decaying mix? Of course, without a scientific and rationally critical mindset for investigating the nature of things, one may feel that the world is a place in which one is batted around by arbitrarily imposed hardships. Free will is thus surrendered to the forces of nature (and incidentally, to others, to “rulers”).

As I noted in The Psychology of Liberty, too, there are definitely impediments to self-understanding and attaining abstract knowledge. The early Ionians and ancient Greeks were a more enlightened lot, for sure. They focused on understanding the world in an intelligible fashion, in accordance with the laws of identity and causality—and the law of non-contradiction (reflecting logic). This naturally fosters more feelings of self-control and volitional empowerment, that one is a captain of one’s ship, a creator of one’s destiny. Eudaemonia, as Aristotle understood it, entailed living a fulfilling and virtuous life in accordance with reason.

One of the key questions—going straight to the heart of the Enlightenment ambition for us to be happy here and now, in this life—is whether happiness is a default setting of the brain. That is to say, are we, left to our own devices, and provided with sufficient food and freedom and control over our circumstances, naturally happy?

The answer proposed by positive psychology seems to be: It depends. The simplest kind of unhappiness is that caused by poverty. People living in poverty become happier if they become richer—but the effect of increased wealth cuts off at a surprisingly low figure. The British economist Richard Layard, in his stimulating book “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science,” puts that figure at fifteen thousand dollars, and leaves little doubt that being richer does not make people happier. Americans are about twice as rich as they were in the nineteen-seventies but report not being any happier; the Japanese are six times as rich as they were in 1950 and aren’t any happier, either. Looking at the data from all over the world, it is clear that, instead of getting happier as they become better off, people get stuck on a “hedonic treadmill”: their expectations rise at the same pace as their incomes, and the happiness they seek remains constantly just out of reach.

Well, in studying happiness and in pursuing happiness, we would be wise to take some notes from Aristotle. Gains in wealth, as the happiness researchers note, enable one to satisfy basic material needs. But what is money? To understand how wealth is created, we have to understand the nature of our consciousness to gain values. Anything that benefits your life and well-being is valuable to you. Creating wealth, i.e., the process of bringing more values into reality than what existed previously, is something that human minds are particularly adept at doing. Termites build mounds. Beavers build dams. Humans do too, but they also build things to more easily build dams and create mounds! Our level of reasoning capacity grants us qualitatively different methods of survival and flourishing.

On account of this, it’s important to focus on creating wealth, rather than seeing obtaining it as the end in itself. Those stuck on the hedonic treadmill have lost the meaning of the nature of their consciousness to create values. They seek pleasure in external stimuli, while denying that which evaluates pleasurably experiences: their reasoning minds.

Values such as reason, purpose, and self-esteem are integral to our happiness. Virtues such as honesty, respect, integrity, self-reliance, and self-responsibility are the effective means of achieving our values. Taking this perspective makes the search for happiness strictly in the brain a somewhat misguided endeavor. Happiness is cultivated in the mind, via the ideas and practices we implement to actualize our full potential.

The trouble is that asking yourself about your frame of mind is a sure way to lose your flow. If you want to be happy, don’t ever ask yourself if you are. A person in good health in a Western liberal democracy is, in terms of his objective circumstances, one of the most fortunate human beings ever to have walked the surface of the earth. Risk-taking Ig and worried Og both would have regarded our easy, long, riskless lives with incredulous envy. They would have regarded us as so lucky that questions about our state of mind wouldn’t be worth asking. It is a perverse consequence of our fortunate condition that the question of our happiness, or lack of it, presses unhappily hard on us.

Yes, gratitude is key to being happy. Breathing in the beauty of the moment, living in the present, is vital to psychological health. Maintaining your flow, in whatever you’re doing, assuredly keeps your mind activated in a healthy way. Yet understanding the nature of psychological conflict—and how to effectively resolve it—may be still more important. Ultimately, happiness depends on the relationship you’ve cultivated with your own mind, knowing its limits and capacities, as well as being in touch respectfully and acceptingly with your own emotions (and thus the emotions of others). This is something that Ig and Og, from eons past, probably never thought much about—thus locking their lives in survival mode. In a sense the history of homo Sapiens has been one of slowly waking up to the awesome nature of what is possible to us—if we so choose.

Happy evolving,


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Places of Happiness

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Eric Weiner, who wrote an interesting book called The Geography of Bliss. Rather than critique the various ideas about happiness that he and Will Wilkinson discussed, I thought I’d recommend you read a list of people’s descriptions of favorite places for experiencing a profound sense of bliss: Your Happiest Places.

As you read through them, you might find yourself imagining being in the scenes. I sure did. Lots of the places have aspects that we’re all familiar with and have relished ourselves. It’s nice to be reminded of such serene moments in wonderful places. So, wherever you are now, I’m sure there is some aspect of nature that really resonates with your sense of beauty and joy. 

Here are some quotations from a Zen book that relate to these experiences, which I placed The Psychology of Liberty‘s section on religious views of enlightenment:

Consider your essence as light rays rising from center to center up the vertebrae, and so rises livingness in you.

Consider any area of your present form as limitlessly spacious.

Feel your substance, bones, flesh, blood, saturated with cosmic essence.

Abide in some place endlessly spacious, clear of trees, hills, habitations. Thence comes the end of mind pressures.

Feel cosmos as translucent ever-living presence.

With utmost devotion, center on the two junctions of breath and know the knower.

On joyously seeing a long-absent friend, permeate this joy.

Wherever satisfaction is found, in whatever act, actualize this.

In summer when you see the entire sky endlessly clear, enter such clarity.

See as if for the first time a beauteous person or an ordinary object.

Each thing is perceived through knowing. The self shines in space through knowing. Perceive one being as knower and known.

Such experiences also bear on our comprehension of our own finite lifespans. In “An Issue of Mortality” in The Psychology of Liberty, I noted the following:

As explained earlier, reflecting on the absolute wonder of life can be the most enriching and energizing process for growth and self-actualization. At times, life’s preciousness can entrance us. When it does, reality becomes stripped of arbitrary social conventions. Myriad experiences invite this kind of clarity: the cold brightness of the stars and moon on a clear night; a beautiful landscape of austere openness where the warm, fragrant wind can almost be seen; rising mountains with creeks and stark canyons that seem almost too real; a vista overlooking the vast ocean with the magnified red sun setting on its distant tides; the joyous expressions and heartfelt words of a loved one. Contrasting such experiences with the most remarkable fact that they will all be gone one day—or more precisely, we will be gone from them—can evoke a variety of strong feelings.

Carpe diem.


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Happiness versus Altruism

Not sure where I came across this headline recently:

Happiness is paying your taxes, study suggests

The study is over a year old, but the ideas in it (like most ideas) are timeless. I suppose we should note at the outset that this research on the subject comes from Oregon, a place not averse to taxing people (similar to the rest of America). From the article:

Contrary to the common notion that paying taxes can be a painful experience, researchers at the University of Oregon say the practice actually may trigger feelings of satisfaction and happiness.

“Paying taxes can make citizens happy,” Ulrich Mayr, a professor of psychology, said in a release accompanying the study in the Friday issue of Science.

Hmm, I wonder where the good professor’s paychecks come from… It might be wise to follow the money trail here, as in all things involving government and claims of altruism.

Mayr said the findings show people are willing to pay their taxes as long as they support good causes. The authors noted, however, that the results may have differed if people had been presented with a tax that seemed less fair or benevolent.

This is why it’s so important to make moral distinctions, which almost never happens among those who favor taxation. The main question is this: Is taxation voluntary or not? The answer is of course quite obvious, given all those people that have been made very unhappy by governmental “officials” who seek to lock them in cages for years simply because they didn’t want their wealth taken from them. Taxation is extortion, plain and simple. Otherwise, it would be voluntary, like charity and gift-giving, and one’s life wouldn’t be destroyed by thuggish people if one chose not to participate.

“People are, to varying degrees, pure altruists. On top of that, they like that warm glow they get from charitable giving. Until now, we couldn’t trace that in the brain.”

What exactly does it mean, in relation to one’s happiness, to be a pure altruist? Again, if we define the term properly in the context of a rational ethics of self-interest, it is nonsensical—for to be altruistic is to be selfless. An ethics of duty and obligations to others can’t spring from one’s own happiness.

However, if we do value our own health and well-being, we’ll likely become happier. And the happiness that we cultivate will likely lead to a life filled with benevolence as well as generosity. 

I was thumbing through a little book that a friend (who’s a therapist) gave me, titled intimacy: Trusting Oneself and the Other by Osho. Ok, so this book is chock full of the epistemological confusion known as Zen, even though oftentimes the intentions of the “mindfulness” philosophy are quite good (focusing on mind/body integration, for instance). But I was really impressed by one section, which is titled “Be selfish.” Osho wrote: “Selfishness is natural. Yes, there comes a moment when you are sharing by being selfish. When you are in a state of overflowing joy, then you can share. Right now miserable people are helping other miserable people, the blind leading others who are blind. What help can you give? It is a very dangerous idea, which has prevailed throughout the centuries.” “…I am not against sharing, but I am absolutely against altruism. I am for sharing, but first you must have something to share.”

Of course, the idea of forced sharing is beyond morally ridiculous—it is evil. No one, no matter what they call themselves, has a right to your property or a claim on your time and life. Things should be done in a peaceful society according to the trader principle, not the violent creed of savages. Yet people in governments throughout the world and those who support them believe otherwise, and they desperately want everyone to buy into their coercive scheme known as taxation.

The study by Mayr and his colleagues is titled Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, the researchers observed the brain activity of 19 women who were given a balance of $100 each. The researchers created the effect of taxation by making mandatory withdrawals from their account. The withdrawn money was actually sent to a food bank’s account.

Participants also made additional choices about whether to give away more money or keep it for themselves.

Talk about confounding variables! Taxation and voluntary giving are moral opposites, yet these researchers lumped them together. At least they openly admitted to the nature of taxation by “making mandatory withdrawals.”

The study found that two reward-related areas of the brain — the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens — lit up during the taxation test. These areas are typically activated when a person experiences feelings of satisfaction, as they do after having eaten a meal.

“The fact that mandatory transfers to a charity elicit activity in reward-related areas suggests that even mandatory taxation can produce satisfaction for taxpayers,” the study said.

Or maybe the feelings of satisfaction came from the denial of personal responsibility that taxation fosters. Once the dastardly deed of extortion has been done, then it’s all up to the faceless bureaucrats to do “good works,” right? I suspect that these research subjects, like most people indoctrinated by governmental memes of blind obedience to “authority,” had pretty thoroughly integrated the ethics of “civic duty,” which relates directly to the selflessness of altruism. In other words, as long as one is perceived by one’s peers and the “authorities” as having done the “right” thing (i.e., allowing money to be extorted from them for the “greater good” or “general welfare of society”), then everything’s ok, then one is a “good person.” This just goes to show that explicit ideas about altruism and subconscious premises about the virtuousness of (coerced) sharing can create false-self feelings of satisfaction. Such feelings are not much different than a drug user who just got his fix. This is not about living consciously and authentically.

Does anyone seriously believe that a happy person of self-esteem would feel satisfied after having their money extorted from them? Thus, in order to hide to this moral contradiction, extortion must be given a different name, as well as connoted with being virtuous (“paying one’s taxes”). Obeying “authorities” is seen by “others” as important and beneficial. Disobeying “authorities” is unacceptable and frowned upon by “others.” Of course, this moral con game is exposed once one understands that “authorities” are merely other people, biologically no different than oneself. We must always be aware of the anatomy of slavespeak.

When the participants voluntarily gave the charity more money, the activation area was larger — a finding that, according to the researchers, sheds light on why people make donations.

“These transfers are associated with neural activation similar to that which comes from receiving money for oneself,” the study said.

Making donations is an entirely different ethical action than allowing one’s money to be stolen for an allegedly good cause. The former fosters particular values that one wants others to achieve voluntarily. The latter is morally and politically contradictory (unjust) and therefore can only lead to further destruction of individual rights, destruction of personal responsibility, and destruction of the pursuit of one’s own happiness.

Happiness is always about the individual, never about the collective (of individuals). The end never justifies any irrational, non-voluntary means to obtain it. If we are to live happier lives as reasoning beings, it must be within a more respectful social context than the one that we experience presently. Outside the contrived context of the psychological and neurophysiology laboratory, there are real people with real lives, lives that are adversely affected by people who desire to use coercive threats and guns to gain values. In order to live authentically, we must be honest with ourselves and others about such harmful interactions.

All psychologists should be yelling from the mountaintops about the deleterious nature of ethical contradictions and institutionalized injustice in society—that is, if they truly care about people’s happiness.


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RE: Free Will: Happiness and the Foundations of Morality

This week I’m dipping into the swamps of social metaphysics in academia! For those not familiar with the term,  social metaphysics was outlined by Nathaniel Branden in The Psychology of Self-Esteem (his blog articles might be of value to you too ).
In a nutshell, when the nature of one’s reality is based on other people’s ideas, assessments, judgments, opinions, emotions, and behaviors—essentially their codes of morality—then one’s metaphysical worldview is social in nature, rather than reality-based and objective. Yet, an objective metaphysics is what reasoning human beings need, in order to live according to their own individual rational self-interest. For some reason, mainstream academic philosophers and psychologists have a hard time looking at reality objectively. Instead, they look to others (who also have a hard time looking at reality objectively).

Ethics should be about furthering your own life and well-being, your own self-esteem and happiness. We need to live an independent, self-oriented ethics rather a dependent, other (self)-oriented ethics. I explored this subject in detail in a section in The Psychology of Liberty titled “Freedom—An Ethical Issue.”

So, in this video interview between Cato policy wonk Will Wilkinson and moral psychologist Jon Haidt, they discuss the following in relation to Haidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis:

Free Will: Happiness and the Foundations of Morality

Self-righteous liberals think it’s OK to eat dogs (06:55)
Who says morality has a single foundation? (10:48)
Should we let parents treat kids as they please? (06:09)
Why America is so religious (04:09)
Why are Europeans getting happier? (06:08)
How moral truth is like the market value of gold (08:17)

While they covered a lot of interesting tidbits, I wanted to focus on some of the essentials, which were discussed near the end of the interview. At around 40 mins into it, Haidt stated that there is a “wisdom” in various moral views throughout society (conservatism, progressivism, etc.), so we need a “balance.”

Religion makes people happier; conservative values make people happier. Order, tradition, and predictability generally makes people happier. Now, some people don’t fit. There going to say, ‘What are you talking about? I hate living there,’ and they’re going to get out.

Unfortunately, so long as people judge people’s values and behaviors according to tribal notions, “happiness” for them contains many aspects of self-delusion and delusion of others. There is no valid substitute to cultivation of your own values and virtues, based on your own life and well-being. Religion is notorious for discouraging people from living an ethics of enlightened selfishness, which is the only way to love anyone or anything honestly, as Branden has noted. Selfishness according to religious dogma is the primary sin, because it distracts one from worshipping something else (the big G, for instance).

At 45:15 Haidt stated that “the psychology of morality and the psychology of religion are indistinguishable.” Well, he likely sees it this way because he’s also bought into the notion of social-based ethics. “Religare” is Latin for “to bind” (people together) after all, so the very word religion is necessarily tribal in nature. While I’m certainly a major advocate of people interacting in groups, forming close-knit communities, and trading in widespread commerce, etc., the purpose of morality needs to be understood and integrated by individuals, for individuals. In other words we must clearly distinguish the psychology of morality from the psychology of religion. The purpose of morality is to outline a set of values and virtues that serve your happiness. The purpose of religion, deliberate or not, is to have you surrender your mind to some purported “higher” authority than your own mind (even though none exists). That’s the essential difference.

Around 47:27, Haidt stated that “we can’t find a single principle that explains happiness” across cultures and countries, based on the data. Might this be because the researchers aren’t taking a philosophically objective approach to the nature of this individual experience? Without logically integrating the nature of a human mind and life, how can compiling statistics about groups amount to much, other than an indicator of how unenlightened the world is at present?

At 49:50, Haidt stated that “what we need is a sense of belonging, cohesiveness, and purpose.” Maybe those things sound appealing, but without a coherent understanding of an objective system of values and virtues, lots of things can go wrong. The state of the world reveals this. The human mind needs to integrate reality (which includes the reality of the self) in a non-contradictory way. Without a conceptually comprehensible grasp of his surroundings, man has only the “group” to fall back on, which of course begs the question of whether members of the group have done much thinking of their own.

Around 54:40, the notion that “society” creates certain moral truths, based on historical and ideological context rears its ugly, contradictory head. While it’s true that knowledge is contextual, moral knowledge is something that is readily available to any thinking human being. No one can escape the universal nature of ethics. Since we are all reasoning beings, it follows that what applies to one person in terms of being objectively moral, applies to others as well. While personal preferences, such as subjective tastes and pleasures, are rooted in our particular perceptions and our own specific life experiences, objective values and virtues reflect our nature as conceptual beings. Thus, whether one is a slave in ancient Rome or a rights-respecting person who’s been thrown in a cage for “breaking the law” here in America, the invalid moral code of the “masters” is still exposed for all to see. Treating people in a disrespectful fashion, no matter their size, color, age, gender, or any other non-essential aspect, matters a lot to those on the bad end of that immoral stick. This has remained a constant throughout human history.

At 57:10 Haidt stated, “It becomes an empirical question what kinds of societies are best for people,” even though he and Wilkinson generally agree with the tenets of classical liberalism. When one abandons the realm of objective morality, all that one is left with is arguments from effect (such as utilitarianism). The term “best” needs to be properly defined in this discussion. Only individuals can know what’s best for them, based on their own circumstances and in relation to others. Since classical liberalism harbors the irrational and immoral notion that some individuals who call themselves “government” have the “right” to rule over other individuals (e.g., via taxation and regulation), it too must be rejected immediately, if not sooner, as a highly disrespectful code of ethics. The initiation of force, which includes extortion and fraud, by a single person or even a group of people calling themselves government, is the ultimate form of disrespect.

At 58:42 Haidt stated, “I think a generally liberal democracy is the best, and that involves settings highest on the harm and fairness lower on the in-group/authority/purity foundations.” (More info on these foundations can be found here). He continued by noting that instead of needing religion and patriotism, 

We need groups to participate in that we respect, that we join with to pursue noble ends. And if you have a purely liberal, the extreme liberal society, in which everybody is their own project of self-creation, in which all relationships are fully voluntary, and everything is done on a straight utilitarian calculus, I think what you end up with is a nation of shoppers who feel empty inside. (59:10)

And Wilkinson ends with a seemingly humorous quip, “I think meaning is overrated.” If relationships aren’t fully voluntary, then we have no meaningful relationships. Meaning comes from independent persons establishing bonds of goodwill, respect, and love, based on objective (universally applicable) values and virtues. It takes a free, reasoning mind to ascribe meaning, after all, and in this day and age of coercive institutions and mind-numbing mythologies, no more noble end exists.

Be your own project of self-creation, so that you don’t feel empty inside, no matter what the various social metaphysicians contend.


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What is Happiness?

Whilst going through my psychology bookmarks the other day, I came across this link:

What is Happiness?

Ellen Kenner’s web page leads with a choice quote by Ayn Rand:

Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to enjoy. Happiness is a state  of non-contradictory joy – a joy without penalty or guilt… Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values, and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions…

I really like the idea of non-contradictory joy. It encapsulates a whole lot of philosophical insight and psychological awareness. Having momentary feelings of joy while harboring various contradictory premises, beliefs, and behaviors doesn’t lead to lasting happiness. As Rand noted, our minds have a basic need for rationality, or facing and integrating reality rather than avoiding it. We can appreciate Rand’s statements about rational this and rational that (even rational dancing?), and yet the process isn’t always so cut-and-dry, or so stylized like the heroic characters in her novels.

This is because we have a whole context of life experiences and relationships, which take place in a culture that is often at odds with our basic sense of rationality. Reason sustains our lives, and yet the virtue of rationality, or how we use our reasoning minds, tends to be disfavored by belief systems that extol such invalid concepts as gods and governments. In concert with these belief systems, authoritarianism and obedience are the predominant memes forwarded by family members, teachers, and sundry intellectuals we encounter in our lives (as Complete Liberty Podcast notes on a weekly basis). Respect for self, and thus respect for other selves, tends to get lost in all this illogical noise.

So, achieving happiness as an individual person on Earth today means living in a heroically independent way. Using logic to understand all the ways that contradictory ideas and contradictory actions in your life are subverting your quest for happiness represents part of the individuation process. Here’s the definition Kenner provides for happiness:

  Happiness is an emotion. So is sadness, love, hate, curiosity, revulsion, excitement, jealousy, contentment, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt and anger. All emotions have causes, causes which can be understood and controlled.

    The emotion of happiness is not caused simply by entertaining your whims. (Whims are an obstacle to happiness.) Happiness is not merely a life lived by accumulating moments of pleasure. On the contrary, happiness is a long lasting enduring enjoyment of life, it is being in love with living. It is your reward for achieving a good character and personal rational values in life. Some important values are a productive career, romance, friendship and hobbies.

    Achieving these values requires rationality and takes effort and skill. Two types of skills you can use are thinking skills and valuing skills.

    Once you learn to have confidence in your own mind and once you discover the virtues that make it possible for you to achieve your values and that make your life worth living, then you will experience the result – an earned pride and a genuine self-esteem. And of course happiness.

Hear hear. Of course, sorting through all the details requires a mindset that is willing to accept the truth of various ideas and behaviors that may have seemed adaptive at the time, but are actually detracting from your life and well-being.

I would add that, in addition to being an emotion, happiness can also be viewed and experienced as a meta-emotion, that is, a positive integration of the sum total of one’s ideas, feelings, judgments, values, virtues, and behaviors—a sense of life, if you will. The feeling of guiltless joy is the necessary consequence. Ultimately, this moral task entails realizing the best within yourself, according to your own honest assessment of things, taking into account all the facets of your life and goals. In other words, living for your own sake, and wanting others to live for their own sake too.


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