happiness and desire

In the first place, it seems clear that people’s self-report of how happy they are is a fairly valid measure of their happiness. It correlates highly with the perception of family and friends, with the incidence of pathologies and relevant behaviours – in short, people who think they are happy also look and act like happy people are supposed to. They tend to be extroverted, they have stable relationships, the live healthy and productive lives. So far so good.

Although, if i was an extrovert with stable relationships and a healthy and productive life, I think i’d be happy too! Any proof that this is causation not correlation?

But there might be some interesting downsides as well. For instance, one of the most widely accepted definitions of happiness is that it is a state in which one does not desire anything else. Happy people tend not to value material possessions highly, are less affected by advertising and propoganda, are not as drive by desire for power and achivement. Why would they? They are happy already, right? The prospect of a society of happy people should be enough to send shivers down the spine of our productive system, built on ever-escalating consumption, on never-satisfied desire.

Would like to see the references for this. Seems just a little too convenient for the liberal world-view to me. I bet happy people would value their material possessions highly if there was a threat that they would be taken away – likewise i’d be less happy and value material possessions more if i didn’t possses any. I don’t see why you can’t have a kind of happiness which is based on activity (including consumption), rather than on a lack-of-desires (contentment?)

Will academic psychology be of any help in providing answers to these impending choices?
…Among the the things we learned is that people who are engaged in challenging activities with clear goals tend to be happier than those who lead relaxing, pleasurable lives. The less one works just for oneself, the larger the scope of one’s relationships and commitments, the happier a person is likely to be.

This much, I think, is well supported by the evidence. But why can’t shopping be a challenging activity with clear goals. I think Csikszentmihalyi in this paragraph is contradicting his assertion in the one i’ve quoted here as proceeding it. True, relationships, commitments and a lack of selfishness suggest that shopping is probably not the best route to happiness, but happy people will still desire stuff, i’m sure.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2002). The Future of Happiness. In J. Brockman (Ed.), The next fifty years, pp. 85-92. New York: Vintage

One reply on “happiness and desire”

As you know, I am a scientific illiterate, but I have difficulty believing that people enjoy shopping because they are unhappy. On the contrary, I’m certain there must be a very good evolutionary reason for shopping sprees.

Moreover, if you define happiness as the absence of material needs, logically, complete bliss can only be achieved in death. Why am I suddenly reminded of Paterson’s “humanitarian with the guillotine” ?

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