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Will

The Relativity of Happiness and the Contingency of Desires

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This may well have already been discussed here at length, but it's something I've been pondering intensely over the last couple days. 

 

Essentially, my question boils down to this: 

 

At least right now, as essentially an agnostic/atheist (despite going to Catholic mass every week :unsure:) happiness seems like the ultimate good to me. I have a feeling that along my current track of life I may never be happy, because in this materialist culture I will never be satisfied (although maybe I would be happy, I don't know). That's what leads me the Daoist belief that perhaps simplicity and calm (i.e. the elimination of desire, or at least the recognition that desires aren't important) is the ultimate way to find happiness at the moment of death, to avoid regret. 

 

Obviously, this is very difficult. But here's where the relativity of happiness comes in: Why couldn't it be possible to do that? 

 

Let me give an example. This really interesting article seems to confirm something I'd suspected for a while (although I guess it's hard to know for sure): That despite modern advances in technology, people in, say, the stone age were probably about as happy as people now. (Or, to put it less controversially and more probably, at least some were -- and that's really what matters for my purposes here.) 

 

Why is this? It's probably, of course, because expectations influence happiness. Happiness is relative. People who listen to classical music all the time will be happy when they hear classical music, but people who listen to jazz all the time will be happy when they hear jazz. 

 

This has some important implications for equality, as libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick noted in his brilliant Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He was explaining how equality might not necessarily improve happiness, since a higher standard of living is then taken for granted and more is desired. 

 

Technological advances are often taken as automatically good, but are they, really? As the Guardian article above notes, there has been too little research into whether happiness has actually increased. 

 

Anyway, I'm rambling a bit. But the bottom line is that if people in the past could be equally happy with no computers, phones, or even newspapers, why couldn't I?

 

Admittedly, this line of thought is rather depressing, as it suggests that all of our desires are completely relative to our environment, and have no value beyond that, that they are completely the result of external forces beyond our control. It's a very Daoist line of thought, I think, but it's a rather challenging one (although very powerful).

 

Have you guys thought about any of this? :)

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Hi Will,

A couple days last week I woke up in an incredibly happy state... for no obvious reason... just ridiculously happy...

And I noticed some part of my mind labeling that as "unreasonable" happiness. Like happiness has to be reasonable. Which made the happy part of me laugh a lot!  

 

(And even now I notice I'm describing it as ridiculously happy.)

 

Some part of me obviously believes that feeling happy must be tethered to external events... And some other part of me knows very well that it is not.

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A while back my signature block read "Peace an Happiness".  I changed it because I could not find a satisfactory definition of happiness.

 

Therefore it now reads "Peace an Contentment"

 

Those two concepts can be well defined.

 

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I guess the thing I am coming to realize is that my happiness is currently tied to various things that are essentially arbitrary. 

 

After that realization, I suppose there are two paths one can take: The negative path, which results in the disintegration of your passions and sense of value; or the positive one, which results in constant happiness.

 

Thinking about it now, I don't really see any reason why one couldn't reach that second path. To be sure, it would require great concentration and much practice. I wonder if studies have been done on this topic.

 

There is another thing I want to ask you guys: In my OP above, I said that I currently believed happiness was the ultimate, and in some sense only, good. Even when you consider religions such as Christianity, there is usually a heaven of some sort that brings everlasting happiness

 

People may think that they are doing things for reasons other than happiness. But are they really? For example, if someone believes that killing is wrong, they won't kill. Why did they make this decision? Is it because killing is wrong? Or, looking at it more closely, is it because they will only feel happy/content if they remain consistent with their moral code? Perhaps, as noted with the earlier heaven example, their moral code is tied up with visions of future happiness anyway. 

 

What do you guys think of this? 

 

I do think this ties into the general question (loved by Zhuangzi) of why we should really care about anyone else. Once you start thinking about it, it does get really hard. The postmodernist view I take that suggests there is no right or wrong means that the only reason to care about someone else would be because you, well, care about them, not because of some moral code. I realize that, intuitively, I don't really care about most people in the world. It's something I would have to force myself to do. Why should I force myself? If we're going to go this extreme, I might ask the most provocative question, namely, why should I even care about my family? (Perhaps the answer would be something about love, i.e. something that doesn't apply to the world at large but applies to my family.)

 

EDIT: I remembered that there was an old Chinese school of thought that held similar views to those in the preceding paragraph. Just looked it up and it was Yangism. 

Edited by Will
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Will - First let me say I usually am happy when I listen to jazz..but that may have to do with my profession (see my username;))

 

Over 10 years ago I read a book called 'Love Can Open Prison Doors' by Starr Daily (and, then, his longer version, 'Release'). It convinced me of something I always thought since a little child. That love was the most powerful force on earth and that it can bring happiness as well as physical and emotional healing to people. I'm referring to the type of agape love associated with people like Confucius, Jesus/Bruno Groening, and those few others we associate with 'spiritual and/or life mastery'. The problem was, I could never maintain this level of love. Something would happen in my life that would cause me suffering and I would forget to do this 'love practice'. Now I was doing this practice in the first place to bring me happiness - because it made me feel much better than I normally did when I was able to do it. I couldn't understand, and still can't to a large extent, why it can be so difficult to maintain this powerful love consciousness to a very high degree. For whatever reason, I have attracted people with some amazing mystical gifts throughout my life. This is how I got to interact with Bruno Groening. I definitely got the sense he was the same as me..he was just another guy (I mean not on the earth plane..but, still, he was just like me) but the gap between the wisdom he embodied and the wisdom I embodied, or lack thereof, was quite enormous. It wasn't that I was jealous/envious exactly, it's just that I really wanted to know (and still do) how to 'get there'. 

 

Several months ago, I came across a teaching by a John Sherman (justonelook.org) who has an exercise called 'Self-Directed Attention'. Although I've studied many different forms of meditation over the years, there was nothing that caused me to strengthen my attention nearly as much as John's exercise. Now, I am finally getting much better at focusing my attention on sending love out/around in more and more situations. 

 

I remember reading one of Starr Daily's later books and he was recounting a story about a guy who came to him asking for his help. He was physically sick and emotionally quite unhappy. Starr told him to force himself to love everyone he came into contact with over the next several weeks. According to Starr, the guy came back to him a couple of months later and was physically healed and a happy man.

 

I can tell you that the difference between the way I feel when I am able to 'send the love out/around' and when I'm not, as far as the way I emotionally feel, couldn't really be more different. 

 

My current theory is that I think by cultivating a universal love for everyone it breaks down the idea that what we are, are only these separate bodies most of us take ourselves to be. But, really, the reason I do this whole love thing right now is because it makes me feel much happier. 

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Happiness is a temporary state though. How do you make it happen? How do you make ti stick around?

 

You can't.

 

My understanding of true contentment is being able to abide in any state, in whatever is happening, because it's always just this present moment. Even if you're totally pissed off and hating the world, there is a present awareness to it.

 

The issue isn't really materialism, but the nature of impermanence itself. Even ascetics who live in total self-deprivation of all material things can still experience desire and dissatisfaction if they become too attached or expectant of what will always be temporary circumstances.

 

Nothing is happening to you or because of you. It's just what's happening.

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20 minutes ago, Orion said:

Happiness is a temporary state though. How do you make it happen? How do you make ti stick around?

 

You can't.

 

My understanding of true contentment is being able to abide in any state, in whatever is happening, because it's always just this present moment. Even if you're totally pissed off and hating the world, there is a present awareness to it.

 

The issue isn't really materialism, but the nature of impermanence itself. Even ascetics who live in total self-deprivation of all material things can still experience desire and dissatisfaction if they become too attached or expectant of what will always be temporary circumstances.

 

Nothing is happening to you or because of you. It's just what's happening.

 

Abide meaning accept.

I accept that I can't abide certain behaviors in either myself or others.

When I'm totally pissed off, I'm aware and I accept it.

 

Being human means I do things based upon how they make me feel, and having more or less an awareness of that.

Happiness is followed by unhappiness.

The greater the happiness the greater the unhappiness.

 

I seek the center.

I wander away and back, away and back.

In a ever tightening circle, I'm never lost.

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I am reminded of a time , when I was a kid about five or six, and I was at the beach with my family at Coney Island. The day was overcast , and coming to a close, sand was blowing around a bit.  The water was cold enough to drive almost everybody away, and so pretty much the only company we had on the beach were the seagulls looking for scraps. The water was greenish brown with the churned up sediment, and my mom called  me up out of the water , to dry off , to leave. She remarked that I looked blue, put a towel around my shoulders and I stared out at the ocean while I warmed up enough to stop shivering. 

Looking back, one might consider it that it was a horrible distressing miserable situation for a little kid , But remembering it , I know I wasn't bothered by any of it. Not in the least. I imagined how it would be , to just stay right there,  as the sun went down , and the moon came out, and the horseshoe crabs scooted around at the waters edge. I wondered what was over the horizon of the sea, and dismissed the wind from moving me. 

One doesn't need all the crap we have, if we are immersed in the sense of living. And its this feeling of immersion which is richer than simple ,being happy , being comfortable. 

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Try googling “Cult of Happiness” for some interesting articles. Here’s a few that I browsed…..

 

From Charlie Ambler:  The Cult of Happiness

From Psychology Today: The Happiness Cult

From Australia: Is a cult of happiness leading us to lose sight of life?

 

This desire for happiness suggests to me that there's a great underlying sadness in our contemporary society that people are trying to mask. 

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11 hours ago, Will said:

something I've been pondering intensely over the last couple days. 

 

 

That's what leads me the Daoist belief that perhaps simplicity and calm (i.e. the elimination of desire, or at least the recognition that desires aren't important) is the ultimate way to find happiness at the moment of death, to avoid regret. 

 

Admittedly, this line of thought is rather depressing, as it suggests that all of our desires are completely relative to our environment, and have no value beyond that, that they are completely the result of external forces beyond our control. It's a very Daoist line of thought

 

8 hours ago, Will said:

I guess the thing I am coming to realize is that my happiness is currently tied to various things that are essentially arbitrary. 

 

After that realization, I suppose there are two paths one can take: The negative path, which results in the disintegration of your passions and sense of value; or the positive one, which results in constant happiness.

 

People may think that they are doing things for reasons other than happiness. But are they really? For example, if someone believes that killing is wrong, they won't kill. Why did they make this decision? Is it because killing is wrong?

 

EDIT: I remembered that there was an old Chinese school of thought that held similar views to those in the preceding paragraph. Just looked it up and it was Yangism. 

 

It seems to me you're having the battle of sense based, dualistic thinking about how you view happiness... insert any other idea and it is still the same.   It is sense based, and sometimes a morality based layer is on top of it.

 

You also reference Daoism but I think you don't really understand that quite correctly.

 

Many traditions talk about a liberation but it is not for self but from self.   Which is to say, from sense-based thinking on dualistic thinking and concepts.  It is not the elimination or annihilation nor a cessation or extinguishing of desires; it is to see desires in its true or original nature; this seeing is not sense seeing.   Laozi said  when you see beauty then you will see ugly.  He setup the case for dual thinking as in our sense-being.

 

Hui Neng (sixth patriarch of Zen and major shift), said: "From the first, there is nothing that is".   He also said, "A is A and is Not-A".    This fits with Zhuangzi who often talked of neither this nor that;  Stanford Encylopedia said: "Zhuangzi’s naturalism is anti-dogmatic, it neither denies nor asserts any particular set of distinctions as authentic".

 

In non-duality, there is no picking of sides; there is no attachment to either side; thought does not reside in the senses but has moved to a place of Both/And.  It is more like a suspension of seeing with the senses as 'competing sides' and an inner knowing/seeing that there is no separation in the polarity of duality.  Not that you think 'no separation' but you simply don't choose a side nor think a side; not attachment to a side.

 

While from a philosophical point of view this might feel like nihilism or emptiness-state but if you're thinking it, then it is still dualism.    

 

You might be asking, how can happiness rise out of this state?  How happy did Zhuangzi sounds :)

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So, @dawei, you're saying that it isn't really worth contemplating happiness, since that means falling into dualistic thinking between happiness and sadness, rather than just seeing all of them as "emotions"? 

Edited by Will
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Hi Will!

 

 I've enjoyed reading your posts.

 

WHY should I love others, care about others? Why should their welfare matter to me?

 

I've thought a lot about this, and I've concluded that there's no way to put into words WHY I should love others.

 

Of course, kindness and compassion are socially beneficial. Helping others effectively is good for society.

 

But why, besides the obvious reasons of practicality and utility, should I really and truly give a damn about other people?

 

People matter. People's happiness matters. But why should they matter to ME?

 

I feel that love is a value, and kind of law, of its own. It is a light unto itself.

 

You see, it's not so much that you SHOULD care about others, it's that caring is LOVE, it's that caring is good.

 

It's GOOD to love. It's OKAY not to love, but far better is to love.

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I think there is something as too much happiness. 

I remember a scientific experiment where rat were given dopamine directly in their brain when they were pushing a red button.They just kept on pushing that button without bothering doing something else, so they died pretty quickly.

Give me a hundred dollar and I will be quite happy, give it to Bill Gate and you get a joke.

Most often than not ,source of joy come from addiction 

So maybe it's a god idea to deliberately cut yourself from what bring you the most joy if you want to experience joy more often, like cutting the biggest tree on a forest, it helps  trees that were in his shadow to have their spare of light . 

 

 

 

 

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On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

It seems to me you're having the battle of sense based, dualistic thinking about how you view happiness... insert any other idea and it is still the same.   It is sense based, and sometimes a morality based layer is on top of it.

 

Hi dawei,

 

When I choose to engage you on happiness, it does not mean that I have disregarded the other posts on this thread. I choose thus as  happiness is abstract and complex. Also I like to join the discussion on as clear and simple a premise as I can. We have the four itaclised words chained together momentarily in another thread. Will have thought of the 'relativity of happiness'  and you have added 'sense based' and 'moraliity'. At this point, I can comfortably associate the three blue words with happiness.

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

You also reference Daoism but I think you don't really understand that quite correctly.

 

You are referring to Will. To me happiness is posited in the Void of Taoism simply just Happiness.

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

Many traditions talk about a liberation but it is not for self but from self.   Which is to say, from sense-based thinking on dualistic thinking and concepts.  It is not the elimination or annihilation nor a cessation or extinguishing of desires; it is to see desires in its true or original nature; this seeing is not sense seeing.   Laozi said  when you see beauty then you will see ugly.  He setup the case for dual thinking as in our sense-being.

 

Can I interpret the above thus - "Happiness in its true form in the Taoistic Void is not dualistic. Sense-being and sense-based thinking perceive happiness as dualistic. In its true form, Happiness is not associated with 'self'"

Can I equate sense-based and sense-being with 'experiential'?

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

Hui Neng (sixth patriarch of Zen and major shift), said: "From the first, there is nothing that is".   He also said, "A is A and is Not-A".    This fits with Zhuangzi who often talked of neither this nor that;  Stanford Encylopedia said: "Zhuangzi’s naturalism is anti-dogmatic, it neither denies nor asserts any particular set of distinctions as authentic".

 

Happiness is Happiness and is Not-Happiness. Happy has nothing to do with not-happy. Yes? So whatever you and I perceive happiness to be, it is still rooted in Happiness. Yes?

What is a "major shift"?

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

 

In non-duality, there is no picking of sides; there is no attachment to either side; thought does not reside in the senses but has moved to a place of Both/And

 

Non means 'no', so no sides. Yes? That "place" is inclusive?

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

While from a philosophical point of view this might feel like nihilism or emptiness-state but if you're thinking it, then it is still dualism.

 

There is nothing to think about the Void. So no dualism there?

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

You might be asking, how can happiness rise out of this state?

 

Happiness outside the Void is not Happiness per se.

 

 

On 9/19/2017 at 9:17 AM, dawei said:

How happy did Zhuangzi sounds :)

 

Very happy. Why? Zhuangzi said - TGIF.

 

A great weekend.

 

- LimA

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On 9/21/2017 at 0:13 AM, roger said:

Hi Will!

 

 I've enjoyed reading your posts.

 

WHY should I love others, care about others? Why should their welfare matter to me?

 

I've thought a lot about this, and I've concluded that there's no way to put into words WHY I should love others.

 

Of course, kindness and compassion are socially beneficial. Helping others effectively is good for society.

 

But why, besides the obvious reasons of practicality and utility, should I really and truly give a damn about other people?

 

People matter. People's happiness matters. But why should they matter to ME?

 

I feel that love is a value, and kind of law, of its own. It is a light unto itself.

 

You see, it's not so much that you SHOULD care about others, it's that caring is LOVE, it's that caring is good.

 

It's GOOD to love. It's OKAY not to love, but far better is to love.

Yes, excellent ideas here roger, imo. I have to say it makes me feel good to be in a more loving state. It is more enjoyable.

There are a lot of connotations to the word 'happiness'. What about not suffering no matter what happens? Is that happiness? Maybe not, maybe it's just 'peace'.. Things may happen to cause of physical pain or emotional grief, but there is no extra mental suffering attached to it. It's my current opinion that cultivating the quality of love could help us reach this type of state. Doesn't all suffering come out of fear? And love, being the opposite of fear, would cancel it out - of course there are different degrees of this. But it seems to me that 'the great goal of my life' would be to cultivate the quality of love to the maximum, because of the myriad of benefits for myself and others - and reaching certain 'truths'/wisdoms experientially, rather than trying to figure them out intellectually - not that the intellectual questioning and seeking doesn't have value too.

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On 9/18/2017 at 6:07 AM, Will said:

I have a feeling that along my current track of life I may never be happy, because in this materialist culture I will never be satisfied

 

On 9/18/2017 at 6:07 AM, Will said:

despite modern advances in technology, people in, say, the stone age were probably about as happy as people now

 

On 9/18/2017 at 6:07 AM, Will said:

Why is this? It's probably, of course, because expectations influence happiness.

 

I think you have found your answer. :D

 

Keep in mind that there are different levels of happiness. You can be happy in a general sense even though you are unhappy in this specific instance. Think of it like health, you can be healthy in a general sense even though you suffer a cold right now.

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