Below is an email in which I replied to a friend who had sent me an interesting article on “how to happy.” My response jumps around a bit but I think it contains a few useful links and thoughts worth pondering.
Thanks for the article Love People Not Pleasure you sent to me yesterday.
Below are a few quotes from that article and my thoughts on them.
- “Images of the brain show that parts of the left cerebral cortex are more active than the right when we are experiencing happiness …”
This could possibly be a good working definition of happiness … that happiness is something that happens in our brain which causes a “happy” sensation. If so, then what we are looking for are ways to cause this good thing to happen within our brains. Personally I prefer simple testable tips, perhaps like the ones you sent earlier.
- “But here’s where the evolutionary cables have crossed: We assume that things we are attracted to will relieve our suffering and raise our happiness … but that is nature’s cruel hoax. This is followed later by “Finally, it requires a deep skepticism of our own basic desires. Of course you are driven to seek admiration, splendor and physical license. But giving in to these impulses will bring unhappiness.”
So what we are attracted to may not necessarily be what makes us happy. We all know this is true for a range of cravings (e.g., potato chips, ice cream) and the idea is one that can be practically tested. Just knowing that what we are attracted to is not necessarily good for us is a useful thing to know.
- “Love people, use things.”
From previous emails I can see that you think this approach may be the primary source of happiness. That thought is certainly consistent with your helpful nature.
However, I’m not sure that becoming a martyr for the sake of others is the ultimate secret behind happiness. If it is not then one has the challenge of determining how much to give since the world could easily suck up all of one’s personal resources and billions of times more.
Another different approach to helping the poor I’ve read in Wallace Wattle’s famous book The Science of Getting Rich is to “Get Rich; that is the best way you can help the poor.” He feels that by getting rich/happy yourself you can demonstrate to others what is possible and how to do it. I.e., Becoming a good model might be more helpful than just giving alms to charity.
A third and balanced approach is the “100 hour rule” as described in this link. It suggests that there are reasonable limits to giving if one’s reason for doing so is his/her own personal “happiness.” (note: It is arguable that everything a person does is ultimately to increase their own happiness, feelings of self worth, etc.) The article says one hundred hours/year of volunteering appears to be “in the range where giving is maximally energizing and minimally draining.” If the 100 hour rule actually works (it’s worth testing) then this would the approach to take for someone looking to optimize his/her personal happiness.
Thanks again for your emails on the subject of happiness, N——-. Yourlast email did provoke some thoughts which I plan to follow up on with more pondering and testing.