Saturday, April 28, 2007

Induced Happiness

Several weeks ago I posted on Happiness vs Joy. It didn't result in much discussion (Ok. No one commented.) This was a bit surprising in a blog where 20 comments is the average. At some level the issues of happiness, joy, contentment, anxiety, angst, fear are at the very heart of the human condition. Wired magazine has a brief essay this month which adds a bit of flavor to the issue from the pharm side of things. I recommend this 3 minute read. But here's an excerpt:

From a distance, pleasure without fear or desire sounds pretty good. But in your grasp, it starts to feel less like paradise and more like soma. A species that shuts out adversity does not survive very long in a Darwinian universe. In the short term, humans with happy-making neural implants would cease to be interesting. Quenching feelings of hardship also means never feeling desire or want. Unpleasant as those emotions can be, they're also the basis for ambition and creativity. "Happy people are not ambitious," Greenfield says. "They do not build civilizations."
One could argue that there is no inherent goodness in building civilization, and I have had some commenters on this and other blogs who feel all this need to grow and build is not the best for human kind. The Jesus People certainly would contend that the constant grasping for material improvement is not of God. Many environmentalists clearly would like to see a return to simpler times.

Now enters the age of Pharma. The article points out that we may be on our way to being able to use various drugs or other tools to completely control our moods. We certainly have taken a number of very large steps down that path with various anti-depressants, anti-anxiety products, ADD and ADHD solutions, and "muscle relaxents." On the surface and case-by-case one has a hard time saying to the chronically depressed person, "You'll get over it," when a couple of tiny pills will give them so much peace. But as a species, is this approach wise?

Taking it directly into the God realm, there is a small and shrinking percentage of the Christian community who proclaim the sufficiency of Christ. This is similar to the Christian Scientist Claim of no medical intervention. However, do we begin to see their point as we move down the slippery slope. (Or should we say slippery designer babies, gene alteration, or enhancement drugs.) Should we draw a line? Where?

The article concludes with this interesting thought:

Maybe it's no coincidence that some of the happy-making stuff is manufactured in those countries. It's reminiscent of the scenario laid out by another prescient thinker, H. G. Wells. In his book The Time Machine, Wells wrote about a world where the happy, indolent elite — the Eloi — are served by industrious outsiders called Morlocks. The Eloi are also the hardworking Morlocks' food. Grim stuff. And also the exact opposite of what Jefferson was trying to tee up for Americans. Maybe he knew that if you have too much happiness, you don't get life and liberty.


Grateful2God...! said...

Seeing how you mentioned Christian might be interested in the following comment from its founder, Mary Baker Eddy - "Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can." (Message to TMC, 1902 p.17)

If that definition of happiness is accepted it makes drug-taking impossible as an alternative route to happiness.

And in a sense that concept that joy and satisfaction are found in spirituality, and the goodness it demands of us as individuals, rather than materialism is the main motive for Christian Scientists like myself choosing prayer rather than "medical intervention" more often than not. When healing comes through leaning on "the sustaining infinite" one gains so much more than just good health - one gains a sensible consicousness of God's goodness.

So rather than foregoing medical intervention I would indeed see myself as choosing "the sufficiency of Christ" when I practice such healing.

All the best.

Tony L.

bernardo said...


Which part of that definition rules out medical intervention? Medicinal drugs are "good" (if they prolong life and decrease suffering), they are made available to us by God and by ourselves (in the same way as are clothes, food from the supermarket, gasoline, and other processed things), and our taking them is thus a consciously worthy act. Right? How is taking a medicinal drug different from, say, eating? (Unless you eat animals and plants you yourself grow or catch).


Your first post on Happiness versus Joy seemed to have a clear message that believing in God brings a kind of happiness that nothing else could bring. That's an awkward point to comment on, but if you insist on my response: If a fantasy makes you happy and is good for the world, is this a good, worthwhile fantasy? Well, I guess so, but it doesn't make it true. (I must be in a Dawkins mood today). As for your new post, it asks a different question: Can we be really happy (not just content) if there is little or no suffering? That's a very interesting question.

Here is one very good answer to it, which I think is very interesting. It implies we can only be happy if we can say our situation is better than someone else's. So would minimizing injustice cause everyone to become miserable? And would it be worth keeping just a little bit of injustice around, on purpose, so that everyone else enjoys their happiness more?

Another related point, something Nick could explain to you a lot better than I could, is that a central value of Buddhism is to do just what that first quote warns against: try to minimize desire, and be content with that you have. If your religion believes in this, though, this means your neighboring country will be tempted to invade you, and you'll do nothing about it when they do (except maybe flee to India).

So what is the best balance between happiness and suffering? How much suffering do we need in order to keep us creative?

Well, if the pursuit of justice is what keeps us motivated, I don't see any danger in anyone becoming overly content anytime soon, even if only for the reason that different people have differing views on what ideal justice looks like.

My answer to all this is that clich├ęd aspiration for the will to change what you can, the patience to accept what you can't change, and the wisdom to tell the difference (or however it goes). I say, it is pointless to want something you cannot have, so towards those wants one should take the Buddhist approach and learn to get over them (and with some people this requires medication). However, the desire for something you CAN have is a worthwhile one if it motivates you to be productive, so that's good. The most important part is knowing how to tell the difference, so that you can know, out of the things that bother you, which ones to get used to and which ones to try and fix. (And yes, I know that religion can be pretty good at helping people to make the distinction between that their responsibilities are versus what is in the hands of God). Happiness isn't having what you want or being perfect, it's knowing you're doing all you can to get there. Atheists can figure that out too.

And one last note, a great dialogue from Little Miss Sunshine:
- Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap, high school and everything, just skip it.
- Frank: You know Marcel Proust?
- Dwayne: He's the guy you teach.
- Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he's also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh... he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you're 18... Ah, think of the suffering you're gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years! You don't get better suffering than that.

bernardo said...

I meant to say "helping people to make the distinction between what their responsibilities are versus what is in the hands of God".

And here's a link about the Buddhism thing.

For more, just Google "Nirodha". Or ask Nick.

Randy Kirk said...

I think it is possible to be satisfied with what one has, desire to attain more without being anxious about it, and protect loved ones and possessions from invaders. I don't see any contradiction in this.