Happiness 2.0

We are somewhat happier than our ancestors, the increase in our well-being is far less than we might have expected. In the Stone Age, the average human had at his or her disposal about 4,000 calories of energy per day. This included not only food, but also the energy invested in preparing tools, clothing, art and campfires. Today Americans use on average 228,000 calories of energy per person per day, to feed not only their stomachs but also their cars, computers, refrigerators and televisions. The average American thus uses sixty times more energy than the average Stone Age hunter-gatherer. Is the average American sixty times happier?

In ancient agricultural societies human violence caused about 15 per cent of all deaths, during the twentieth century violence caused only 5 per cent of deaths, and in the early twenty-first century it is responsible for about 1 per cent of global mortality. In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder! So are we still happy?

The glass ceiling of happiness is held in place by two stout pillars, one psychological, the other biological. On the psychological level, happiness depends on expectations rather than objective conditions. We don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon. Dramatic improvements in conditions, as humankind has experienced in recent decades, translate into greater expectations rather than greater contentment. If we don’t do something about this, our future achievements too might leave us as dissatisfied as ever.

On the biological level, both our expectations and our happiness are determined by our biochemistry, rather than by our economic, social or political situation. We never react to events in outside world, but only to sensations in our own bodies.

You don’t have to score the winning goal in the World Cup Final to feel such sensations. If you receive an unexpected promotion at work, and start jumping for joy, you are reacting to the same kind of sensations. The deeper parts of your mind know nothing about football or about jobs. They know only sensations. If you get a promotion, but for some reason don’t feel any pleasant sensations – you will not feel satisfied. The opposite is also true. If you have just been fired (or lost a decisive football match), but you are experiencing very pleasant sensations (perhaps because you popped some pill), you might still feel on top of the world.

The bad news is that pleasant sensations quickly subside and sooner or later turn into unpleasant ones. Even scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final doesn’t guarantee lifelong bliss. In fact, it might all be downhill from there. Similarly, if last year I received an unexpected promotion at work, I might still be occupying that new position, but the very pleasant sensations I experienced on hearing the news disappeared within hours. If I want to feel those wonderful sensations again, I must get another promotion. And another. And if I don’t get a promotion, I might end up far more bitter and angry than if I had remained a humble pawn.

This is all the fault of evolution. For countless generations our biochemical system adapted to increasing our chances of survival and reproduction, not our happiness. The biochemical system rewards actions conducive to survival and reproduction with pleasant sensations. But these are only an ephemeral sales gimmick. We struggle to get food and mates in order to avoid unpleasant sensations of hunger and to enjoy pleasing tastes and blissful orgasms. But nice tastes and blissful orgasms don’t last very long, and if we want to feel them again we have to go out looking for more food and mates.

The biochemical pursuit of happiness is also the number one couse of crime in the world. People drink alcohol to forget, they smoke pot to feel peaceful, they take cocaine and methamphetamines to be sharp and confident, whereas Ecstasy provides ecstatic sensations and LSD sends you to meet Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. What some people hope to get by studying, working or raising a family, others try to obtain far more easily through the right dosage of molecules. This is an existential threat to the social and economic order, which is why countries wage a stubborn, bloody and hopeless war on biochemical crime.

If I identify happiness with fleeting pleasant sensations, and crave to experience more and more of them, I have no choice but to pursue them constantly. When I finally get them, they quickly disappear, and because the mere memory of past pleasures will not satisfy me, I have to start all over again. Even if I continue this pursuit for decades, it will never bring me any lasting achievement; on the contrary, the more I crave these pleasant sensations, the more stressed and dissatisfied I will become. To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.

At present, humankind has far greater interest in the biochemical solution. No matter what monks in their Himalayan caves or philosophers in their ivory towers say, for the capitalist juggernaut, happiness is pleasure. Period. With each passing year our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, and our craving for pleasant sensations increases. Both scientific research and economic activity are geared to that end, each year producing better painkillers, new ice-cream flavours, more comfortable mattresses, and more addictive games for our smartphones, so that we will not suffer a single boring moment while waiting for the bus.

Homodues
Yuval Noah Harai

2020©Nagstrong12
All Rights Reserved

Understanding Happiness

If you were an eighteen year-old youth in a small village 5,000 years ago you’d probably think you were good-looking because there were only fifty other men in your village and most of them were either old, scarred and wrinkled, or still little kids. But if you are a teenager today you are a lot more likely to feel inadequate. Even if the other guys at school are an ugly lot, you don’t measure yourself against them but against the movie stars, athletes and supermodels you see all day on television, Facebook and giant billboards.

What is happiness for you?

Winning a lottery? Buying new house? A promotion? True love?

Let me clarify this for you, Nobody was ever made happy by winning the lottery, buying a house, getting a promotion or even finding true love. People are made happy by one thing and one thing only – pleasant sensations in their bodies. The complex system of nerves, neurons, synapses and various biochemical substances such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin!

A person who just won the lottery or found new love and jumps from joy is
not really reacting to the money or the lover. She is reacting to various
hormones coursing through her bloodstream, and to the storm of electric signals flashing between different parts of her brain.

Evolution has moulded us to be neither too miserable nor too happy. It enables us to enjoy a momentary rush of pleasant sensations,but these never last for ever. Sooner or later they subside and give place to unpleasant sensations.

For example, evolution provided pleasant feelings as rewards to males
who spread their genes by having sex with fertile females. If sex were not accompanied by such pleasure, few males would bother. At the same
time, evolution made sure that these pleasant feelings quickly subsided. If orgasms were to last for ever, the very happy males would die of hunger for lack of interest in food, and would not take the trouble to look for additional fertile females.

Think for a moment of your family and friends. You know some
people who remain relatively joyful, no matter what befalls them. And
then there are those who are always disgruntled, no matter what gifts
the world lays at their feet. We tend to believe that if we could just change our workplace, get married, finish writing that novel, buy a new
car or repay the mortgage, we would be on top of the world. Yet when
we get what we desire we don’t seem to be any happier. Buying cars and
writing novels do not change our biochemistry. They can startle it for a
fleeting moment, but it is soon back to its set point.

Nothing captures the biological argument better than the famous New
Age slogan: ‘Happiness Begins Within.’ Money, social status, plastic
surgery, beautiful houses, powerful positions – none of these will bring
you happiness. Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine
and oxytocin.

That’s one option. Another is that the findings demonstrate that happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile.

Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a “delusion”. The scientist who says her life is meaningful because she increases the store of human knowledge, the soldier who declares that his life is meaningful because he fights to defend his homeland, and the entrepreneur who finds meaning in
building a new company are no less delusional than their medieval counterparts who found meaning in reading scriptures, going on a
crusade or building a new cathedral.

So perhaps happiness is synchronising one’s personal delusions of meaning with the prevailing collective delusions. As long as my personal narrative is in line with the narratives of the people around me, I can convince myself that my life is meaningful, and find happiness in that conviction.

So I have two alternate happinesses with me.

One. If happiness is based on feeling pleasant sensations, then in order to be happier we need to re-engineer our biochemical system.

Two. If happiness is based on feeling that life is meaningful, then in order to be happier we need to delude ourselves more effectively.

This is quite a depressing conclusion. So let me conclude again. Happiness is no more than fleeting vibrations, changing every moment, like the ocean waves. If five minutes ago I felt joyful and purposeful, now these feelings are gone, and I might well feel sad and dejected. So if I want to experience pleasant feelings, I have to constantly chase them, while driving away the unpleasant feelings. Even if I succeed, I immediately have to start all over again, without ever getting any lasting reward for my troubles.

So why so struggle to achieve that disappears as soon as it arises??

SAPIENS

Yuval Noah Harari

©2020Nagstong12

All Rights Reserved

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