Monthly Archives: November 2009

Is happiness overrated?


On p. 85 of Happiness is Overrated, Raymond A. Belliotti writes

If the standard of meaningfulness is minimal – having goals, projects, interests, relationships that engage and energize one’s life – most of our lives on the whole meet it. But that is not saying much. […] Is it better to live Michelangelo’s life and not be particularly happy or to live an obscure, minimally meaningful life and be happier? If living a happy life was a greater good than living a robustly meaningful, significant, valuable life, then we should prefer the former. Yet we reasonably value a life replete with enduring accomplishment, high creativity, powerful social effects, and unparalleled excellence more than a minimally meaningful, happy life.

According to Martin Seligman

The third form of happiness, which is meaning, is again knowing what your highest strengths are and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are. There’s no shortcut to that. That’s what life is about. There will likely be a pharmacology of pleasure, and there may be a pharmacology of positive emotion generally, but it’s unlikely there’ll be an interesting pharmacology of flow. And it’s impossible that there’ll be a pharmacology of meaning.

Aside: To me the basic, lower level of happiness (that could potentially be medicated) is like not having a headache. It’s a normal aspect of being healthy. I’m not talking about joy or ecstasy, but just a mild, pleasant sense of well-being. Unfortunately, too often even that level of happiness is treated as something suspect, as something that must be earned by achievement. You don’t deserve not having a headache, it’s the normal human state, and similarly with being mildly, low-level happy. See also “Creativity is more likely to occur when people are positive and buoyant“.


Fasting and jet lag


I commented about fasting and jet lag here that

Dan, according to this, fasting before and during a long flight can help fight jet lag.

I experienced evidence of this on a smoky, uncomfortable flight to Milano some years ago. I was in a bad mood for other reasons, and declined any food. But later I noticed that I felt unusually good. I conjectured at the time that the spontaneous fasting had helped, but never followed up, because in a normal mood, fasting sounds pretty unpleasant.

Maybe I’ll give it a try next time I travel.

Regarding the moral dilemma of long-distance travel in the days of melting ice and ocean acidification, see here.

By the way, there I commented

Liz Reason, I have don’t have any of my “own flesh and blood” children. Do you think that means I care less about this planet than those who are members of that club?

And if you have children, may I inquire of you how you justify those carbon footprints?

Self-serving, yes, but also a real issue. Few actions would help the Earth more than making contraception more widely available and used in the US.

For a Darwinian theory of hypocrisy, see here.

“If they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t care what the answers are.”


According to Thomas Pynchon

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.

This is often paraphrased as

If they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t care what the answers are.

What questions are you asking? Consider the best mission statement ever

To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

A key question I’ve been asking myself is here

Is there really no alternate economic system that would incorporate markets, competition, free trade and all the other things economists love, but which does not depend on growth? Or at least not on the growth of material consumption?

See also “Tune into the genius channel 24/7“.

You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into?


According to somebody

What a man has not been reasoned into he cannot be reasoned out of.

I’ve seen it attributed to Swift. And I’ve also seen

You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.

attributed to both Swift and Twain.

More importantly, is it true? Sounds too extreme to me. Reason has no power to guide ourselves or others forward on the journey out of error?

On the other hand, according to Hacker’s Law

The belief that enhanced understanding will necessarily stir a nation to action is one of mankind’s oldest illusions.