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  1. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    An Objective Measure of Happiness

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Patra Felino, May 17, 2014.

    I’m fascinated by the concept of happiness and to what extent it’s possible to measure it objectively. If you had a scale that measured momentary happiness, say one that went from -100 for total misery to +100 for total bliss, you’d run into calibration problems because there’s be no way of knowing whether Bob’s +3 was the same as Jane’s +3.

    But one thing we can define is the 0 point. This is the threshold between enjoying your existence and not enjoying it at a particular moment in time. If you would rather fast forward through that bit of time (so that you still do whatever you do, but you wouldn’t be sentient for that stretch), you’re below zero; if you’d rather experience it, you’re above zero.

    For example, I don’t like having to stand up on a bus or train, and would rather fast forward to my destination (even though I’d skip through and basically lose that bit of my life forever). Likewise, being ill, doing the last few minutes of the rowing machine at the gym and walking past an aggressive dog all cause me to be in a state of negative happiness.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that there’s a huge difference between something that’s a bit good/bad and something that’s really good/bad. I suppose that even one minute of being properly tortured, like having your balls crushed in a vice, is as bad as about a year’s worth of 30-minute standing-up bus trips, so if we set my standing up on a bus at -1, having my balls crushed in a vice would be around -500,000.*

    When I was a child, I would have happily fast forwarded through lots of classes, and definitely gym. My temping jobs after graduating were ones where I was basically counting down the clock until leaving time – that’s more negative happiness right there. I frequently wonder how much of how many people’s lives are spent in unhappiness – essentially in a state in which they would prefer not to be alive.

    I mean, children seem to be sometimes happy (playing, eating pudding) and sometimes unhappy (having to go to bed, eating vegetables). Teenagers definitely spend a lot of time being unhappy, and I know a fair few unhappy adults. The process of dying, if it’s painful and takes a few years, can presumably generate enough unhappiness to cancel out even a very happy person’s prior happiness. So what’s the average? Zero? Less? More? Why have children if it’s less than zero? Do I underestimate how happy people normally are?

    Finally, I want to make it clear that this isn’t some sort of thinly disguised cry for help or anything. Actually, since developing the concept I’ve paid a lot of attention to picking up positive happiness points and avoiding negative ones. It just seems ridiculous thinking of a universe spontaneously popping into existence and then all the things that had to happen for me to exist happening just for me to mope about wishing I could fast forward through life!

    Thoughts?

    * 60 x 24 x 365 = 525,600
     
  2. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    People tend to adapt to situations and environments. What at first might be a situation of absolute misery becomes "normal" after a while, and moments of happiness might start to appear. Your scale has to take the time and adaptation factor into account to be meaningful. Put more simply, things tend to be relative.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Are you a utilitarian by any chance? This is the type of stuff J. S. Mill thought about back in the 19th century.
     
  4. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    @thirdwind: I would definitely classify myself as a utilitarian, from what I know about it. I've never formally studied it though, and have never even heard of J.S.Mill.

    @Bryan Romer: You make a fair point, and I have never successfully made a fully quantitive scale. There are so many flaws in trying to work out real numbers that it probably isn't worth it.

    I guess it's more useful, or at least I find it more useful, as a thought experiment. Once you start thinking about how good and bad things compare to each other, you can think about whether you'd like to relive certain periods of your life. For example, I've had a pretty good time since my 30th birthday. I'd accept the option of reliving the last eight years (knowing that it would be exactly the same). No way would I want to relive my entire life though, which unhappily means that I'm below zero overall.

    I'm worried that I might not be able to save up enough happiness to end my life with a positive balance, especially if I have a painful death.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You should definitely read Mill and another guy named Jeremy Bentham. They are the fathers of modern utilitarianism.
     
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  6. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd like to skip the part where I'm just staring at my computer screen, to the part where I type down the first word. Those blank moments of short incapacity are the worst.
     
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. You don't like gym. Don't like standing on buses or trains. Seem fairly negative about everything. Are you sure you actually have balls to crush?
     
  8. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    Well, I said I didn't like gym at school; exercise nowadays is a different story. Of course I don't like standing up on a bus. I can only read if I'm sitting down. Is that strange?

    I was trying to be totally objective about the matter, but if I'm being too negative in some way it would certainly be helpful if you could let me know how.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Standing on buses or trains? Are you serious?

    If you spend so much time worrying about what makes you happy or unhappy and trying to devise a way to measure all of that "objectively", you're probably going to miss out on a lot of opportunities for happiness. You also may find yourself completely unprepared for those moments in life - and we all have them at one time or another - when really serious problems hit, and you are so busy scrambling to survive them you really don't have time to think about how unhappy you are.
     
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  10. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    But I'm not worrying about it. I'm analysing it. I enjoy analysing things.

    I realise that I have an uncommon mindset and that to the majority of people mentioning the fact that I don't like standing up on a bus just sounds like whining, but for me it's a good example. I've given the matter some thought, and sitting down on a bus with a book is above zero (an experience I'd be happy to repeat) but standing up on a bus is below zero (an experience I'd rather fast forward through).

    I've had my share of serious problems too, believe me!

    Your criticism is welcome, because that's what I asked for, but my opinion stands:

    1. Asking whether life contains more happiness or unhappiness for the average person is a valid and important question.
    2. Asking the question is not instrinsically pessimistic or optimistic. I still don't know the answer, though.
     
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  11. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    I think happy moments will outweigh unhappy moments as far as your point system is concerned. You mentioned being concerned about not being able to acquire a positive balance of happiness "points" before you die - do you think this would make your life a waste? Even if someone went through rough patches in their life I think they would still be glad they lived.

    I think it was Nietzsche who equated the meaning of life with the meaning of suffering. (Though I could be wrong) Most people are generally okay with sadness and difficulty so long as they feel there is a point to it. This is why christianity thrived among the oppressed citizens of the Roman empire, because no matter how crappy their life got there was a point to it, and they would be rewarded at the end. I actually went through a bout of depression and it was mainly to do with my dislike for school coupled with the fact that I didn't really feel like there was any point to school. Coming out of depression I resolved that everything I do should serve a purpose, sometimes the purpose is just to be happy, but if I am bored or frustrated then I ask myself "is this getting me anywhere?" For example, I'm going to college to study music, and, as much as I love playing guitar, the prospect of doing an A minor arpeggio at 134 bpm for half an hour isn't always thrilling - however I justify it because it improves my talent and so improves me as a person.
     
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  12. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Being happy is like being at the top of a rollercoaster... short lived and it's always going to come down at some point. That's just a negative view point from someone who's lived a shitty life. On the bright side, once you realize this, you just have to make sure that rollercoaster is on top of a mountain or something. I just expect my happiness to make a 180 now, it's part of life. I have to realize I'm not falling down as far as I think. That's how I get by.
     
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  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Given that the answer is dependent both on each individual's unique life experiences and on each person's subjective value system, I don't think any such measurement is possible. But, if that's your thing, be my guest.
     
  14. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    I wouldn't use the word "waste" because it clouds the issue somewhat. The question is, when you get to the end of your life, if offered the chance to repeat it, knowing that things would be exactly the same, would you accept. At the moment, things are pretty good for me, and they have been for a few years, so if I had the opportunity to go back a decade or so and re-experience it before carrying on, I'd accept. Going back to my birth isn't appealling because there was too much unpleasantness in my first 25 years. Now I'm glad I experienced the unpleasantness because it made me wiser, but I woulnd't want to go through it again.

    Your 134bpm minor arpeggio point reminds me of why I go running. The last five minutes are pretty horrible if I'm pushing myself, but I do it because of the endorphin rush at the end, because it helps me stay in good shape for my age - it's net positive happiness.

    But when you're down, you know it's only temporary too, right? That's the key concept to grasp when things are blue.

    You are certainly entitled to think that. It may well turn out to be impossible. Still an interesting topic though, for me if not for everyone.
     
  15. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Patra Felino What if happiness is derived internally?
     
  16. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    I guess that some happiness, like feeling fit, is derived internally, whereas some, like being complimented, is derived externally.

    From what I read about Jeremy Bentham yesterday, I agree with him that you don't need to split happiness into different types (such as internally and externally derived); you can just add up the positives on one side and the negatives on the other, and see which is biger and by how much.
     
  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a fair answer, but I was referring to something a little more spiritual in this case.
     
  18. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Patra Felino
    Not just spiritual, psychological also.

    I personally think you can be happy virtually 24/7, so long as you identify whatever basic needs you have that need to be met. As a human being I suspect those are 1. health, 2. food 3. steady source of sex 4. inner confidence
     
  19. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    I remember this from high school, so I searched the internet for this. It's called Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
    [​IMG]
     
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  20. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    I expect that many people will think the same as you and believe that happiness is the default setting, as it were, and that's fair enough. Just to check, I'm guessing that you would opt to experience your whole life again if given the choice, no? Don't think it would get boring the second time around because it would all be new, of course.

    @Poziga, I saw that triangle a while back, but it's more detailed than I remember. The only modification I'd make is to put sitting down on a bus in the top level (this is a joke).
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Patra Felino

    I'd skip the half hour spent watching Gatsby and keep everything else

    And that triangle, by the way, should be a religion
     
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  22. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Read Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. He is the founder of Positive Psychology and the book will discuss everything you're thinking about from an empirical, research based perspective.
     
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