Do we want too much...happiness?

(Motivated, somewhat, by this thread)

Sometimes I think our problem is not that we need to learn to be happy with less stuff, money, status, etc., but that we need to learn to be less happy.

Life is full of blows, setbacks, conflicts, and hurts. To the extent we pretend it isn’t, we’re living in a dreamworld. We should value joy, contentment and peace as a privilege to be earned, not as the natural state of things that we’re somehow owed.


What precisely, emotionally speaking, is the difference?

Though I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense. We’re quite adept at being unhappy and discontented, it’s not really something you have to learn.

Isn’t it better to be very satisfied with little than slightly satisfied with little? What benefit does being less happy overall have?

Unless you mean we need to learn to be content with less happiness…which is basically the same as being happy with less stuff.

I think the most important thing is learning to be content with what you’ve got. If you somehow emotionally and mentally convinced yourself that your happiness threshold will never be very high, then you will not appreciate the good things.

Joy is a gift from God, as such there is nothing we can do to earn it, it is a free gift. Unfortunately we turn away God’s gift and go after things like money, status, etc. We pursue happiness, God gives happiness, we get to chose.

We need to learn to be more happy about being less happy?

I disagree. Happiness is an end goal, and for many people material possessions are a means to that end. So while I agree that we might learn to be happy with less stuff, the priority is to be happy, not less happy. To me, that means the focus is on things that truly get you to that goal, which will be different for everyone. For some it may be satisfaction in their work, for others the health and energy of their family, or most likely a blend of all aspects of life. To some people, it is all that stuff, money and possessions you mentioned.

Satisfaction. That is the word. We all want it, but not all of us want the same things that will lead to safisfaction.

I think what we’re talking about here is more contentedness and realistic expectations. In The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. David Burns, he talks about something similar; he says (paraphrasing) that aiming for feeling good every minute of every day is not realistic; if you can feel good about three days of every week, you’re actually doing pretty well. How we look at things plays a huge part in how we feel about them; if you expect to feel happy all the time, you’ll think there is something wrong with you that you feel less than happy four days a week. If you know that feeling happy three days out of each week is normal, you might be a lot more contented with achieving that goal.

Worded better than my post, kudos.

Let’s put it like this:

We’re not naturally content (I like Cat Whisperer’s phrasing). I feel content when I’ve had a nice meal in a clean home. Having a nice meal in a clean home means I’ve got to clean my home - or pay someone to clean it for me - and cook a meal - or pay someone to do it for me. Personally, I feel more content when I can say I cooked a good meal and cleaned house myself. Even if I sometimes order a pizza or go out for dinner (and a good meal at a restaurant can be spectacularly good, but doing it every night would be boring).

For me, the enjoyment is in doing stuff yourself. I think Terry Pratchett has a paragraph in one of his childrens books about keeping focused on the real world by doing menial work and I think that’s exactly right. We live in a messy place, and the best way to feel at ease with that is to do simple tasks that accomplish simple but very immediate goals.

I used to work at a moving company and it sucked in lots of ways, but at the end of the day, I really felt I’d done something useful. It really gave me a lot of mental and physical energy.

I agree with the OP. The point is not some trite paradox about how we should happy with being less happy, the point is that happiness (despite what utilitarians and other hedonists try to tell you) is not the proper goal of life.* Happiness and pleasure are just nature’s (rather unreliable) ways of telling you that you are doing the right thing, or are in the right sort of situation, just as pain and misery are nature’s (rather unreliable) ways of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. More often than not (but by no means always), doing what will make you happier is the right thing to do, but it does not follow that the point of doing it is to make yourself (or, indeed, anyone else) happier.

Consider, for the most part people have sex because they enjoy it, but the point of sex is to reproduce the species.

*Don’t ask me to tell you what is the proper goal of life though. That is a much more difficult matter.

Whatever. The point of sex is whatever you want it to be. Procreative sex is not inherently closer to “the right thing” than non-procreative, purely recreational sex; it’s just closer to the phenomenon whose influence evolutionarily led to sex feeling good. But so what? Do things because they make you happy, not because you think there’s some nebulous goal out there you have to work towards.

To be happy?

No. Can’t you read?

Apparently not.

I’m a fairly convinced hedonist in that I think that being content/happy/whatever is a good thing to achieve and that unhappiness is generally indicative of situations that need to be changed*, but I’m also not sure at all that having happiness as the goal in life is actually the best thing. If only because life is way too messy to know how to achieve it.

  • I’m assuming non-sociopathic individuals here.

Sex was just intended to be an analogy, and maybe the way i put it was misleading. There is certainly a sense in which the “goal” of sex is reproduction, but I was not intending to imply that if you have sex intending to produce a baby you are necessarily doing something “better” than if you are just doing it for fun. That will depend on circumstances. However, the point of my post was that I strongly disagree with your last sentence (for which, I notice, you make no argument whatsoever). Why should the goal be to make all this happiness? What is good for?

If happiness were the true and only goal of life, we should probably just spend our time on Earth dosing up on heroin.

Only if we wanted to be happy for quite a short time. If we wanted to be happy for 80 years, we probably shouldn’t be doing heroin. At least not given the current legislative, physical and economic circumstances.

I would like to quote John Jay on this: “We must go home to be happy and our home is not of this world, here we have nothing to do but our duty.” That represents my basic philosophy on happiness.

Happiness must not simply be happiness in self-happiness and hedonistic pleasure but happiness in satisfication of doing duty and making accomplishments. That is the higher form of happiness.

Why must we learn this? Personally, I think we each need to come to grips with life on our own terms, and decide for ourselves what’s best for us as individuals, and not be told we need to learn to be less (or more) happy.

Who pretends this, though? AFAICT, most people are well aware that life is full of these things, whether the person be a multi-millionaire, a movie star, a doctor, or an out of work factory worker. Everyone needs to come to terms with their own life, and decide what joy and contentment, peace and privilege means to them.

Well, to paraphrase, I’d say that while it’s true we all get the whole Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness thingy, you have to go out and hunt down that Happiness thing on your own…no one is going to just give it to you…


It is wrong to talk about “happiness” as if that is one thing. There are so many kinds of happiness.

One is a sort of long-term happiness that comes with living a meaningful life. The kind of happiness that will allow you to look back on your years and say “I had a good run.”

There is also momentary pleasure- the “highs” so to speak.

Finally, there is your baseline, day-to-day mood.

I, too, was surprised at how big a role material processions play in that thread. Indeed, the science tells us that once our basic needs are taken care of, material goods do very little to improve our happiness. Basically 50% of our baseline happiness level in inborn. 50% can be controlled by controlling our attitudes and behaviors. Anyway, I guess I’m saying that you can raise that day-to-day mood, and I really see no reason not to. Sure, there should be more to life than your own pleasure, but living a meaningful life can be a form of happiness, too, even if you feel down much of the time.

A lot of good stuff in this thread.

I guess my concern is not so much that we turn away from hedonistic or materialistic concerns, and more that we learn to function with stress, depression, anxiety, et al., on some higher level than the basic 9-to-5 deadhead robot level we now do.