06 December 2006

Happiness Calculus

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The Wall Street Journal has an article today by Jonathan Clements, titled "The Pursuit of Happiness: Six Experts Tell What They've Done to Achieve It," which makes some good points about how we manage our daily life and the kind of choices we face -- and their ramifications. Perhaps the best quote comes from Professor David Schkade: "You want to celebrate the small things, not just the big ones." I wholeheartedly agree! (Article link here; subscription required.)

Still, I cannot help but find something unsettling about this. "From self-help to psychology, psychiatry, and (psycho)pharmacology, the dispensing of happiness has become a big business." I wrote that almost six years ago, and it seems as true as ever. Clements' article is interesting, but very focused on the choices we make in economic terms -- how much money we earn and the other costs that may impose, or how to spend that money for maximum, sustained pleasure -- rather than the underlying concept of happiness itself. Even the statement "Some folks are inherently less happy and some more so, and this basic temperament seems to be remarkably enduring." is attached to the bullet point "Buying memories." Hmm. (Not to mention that the experts quoted here are probably ... happy. They're successful, after all, some with big-selling books on the subject. Did their happiness come as a result of what they learned by studying the subject, or as a result of their success in studying it?)

Which leads to the question: if we're all going to focus on buying our way to happiness, why not just skip all the hoo-hah and simply recommend buying the medication that will make us happy, regardless of external circumstances? Medicate first, and happiness (and your wallet) will follow?


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