Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Shallow Search for Happiness.

I'm in the middle of my term 'break' in which I had to do even more work than a normal week at school. Test preparations and written papers took up almost half of it.

Now I'm taking a short break to update this blog as I think I've done enough preparation work and will let fate decide what happens in tomorrow's online test. This is the first time I'm getting a test where I have no idea what is to be tested. I was probably more prepared for my blood test this month which actually went really well. Turns out law school deprives one of unhealthy food such that I actually have a better cholesterol reading than a normal person and managed to control my blood below 8 for my HBA1C.

I'm writing today's article as a response to someone who intimated to me that he is disturbed by all the happy pictures his friends put up on Facebook, this makes him question the meaning of his own life. I consider this person very successful by Singaporean terms, so I was puzzled by his sharing. And if someone who is successful find a struggle in this, this is a problem which might be worthy of some thought.

Like in almost all recent postings, I will take a multi-model approach to this problem to decode this issue.

My first point is that most folks will simply say that they want to be happy. All life decisions are driven from the perspective of happiness. When a boomer or Gen-X say that they just want to be happy to justify a life decision, in my opinion, they are just as naive and shallow as Millenials who will justify any act by their YOLO philosophy, which I actually think is a more refined philosophy than what my generation has.

So first off, happiness on FB is a shallow idea which people use as a Swiss Army Knife to justify any life decision.

I will first refine this theory based on Martin Seligman's idea that Happiness is based on five components :

a) Pleasure - Classic meaning of happiness. Eating a lobster roll gives you pleasure.
b) Engagement - Mihaly's concept of Flow. You get this by doing interesting work.
c) Relationships - Have a great family and friends.
d) Meaning - You can put your work within a context of your existence.
e) Accomplishment - Meeting goals.

Voila ! Once we break happiness down into it's factor variables, the problem is not daunting anymore. Facebook pictures show people eating rich foods and visiting strange places. On the surface of it, people are not demonstrating happiness, they are only showing off one aspect of it, likely pleasure.

So my first solution to my friend's philosophical problem is that he needs to determine if these folks are really happy. Is one variable sufficient to do that ?

Ok, let's go further than Martin Seligman by introducing the concept of an objective or subjective test I learnt in Law School.

Something is subjective if they person claims to be the case. Pleasure, Engagement and Meaning should be held to the subjective test. Whatever makes you happy that makes you wanna post it on FB !

An objective test is independent of your internal state. Legally, judges create an imaginary creature known as a reasonable man to determine if the test passes or fails. Accomplishments and Relationships are judged externally. This is a public victory which does not depend on your subjective evaluation.

Some folks may in their course of lives focus on an internal scale which measures happiness. That may be wiser, but from the point of view of an outsider, this is internal and he cannot judge whether you are really happy or actually a nervous wreck ( Only the person can judge if he derived pleasure from the experience).

Of course, focusing on external/objective measures of happiness can backfire if it it is not accompanied by a private sense of victory.

In any case, we get choose what we want to do with our lives.

Suffering is a choice.

Studying like crazy during a term break is certainly not pleasurable, BUT :

a) The work is engaging.
b) We are struggling together as classmates and slowly building professional relationships.
c) We are rebuilding ourselves to be better.
d) We are getting a pretty prestigious credential.

Yup, for most of us, we don't have nice pictures to put up on Facebook, but look at what was gained when we decided to forego pleasure.

I think that's the consideration we need to make in light of the grander scheme of things.


1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Sounds like you are enjoying your coursework! :)