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“.



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