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ON THE CONCEPTUAL PROBLEMS OF HAPPINESS

ALLEN ARAMBULA

Introduction……

CONTENTS

……………………………………………………………………….3

1. What Is Happiness? An Ontology on the Semantics of Happiness……………………………………….10

2. Achieving The Greatest Good:

By way of Hedonism or a life of Meaning and Virtue?…………………………

27

3. Is There an All-Encompassing Absolute Form of Happiness?

34

4. Do Moods and Emotions Inhibit the Condition of a Genuine Form of Happiness?

43

5. Thinking and Being Happy:

Is Happiness Strictly a Subjective Matter?

51

INTRODUCTION

It might seem counter intuitive to think that there are any conceptual problems

with happiness. After all, many of us can conceptualize it. We know what it isor at

least presume to think we knowand that is about as much as we believe to be necessary

in order to experience it. We know how to identify happiness and when to distinguish it

from unhappy conditions: that is to say, we know when we are not experiencing it. Yet it

seems ironic that with this vast knowledge and capacity to identify happiness humans still

have not found the secret to absolute happiness. Perhaps being happy is a condition that

requires that one delve much deeper into one‟s thoughts and inner feelings and not

merely utter the most appropriate inner subjective feeling that one may be experiencing.

This is particularly true because it is often the case that what we think we know about our

conscious experiences is often anything other than what it is in fact. That is to say, the

thoughts, beliefs, or judgments that we make about our positive experiences are often

fallible, more so when we incorrectly associate these with a more real state of happiness

(i.e. the good life). In this work I will argue that there are several conceptual problems

with Happiness. That there is a difference between uttering the belief that one is happy

and actually Being in a state of happiness. It isn‟t merely enough to say that one is happy

to be happy, a true subjective account is one in which inner thoughts accurately match

objective states of being. When this is the case perhaps only then can it be said that a

person is in fact experiencing happiness.

Happiness as a subjective experience can be understood as a cognitive mental

object. Thoughts are the means by which we interpret the observable and non-observable

world. We make evaluations, justifications, and offer perspectives about both worlds by

way of cognitive thought. A thought can be understood as an object of the mind because

it can never be empirically measured: it has no physical observable properties by which

to measure it. Happiness, in the non-empirical sense (i.e. non-observable) is a mental

object: it is a thought, or an idea if we believe that happiness is a cluster of thoughts. As

such, it has no shape, density, or observable property by which to denote its existence.

It‟s lack of physical properties however does not suggest that it isn‟t real because we

certainly know what it is like to feel happiness and we certainly have the potential to be

in the state of happiness.

One conceptual problem that results in part from the obscurity of the term

happiness is the inability to conceptually differentiate between the feelings of happiness

and the state of happiness. It is often problematic to distinguish between the feelings of

happiness and the state of happiness because we lack a point of reference for what each

experience is. We utilize the term interchangeably without referring to any single

absolute thing. To avoid any potential confusion, in this work I will refer to the feelings

or emotions of happiness, as the experience of happiness. Happiness as a felt experience

is one that is perceived through the senses. Pleasure for example, is a kind of experience

that is felt through the senses and one that we refer to as happiness. We feel pleasure, we

know what it is like, and we are capable of differentiating it from experiences that do not

produce this feeling by avoiding them. Eating a hot fudge sundae, or drinking a cold

drink on a hot summer day, are all examples of objects that elicit the feelings of

happiness. Some common ways that we experience happiness and may recognize are

pleasure experiences such as, joy, satisfaction, or contentment. The state of happiness

however is a condition unlike any other experience of happiness: it is a product of the

meaningful life.

The state of happiness is a positive condition of being and is the product of a

meaningful life, which one can only arrive at through self-reflection and a disregard for

sense phenomena. We often confuse the condition of happiness with the feelings that may

be produced by being in this condition perhaps because feelings are more easily

identifiable. That is to say, feelings and emotions are more obvious to us because of their

phenomenal nature. We know “what it‟s like” to feel and experience happiness: and there

are often degrees of felt intensity, which further allows us to discriminate between them

more easily. The state of happiness however, has no phenomenal characteristic. There is

nothing that could be felt by being in this condition. One can engage in the life of

meaning and value and experience no feelings during such event. One can probably

experience the feelings that result as a product of the meaningful life, but the meaningful

life in itself is not a felt experience. Cognitive processes are not felt, they occur at a

metaphysical level. We know we have them because we can think that we have them.

Descartes‟ logical proof for the existence of man, cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I

am) comes to mind. We know that our minds exist because we process mental objects

(i.e. thoughts, ideas, concepts): and this is proof that there is an existence of a source for

our thoughts. Likewise, we know that we have thoughts because we are thinking. As

such, the state of happiness is like a thought. One can say that one is in the state of

happiness, if after self-reflecting about one‟s past, present, and future, one can

conclusively say that one has the thought that one has lived, is living, and will be living a

life of meaning and value. An accurate assessment is only possible however, if one

reflects about one‟s life in an objective manner and disregards any moods and emotions

that may disrupt this cognitive process.

Another conceptual problem with happiness is the cognitive inability to be

objective about how happy we are when moods and emotions distort the accuracy and

credibility of self-assessments. According to Robert Nozick, in The Examined Life, he

claims that an evaluation made in the present can differ from an evaluation that is made

in the future. For example, if we positively evaluate our lives in the present, but then

looking back from the future we negatively evaluate our past, can we say that we were in

fact happy in our past or not? Robert Nozick presents this conceptual problem as an

obstacle to accurate assessment. I believe this phenomenon occurs during self-evaluations

because our thoughts are often coupled with feelings. Both evaluations seem to convey

some factual accuracy in the context (i.e. time) in which they are taking place and this is

why it appears to be difficult to assess whether one account is more valid than the other. I

believe however that this conceptual problem arises because our evaluations are coupled

with feelings and since feelings are by nature never static, neither will our self-

evaluations be as such.

Thinking of happiness as a life process and not as an absolute, fixed, and

unchanging ideal is another conceptual problem that some may find difficult to reconcile

with. Opponents of the idea that the state of happiness can be achieved may argue that

happiness is an ideal. They may say that it is a metaphor that represents a potentiality and

not a reality. An absolute is a thing that is perfect and flawless: the most perfect entity

imaginable that is irreplaceable. These entities are impossible to grasp because they don‟t

exist in our world; that is, there is nothing of this world that is perfect and flawless, thus

we can‟t experience perfection if it does not exist. The concept of happiness can be

misleading when it is thought of as an absolute. It can be foolishly placed within the

category of absolutes because of its deceptive qualities that may seem to correspond to an

ideal: but it shouldn‟t because it doesn‟t. Happiness is not an ideal because it is not a

perfect entity; it is not static and unchanging, and it is not fixedwe may think it isbut

it is not. Happiness is a process that constantly changes; and contrary to what many may

believe, happiness is not—or shouldn‟t be— an end toward which all behavior is directed

at but rather the unexpected consequence of a meaningful life.

The conceptual view that happiness is an absolute, utopian state is much too

narrow and because of this it is wrong. The source of the flaw in reasoning originates

from the pre-established notion of idealism/perfection, which is then associated with the

concept of happiness. The conventional notion of happiness is one that entails the lack or

non-presence of non-utopian conditions: stress, anguish, pain, or suffering. But this

conceptual assumption is much too narrow. Essentially, what I am claiming is that the

concept of utopia in relation to happiness should be subjectively redefined because we

have been led to believe and pursue a wrong the kind of happiness. The new concept a

utopian happiness would be one in which, idealism or perfection would entail that some

amount of suffering is present to live well because it is an extension of the good life. To

illustrate my point, a person who stops working and retires, the means by which he was

previously able to engage in meaningful activity, is likely to suffer if he chooses to live

his life idly until he dies. The fact is, “those of us with demanding schedules…are

happier than those with too much time and too little to do.” 1 In this context then it seems

1 Belliotti, Raymond. Happiness Is Overrated. Rowman and Littlefield, 2004. Pg. 112.

like stress is a good thing, and avoiding it can be bad and even detrimental to our

wellbeing. So even in our society where it often seems as though it is becoming

increasingly more difficult to be happy when we find ourselves under stressful

conditions, perhaps we can be afterall by changing the meaning we assign to previous

notions we might have had of negative concepts.

A final conceptual problem of happiness I would like to address is the problem of

accurately matching positive subjective cognitive thoughts with reality in-itself (i.e.

reality apart from our perspective of it). People generally distort reality and harbor

illusions as a way to cope with the inability to match expectations to actual circumstances

and they are often the happiest and most healthy individuals. They create “unrealistically

positive views of themselves, exaggerate the amount of control they have over their lives,

and are unrealistically optimistic.” 2 They develop this coping mechanism in order to deal

with the social environment they‟re in that is unable to fully sustain their needs. The

coping mechanism, referred to as the enhancement factor, seems to work very well for

them since they are more likely to develop positive emotions. Because these people

create distorted views of themselves however, does this mean that they are not seeing

reality as it really is? In a more extreme case, is a person who is under a state of great

mental depression more intuitive to perceive the world as it is more so than someone who

isn‟t? It seems like one of the features of the enhancement factor is that it gives us the

ability to shift our consciousness from one object to another. We move from negative

objects (i.e. thoughts, ideas) to positive ones, whilst we are blinded of certain factual

information. The fact is that “embracing delusions of grandeur is not a road to happiness.

2 Bellioti, Pg. 62

But neither is relentlessly viewing things as they really are.” (63) Where these two

intersect is the point at which the conceptual problem begins. One shouldn‟t naively

embrace illusions of grandeur; and for the sake of the wellness of our mental health, one

cannot see things as they really are all the time. The meaningful life is one that entails

that one is consciously aware of one‟s experience: regardless of how bad one might feel.

How then do we cope with this paradox?

There are several conceptual problems with happiness that may limit our ability to

know how to acquire it. Of those that I have mentioned, one is the inability to

differentiate between states and experiences of happiness. Moods can sometimes also

distort the factual accuracy of our thoughts. Thinking of happiness as an absolute can also

limit one‟s potential for being happy: if we think that it is impossible to achieve it.

Embracing illusions and distorted views of oneself can also limit one‟s potential to be in

the state of happiness, but so can looking at the world as it really is all the time.

CHAPTER 1

WHAT IS HAPPINESS? AN ONTOLOGY ON THE SEMANTICS OF HAPPINESS

If we were asked to provide an evaluative response to the question of whether we

are happy or not, how would we respond? What kinds of things would be taken into

account in an assessment of a conception of a happy life? In this chapter I will argue that

our responses to these questions are often very narrow and as a result our subjective

beliefs about the possibility of a stable happiness become formidable, perhaps even

elusive. We mislead ourselves into believing that the kind of lives we choose to live are

the most fulfilling when in fact they are often of a kind that lead to a transient happiness.

The epistemological criteria on which we reflect on and live by is much too narrow and it

is because of this that we end up choosing to pursue a sort of happiness that is

qualitatively high in pleasantness but is transient. My contention is that being aware of

the distinction between the feelings of happiness and the state of happiness and their

nature we will be rationally motivated to alter our lives in such a way that will be more

fulfilling and existentially meaningful. Because we are authorities of our own lives- of

our cognitive and physical desires- we have the capability to do this. By rationalizing and

pursuing efforts that encompass the state of happiness one will ultimately understand that

a life of meaning and value is worth much more than the shortcomings of a life in pursuit

of the feelings of happiness.

THE FEELINGS OF HAPPINESS

A feeling of happiness, which I will referred to as the experience of happiness, is

one that we pursue because of its intrinsic power to produce positive stimulation. The

flow process by which we are stimulated occurs in the following way. First, there must be

a causal object: very often this is external to us, since we can‟t cognitively produce an

object that does not exist in the physical world. This external object will then produce a

thought: this thought is one in which we imagine that we are engaging with the object.

The thought of engaging with the object will then produce a desire for the object: this

happens because we want to physically experience what we are imagining. If we fulfill

our desire, then we will react by having a positive emotion. If we don‟t fulfill our desire,

then we will have a negative emotion that will manifest in the form of psychological pain.

Ideally, many of us would want to fulfill each and every one of our desires: fortunately

the world is structured in such a way that this is virtually impossible to do. But the issue

is not whether we can fulfill every desire we can think of, for if we could we would likely

be trapped in a never-ending pleasure-seeking hedonic treadmill of desire. This is a sort

of lifestyle in which there is a need to fulfill every desire in order to remain happy: but

the good life entails much more than this. A phenomenological account of the feeling of

happiness can probably best explain this psychological kind.

There are two psychological kinds of positive feelings that we experience and that

the layman commonly refers to as happiness: those that occur as a particular state of

affairs and those that occur as a product of a satisfaction with one‟s life. 3 John Stuart

Mill differentiates between the kinds of feelings a person could have and categorizes

3 The layman is probably most familiar with the first kind. Though I believe he constantly engages with the second kind but would fail to refer to it as an experience of pleasure.

these into two kinds. One kind of pleasure he refers to as lower-order pleasures (i.e.

pleasures of the body) and another he calls, higher-order pleasures (i.e. pleasures of the

mind). The former kind occurs as a particular state of affairs, while the latter occurs as a

product of the choices one has made over a lifetime. First, I will give a phenomenological

account of a pleasure of a lower-order 4 kind.

LOWER-ORDER PLEASURES: PLEASURES OF THE BODY

Because of its felt quality, the phenomenology 5 of an experience of a lower-order

pleasure is one that is most easy to identify by any individual. A lower-order pleasure

begins with a thought: this thought is always about an external object. We imagine the

external object in a way that over-accentuates its actual physical properties: but this is the

reason why we are drawn toward it. The realizable properties are: perfect, unchanging,

and unique to that object. Our consciousness is fixed only on the qualitative properties

that are specific to the object we are drawn to; we focus on these to because we know that

we cannot realize them in other objects. We then conceive the thought that we are

engaging with the properties that are specific to the object. An emotional desire for the

object emerges. Because the desire is too much to bear only within our minds we

conceive the thought of acting it out. The emotional desire is coupled with the thought of

behavioral enactment. In other words, after we imagine the desire, we wish to

behaviorally act what we are imagining. If external conditions (i.e. environment) are

4 The reason Mill refers to lower-order pleasures as such is because he believed these experiences required very limited or no effort at all to conceptualize. Even an animal, that is incapable of rationalizing his actions, can have these experiences. Thus, by way of engaging in lower-order pleasure our experiences correspond to that of an animals‟.

5 Def. An approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience. New Oxford American Dictionary (2007).

prefect then we act on our desire. If our desire is met, then we reward ourselves with an

emotional response we experience as: pleasure. The experience of the feeling of pleasure

is a unique phenomenal event.

The sensation of pleasure is a unique bodily experience/feeling in which we loose

an existential awareness of ourselves. There are several notable features by which to

identify this experience. One, it is felt in the body. Two, its duration is very limited.

Three, its felt intensity is high. That is to say, the bodily stimulation that is derived from

the feeling is of a high degree. 6 The experience of pleasure is like an existential

experience of loosing self-awareness. We are detached from an awareness of ourselves

and become immersed in the stimulation. During the experience we‟re unaware of who

we are, where we are, and whom we are with. All cognition is lost, including the ability

to rationalize. 7 Consciousness is fixed on the sensation, which is felt through the

particular set of nerves that are being stimulated and not on our external environment or

inner self (i.e. thoughts). Other nerves, not specific to the area that the feeling is

stimulating, may indirectly become stimulated as well. An indication that they are

stimulated is that the muscles surrounding these nerves become light and weightless as all

stressors that may have been inhibiting tension through them dissipate. In contrast to

lower-order pleasures, higher-order pleasures have a less intense degree of feeling but are

gratifying nonetheless.

6 I believe that the intensity of the feeling may vary according to the object that is producing it. Some objects are capable of producing more pleasure than others: but this may depend upon our personal inclinations toward particular objects of like or dislike.

7 The feeling of happiness/pleasure is so intense that reason cannot intercede an experience of pleasure of high intensity. When physical stimulation is at its peak rationalization seizes to exist.

HIGHER-ORDER PLEASURES: PLEASURES OF THE MIND

Higher-order pleasures are also stimulating, but unlike lower-order pleasure these

are mind stimulating. There are two ways one can understand Mill‟s articulation of

higher-order pleasures. One way to understand a higher-order pleasure is to conceptualize

an experience in which mental engaging is occurring. These experiences are the product

of mind-stimulating activities: cognitive enhancing stimuli. Activities that produce this

stimulation include, but are not limited exhaustibly to: reading, listening to a scholarly

lecture, reflecting on a life issue, engaging in a philosophical discussion, etc. 8 All of

these activities require a very actively engaged use of our minds- that is to say, our minds

must be actively engaged in these activities so that we can perform them. Not everyone

will find these experiences pleasurable, but this is only because some are not engaging

with the right kind of activities that are appropriate for them. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,

who coined the term flow, says this experience is a ‘mental state of operation in which

the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus,

full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.’ 9 Once we identify the

appropriate kind of activity that is personally stimulating, one is likely to find that it will

produce pleasure, personal gratification, and ultimately self-growth. A phenomenological

account of a higher-order mental process is one that is as follows.

The phenomenology of a higher-order mental process is a peculiar one, since it

does not have the felt qualities of a lower-order pleasure, but it is one that occurs

nonetheless to a select few. During the experience of a higher-order pleasure it is like the

8 There are many activities that produce this experience. Which activities are more likely to produce this experience for each one of us individually depends on what activity we most like to venture in.

9 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience. (HarperCollins Publishers, 1990)

body is suspended from the mind. Consciousness is lost from the body and one‟s external

surroundings and is completely immersed in the complex nature of the activity that‟s

producing it. One is overcome by a sense of mental energy and bodily stillness and is

pulled into a relaxed state of inner confidence. Because the mind is in an optimal

condition, a rush of inquisitive thoughts race within the mind- all while one is unaware of

this occurrence- and in this way new creative ideas are made. As more physical engaging

occurs with the object of the activity (i.e. behavioral activity) new ideas emerge and a

stronger desire to continue engagement develops. When the phenomenon reaches its

peak, the experience begins to diminish and one begins to regain consciousness of oneself

and the surroundings. The mind is so heavily engaged in the experience that when it‟s

over one feels that the physical brain has lost energy and is tired. The second kind of

higher-order pleasure is one that we experience as a conceptual thought.

Another higher-order pleasure that one experiences is one that results from

positively evaluating one‟s life as a whole. As a matter of choice and autonomy, one is

born with the freedom to choose what kind of life one wants to live. Some choose to live

it according to their own dictates and others according to the order of fate or the will of

other individuals. While some may choose to release their autonomy, it nonetheless holds

true that we are all responsible for our own actions and decisions that we make. As such,

every action in our life is directed and chosen by us. A person who is content or satisfied

with the choices he or she has made in his life will be one that experiences a higher-order

pleasure. The feeling of satisfaction or contentment is an example of such pleasure. It is

simply the idea of being satisfied with one‟s life as a whole. 10 Robert Nozick in The

10 This condition should not be confused with the sate of well-being: which can only be achieved by pursuing the state of happiness: a more meaningful kind of happiness.

Examined Life describes this feeling as one in which we genuinely believe that one‟s life

is good now and want nothing more. It is “The loss of the desire for simple pleasures; a

sense of completeness.” 11 When an individual evaluates his life and firmly believes that

he has satisfied all the goals he wanted to accomplish, then what he experiences as a

consequence is the pleasure of satisfaction.

HAPPINESS AS A STATE OF WELL-BEING

A more meaningful and valuable kind of happiness is one that I will refer to as the

state of happiness. The state of happiness is the long-term mental state or condition that is

generally known as well-being. Among philosophers it is believed that such a life has an

intrinsic value that ought to be pursued for its own sake. It is an existential condition that

is much more valuable than the mere sense of feeling complete or the experience of

pleasure. One can fulfill an unlimited number of desires or goals but if these don‟t equate

to a kind of life that is linked to meaning and value, then such a life is worth very little.

There are four notable features to this state of being that would indicate that an individual

is in the state of happiness. Well-being as a state of happiness is one that constitutes a

subjective sense of authenticity, self-authority, the ethical life, and the pursuit of

knowledge. To the extent that we are living in the practice of these things, it can be said

that we are in the state of happiness.

AUTHENTICITY

A subjective self-conception of authenticity is a necessary component to the state

of happiness. Heidegger believed that humans were not mere objects that existed in this

11 Robert Nozick, The Examined Life. (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1990)

world. They are born with introspective qualities that allow them to exist meaningfully.

Unlike a rock, whose existence merely entails the physical material of which it is

composed, the existence of a human is much more elaborate and complex. One feature

that differentiates humans from simple objects is that the interpretation of their existence

is decisive. Humans can choose who and what they want to be. But this freedom

however, is often distorted by the views of the majority. There is an inevitable overlap in

the way people interpret their existence and this often results because we share the

various cultures we find ourselves in. When this happens “people drift into a way of

being, and to a great extent they are not even conscious of the mode of being within

which they operate.” 12 Individuals will follow conventional ways of acting and behaving,

without being able to articulate why they are doing so. An employee for example, may be

taught to behave in specific ways that are favorable to the bylaws of a company, without

explicitly understanding the institutions that he or she is following blindly. If it is

standard protocol to salute one another every morning with a handshake, the employee is

behaving in accordance to the conventions of the office. The attitude and “lifestyles that

are socially preferred and maintained” 13 are what Heidegger calls the “das Man. A true

authentic self-one who strives toward the sate of happiness- is one who chooses to

separate himself from the das Man.

A true authentic self is one that introspects and chooses to create his own

existence apart from that of the majority. Heidegger refers to individuals who do not

succumb to the conventions and norms of the majority, the Da-sein. These people will

refuse to inherit the “average everydayness” of existing with the das Man because they

12 Steven Luper, Existing: An Introduction to Existential Thought. (Mayfield Publishing Co., 2000) pp. 203 13 pp. 203

understand that they loose a part of their essence when they do: an essential part of one‟s

essence which I believe is necessary to be in the state of happiness. Authenticity is

maintained by being aware of the freedom we possess: in being conscious that we own

our freedom, we take responsibility for what we do and what we make with our lives and

this will bring us happiness. As such, the state of happiness entails that one be aware that

one is an authentic individual who constantly find ways to live contrary to the

conventions of the majority. We cannot be ourselves if we are the majority: those who

“exist authentically, self-consciously exercise their interpretive freedom so as to decide

what shall constitute their existence” 14 not that of the majority. Therefore, by taking

charge of our lives and separating ourselves from the majority we live in the state of

happiness.

SELF-AUTHORITY

Self-authority is another indicator and a necessary component to be in the state of

happiness. Some philosophers like Daniel Haybron, who argues in a work entitled, The

Pursuit of Unhappiness (2008), believe that freedom expressed through self-authority can

be a limitation to achieving happiness. People are generally unaware of what makes them

genuinely happy because they have too much freedom, and it is because of this that they

most often choose what in actuality makes them unhappy. The excess of freedom and

choice and the insufficiency of limitations are a hindrance to happiness, according to

Haybron. But freedom is an intrinsically valuable thing, when we release it we loose the

essence of who we are: we are no longer ourselves but those who come to possess it. We

14 pp. 204

give up our right to be self-authorities of our freedom when self-choice is no longer the

means by which we act. For the sake of preserving the freedom of choice, individuals

should be persuaded rather than given strict limitations on what will make them happy.

Possessing the freedom to be authorities of ourselves is an indication that we are in

the state of happiness. We come to own our freedom when “our awareness of our

freedom is manifested in the form of “conscience…” 15 When we‟re aware that we

determine the choices that we want to make, we are manifesting self-authority through

freedom. Very often people will give this up by releasing their consciousness to others,

sometimes even to themselves. They give up consciousness to themselves by pursuing

things that they know are producing them unhappiness but they continue to pursue them:

perhaps because they believe there might be a greater payoff from living this way. When

they release their consciousness to others, they “conceal the freedom from themselves by

adopting Psychological determinism, the view that human nature is responsible for what

we do. By adopting this view, we reduce ourselves to “never being anything but what we

are.” 16 We don‟t care to be anything but what we already are, even if it is someone that

lives unhappy. Someone who is in the state of happiness takes control of his or her

freedom and is aware of his experiences.

Rather than to diminish the value of our freedom by handing over the control of it

to others, by being aware that we are authorities of our own selves we come to realize

that we‟re in the state of happiness. When we control who we are and what we do, we are

in the state of happiness. Evidence that we are otherwise can be seen in that we reflect a

self that encompasses the essence of others: when we choose to be what others are or

15 pp. 204

16 pp. 262

when we are what others want us to be. To avoid from falling into this perilous mentality,

Sartre suggests we develop a self that reflects one‟s essence and understand that, “an act

is free when it exactly reflects my essence. It is a matter of envisaging the self as a little

God which inhabits me and possesses my freedom as a metaphysical virtue.” 17 We own

our lives and our free will when we own up to our experience: even if it is one that at

times may seem absurd. Albert Camus, in The Myth Of Sisyphus, illustrates what well-

being is like through an individual who is destined to live a recurring life of the absurd.

Camus‟ tale about Sisyphus, illustrates the kind of self-authority one should work

to posses in order to be happy. The state of happiness as a condition of well-being

through self-authority is the kind of condition that Sisyphus experienced who found

himself in a recurring life in pursuit of the absurd. He was condemned by the gods to

perform the meaningless task of pushing a rock up a mountain for the rest of his life and

had to repeat this act after the rock tumbled down to the ground once and again. Sisyphus

could have chosen to stop moving the rock. If he did however, he would have succumbed

to his fate, lost control of himself, and released his self-authority to the gods who had

eternally punished him. Instead, because he chooses to own his fate by being conscious of

his reality and never ceasing to stop moving the rock, he triumphs over his condemnation.

As such, he experiences happiness as a state of well-being. Camus concludes his essay by

saying, "The struggle itself

is

enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus

happy." 18 There is something seemingly absurd about pursuing happiness and yet never

being able to fully grasp it to a degree of satisfaction, Sisyphus‟ account suggests that we

perhaps have been looking for it in the wrong place. Well-being is in the struggle itself to

17 Steven Luper, Existing: An Introduction to Existential Thought. (Mayfield Publishing Co., 2000) pp. 262

18 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. (Vintage Books, 1955), p.123

maintain self-authority at all circumstances including in the face of adversity. The

practice of what Kierkegaard calls the ethical life, is another component that is essential

to the state of happiness.

THE ETHICAL LIFE

Another essential component to the state of happiness is the developing practice of

what Kierkegaard calls the ethical life. The ethical life is one in which an individual is

aware of his limited causal power to control the world outside of his mind. One can

control the inner thoughts, beliefs, or desires, but one can never know with certainty what

will happen when we act on our subjectivity. There is a world of cause and effect outside

of our inner thoughts, beliefs, or desires, which we cannot control. Those who accept this

truth Kierkegaard calls, the resigned: these people renounce their control over their

external reality. The resigned “enter the ethical sphere…when they adopt the attitude that

what is important is arranging the “inner”…” as such, “they have a degree of peaceful

self-sufficiency because they have no expectations about the external…they take solace

in meeting “inner” demands.” 19 The limited power to control external causes is offered

by Kierkegaard as an alternative to the esthetic 20 life: one that is characterized by a

hedonistic approach to life. Hedonistic pleasures of the esthetic life are solipsistic,

fleeting, and unreliable, but the pleasures of the ethical are empathetic, prolonged, and

constant.

19 Steven Luper, Existing: An Introduction to Existential Thought. (Mayfield Publishing Co.,2000) pp. 15-17

20 Esthetes attempt to achieve happiness by pursuing things that produce pleasure and avoid pain. Their interest in people or activities quickly dissipates when they find these boring. They think that there is no intrinsic value or importance in anything that is happening around them. They manipulate the world in attempt to control their indifference to what is happening around them. All that matters to the esthete is pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

The ethical life is one in which we resign our causal powers to control the

external world and restructure our inner thoughts to convey more empathetic actions

toward others by caring for them. The resigned restructure their “inner” thoughts to care

for others because they acknowledge their limitations of the external reality. Although

they cannot control the cause and effect of how others ought to treat them, but they can

shape their own inner thoughts to care for others. The resigned may not be able to control

how others will respond to his good will, but he can control his own subjective response

to it by not caring about this matter. The resigned will continue acting in good nature

without expecting punishment or reward for his ethical actions: this will have a

significant effect on those who are around him. Kierkegaard says, “a truly great ethical

individuality would consummate his life as follows: he would develop himself to the

utmost of his capacity; in the process he perhaps would produce a great effect in the

external world, but this would not occupy him at all, because he would know that the

external is not in his power and therefore means nothing either pro or contra.” 21 This

will bring a sense of fulfillment and inner peace to the resigned because he won‟t expect

to be rewarded for his right actions for the care of others.

THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE

A final indicator that one is in the state of happiness is the continuous appetite for

knowledge. Most humans are born with an internal drive to want to understand the world

in which they live. They want to know about themselves and the nature of the

environments they share with others. Perhaps it is an existential need that drives the

21 Steven Luper, Existing: An Introduction to Existential Thought. (Mayfield Publishing Co., 2000) p. 16

desire to want to put reality into perspective. Anything that seems alien to us we want to

understand and this gives us purpose in life. Human curiosity is most evident when we

are children: we want to know what objects feel like and why they are constructed the

way they are. Perhaps the need to know is a survival mechanism that has been heritably

passed on from our ancestors. Whatever the origin or purpose may be, the will to pursue

what is unknown to us never extinguishes throughout our lifetime. Though it never

extinguishes however, it is often diverted toward intellectual pursuits that have very little

or no meaning at all. By redirecting our cognition toward intellectual pursuits that are

meaningful we will come to experience the state of happiness.

Social psychologists often refer to the tendency to enjoy engaging in deliberative

thought: need for cognition. 22 People who have a high need for cognition like to engage

in complex thought processes such as reflective thought. This can be said to be mind

stimulating for them, since they will deliberately pursue conversations, as well as other

activities, that produce it. These individuals enjoy discussing almost any issue: and

complexity is of no importance to them. In fact, the more complex the issues are the more

stimulation they get. Even when the topics of discussion are not personally relevant to

them, they are self-motivated to think deeply about them. When they are mentally

engaged, I believe these individuals are experiencing a condition that is relevant to the

state of happiness. The experience is one that is necessary to have a personal sense of

wellbeing. Social psychologists claim that some individuals have a higher need for

cognition than others, but I believe everyone has the ability to have this experience.

Those who may lack the impetus to want cognition “can be motivated to think deeply

22 Douglas T. Kenrick, Social Psychology: Goals In Interaction. (Pearson, 2007) pp.158-159

about a topic by such factors as the personal relevance of the topic and their natural

preference for deliberative thought (need for cognition).” 23 One reason for why I think

that the need for cognition can be learned is because one can direct one‟s consciousness

toward experiences that are mind stimulating.

Directing and redirecting consciousness is one way by which we learn about things

that are unknown to us. Sartre explains a feature inherent of consciousness:

“consciousness unlike its object, is free, and is conceived as outside of the causal order.”

24 Consciousness is the for-itself of reality- that is, consciousness is not reality in itself

but a tool by which we understand reality in-itself. Reality in-itself is our external reality

apart from our conception of it. It is not free because it lacks consciousness and thus it

cannot direct itself in the same way that a human can. Since consciousness exists outside

of the causal order, and humans posses consciousness, this means that we are in control

of our consciousness. Thus, we can direct it toward cognitive pursuits that will be

simultaneously pleasant and meaningful. Because consciousness “may be what it is not

and need not be what it is…”- it exists without a fixed identity- - this is not a limitation

that stands in the way of happiness however. So long as one is engaged in cognitive

thought, the validity of what consciousness conceives is irrelevant. Once we‟re able to

direct one‟s consciousness toward objects that elicit the need for cognition, this will help

us understand the importance of having a reflective consciousness in order to live well.

A reflective consciousness is an example of a deliberative thought process that can

increase appetite for knowledge and direct us toward the state of happiness. By

possessing a reflective consciousness we become aware of ourselves as actors engaging

23 p. 158

24 pp. 261

in specific actions: when we are aware of our consciousness we can direct it toward

objects that are meaningful. A pre-reflective consciousness is a concept coined by Sartre

that is spelled out in a work entitled The Transcendence of the Ego (1937). It simply

means: to be conscious of the objects of our consciousness. For example, listening to the

audible sounds that can be heard in your surroundings is an experience of pre-reflective

consciousness. In contrast to a reflective consciousness, which is one where we are

conscious of the consciousness of an object- that is, we are conscious that our

consciousness is directed at the sounds that can be heard in our surroundings. Through

reflective consciousness, we become aware of ourselves as characters that are in control

of the direction we want to shift our consciousness toward. The mental process of

reflective consciousness is a higher-order cognitive experience that is necessary to be in

the state of happiness. Epicurus, a Greek Athenian who established a school named, the

Garden, also suggests that the life in pursuit of rational and cognitive understanding is

more valuable and pleasant than one that is directed at a lavish lifestyle.

A life that is directed at the pursuit of knowledge is more pleasant than one that is

focused on the satisfaction of lower-order pleasures. Epicurus, an Athenian who

articulated an ethical theory that is directed at the experience of wellbeing believed that a

life in pursuit of knowledge and understanding was more meaningful than one in pursuit

of pleasures. He believed that it wasn‟t “continuous drinkings and revellings, nor the

satisfaction of lusts, nor the enjoyment of …luxuries of the wealthy, which produce a

pleasant life, but sober reasoning, searching out the motives for all choice and avoidance,

and banishing mere opinions, to which are due the greatest disturbance of the spirit.” 25

25 Steven Cahn. Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy. Selection from the reading by Epicurus entitled, Letter to Menoeceus (Oxford University Press, 2008) pp. 34-37

The pursuit of lavish pleasures harms the spirit because we loose cognition, which is

unable to direct consciousness toward things that are meaningful and not hedonistic. In

contrast to that lifestyle, when reason directs our actions and decisions we acquire

prudence. Prudence, in turn, is essential because without it we cannot live virtuously;

“prudence…teaches us that it is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently,

and honourably, and justly…” 26 A rational life that is directed at understanding the

motives of one‟s choice and desires is one that values knowledge: knowledge about

ourselves and the things that harm us and that stand in the way of personal wellbeing.

It may seem difficult to grasp which is the greater good between the two opposite

lifestyles, one of which I have referred to as the feelings of happiness and the other, the

state of happiness. Various cases can be made in defense of why both are necessary to be

happy. Both have a purpose in one‟s life and only one can satisfy the needs that the other

cannot. Do we then want the feelings of happiness or do we want the state of happiness?

This is a conceptual problem with happiness that many of us may find difficult to resolve:

though we are constantly placed in situations in which we are forced to respond to this

question, and we do. In the following section I will argue why I think that the state of

happiness is more worth pursuing than the feelings of happiness. Though inconceivable,

it is a lifestyle that is much more meaningful than the mere feelings of happiness.

26 p. 36

CHAPTER 2

ACHIEVING THE GREATEST GOOD: BY WAY OF HEDONISM OR A LIFE OF MEANING AND VIRTUE?

There are several things that happiness refers to as I have pointed out. Because the

term is not an object-specific term, people often make use of it to refer to more than one

thing in their experience. The term is used to make a reference to things, experiences,

events, feelings, mental states: and all of these seem to be properly descriptively labeled

from a subjective standpoint. In so far as what we experience is good we tend to refer to

as happiness and what is bad we refer to as unhappiness: and this is about as much

differentiation as we think is required to understand what happiness entails. But to think

that this is all that happiness is about is to adopt a much reductionistic view of happiness.

I have already described various definitions that we attribute to the concept of happiness

and as I have shown there appears to be no strict canonical rules that formally indicate

what happiness is or what it isn‟t. This isn‟t to say however that there is no description of

happiness that can be defined as the greater good. But how can we know with certainty

what the good life entails if semantic and conceptual limitations stand in the way of

identifying the greatest good: the feelings of happiness or the state of happiness? In this

chapter I will argue why it is difficult to identify which of the two lifestyles will result in

a greater payoff: the feelings of happiness or the state of happiness as the greatest good.

HAPPINESS: A PROBLEM OF SEMANTICS

One conceptual problem with identifying which of the two is the greatest good,

the feelings of happiness or state of happiness, is a semantic one. What do we mean in

literal terms when we say that we are happy? There are several things that the term

happiness can linguistically mean: some meanings I have already identified in the

previous section. Still however, there may be some readers who may think that my

descriptions insufficiently address all of what happiness is by definition: and those who

think this may be correct. The reason for this is that it may be probable that we currently

lack the right vocabulary to give an accurate description of what happiness is. We don‟t

have the right words to describe what happiness as the greatest good is. I have defined the

concept of happiness as a pleasure experience that is both physical and mental, as well as

one that is a state of being. But the greatest good may be one, both, or neither one of

these. Perhaps the right terminology that corresponds to happiness in itself is still not

available. Without the right terminology to describe what happiness is it will be virtually

impossible to conceptualize which of the two, the feelings of happiness or the state of

happiness, is the right experience that provides the most accurate meaning that defines

the greatest good.

With a multiplicity of meanings that all appear to be valid forms of happiness, how

do we know which description is the most accurate one that corresponds to happiness in

itself? The right vocabulary would have to convey a meaning that is universally

applicable- that is, the vocabulary that best describes the greatest good would have to be

one that all people can relate to. This description would also be one that conveys an

accurate definition of what the meaningful life is: a life of virtue. It would also be one

that everyone would be willing to apply onto their lives. Finally, this semantic

redescription of happiness would settle once and for all the ambiguity in the meaning of

the term happiness and would tell us which is the greatest good: the feelings of happiness

or the state of happiness.

PHYSIOLOGICAL PLEASURE VS. THE STATE OF HAPPINESS

Another reason why it is conceptually difficult to commit to one or the other, the

feelings of happiness (FOH) or the state of happiness (SOH), is because both have

features that humans are drawn toward and repelled by. The good that is intrinsic of the

feeling of happiness is one that is physiological and it is why we are drawn toward it. We

tend to pursue the feelings of happiness because we want to satisfy the demands of our

bodies. We want the experience of breathing, eating, drinking, having sex, sleeping, or

excreting because they are all physically pleasant and are an end to most fundamental

physical desires. Essentially, the feelings of happiness are a good because they are

physiologically pleasant and because they satisfy the demands of the body. 27 But the

feelings of happiness can also be a non-good, and this is why some may be off-put by

these experiences.

The feelings of happiness have intrinsic qualities that are a non-good that we are

repelled by. The feelings of happiness have a tendency to be short-lived: they are

transient. This is one unattractive quality of the feelings of happiness, they tend to be

very pleasant, but the experience is very short in duration. This is especially true of

lower-order pleasures, but this can also be said of higher-order pleasures. A hedonist who

lives a lifestyle satisfying one desire after another can be said to be trapped in that

lifestyle because he has to increase the number of activities that elicit pleasure in order to

27 See Abraham Maslow‟s1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation where he discusses a popular theory he designed known as the Hierarchy of Needs.

balance the low duration but high intensity of his experiences. A person who experiences

the feeling of satisfaction, a higher order pleasure, can also be said to experience the

feeling for a short time when he or she finds that once all the goals have been met that

elicit satisfaction, he or she must establish others to experience the feeling once again.

This is a nonproductive view of life because “identifying happiness with positive

sensations too easily leads to sterile hedonism. Pleasure does not usually require deep

reflection, only transient, desirable feelings.” 28 This is the repelling side of the feelings

of happiness, and those who understand this tend to give up this hedonic lifestyle to

pursue a life of meaning and moral value that may not produce the feelings of happiness.

By establishing good social relations through friendships, conjugal partners, children, all

of which are additional components of the state of happiness, these people reject the

shortcomings of a life in pursuit of pleasure.

The state of happiness can also be both a good and appear to be a non-good and this

is why it would be difficult to commit to only this lifestyle if it were to be the greatest

good. The state of happiness is a good in that it is intrinsically valuable and worth

pursuing in its own sake. Simply put, a life devoid of authenticity, self-authority, the

ethical life, and the pursuit of knowledge would be a meaningless one. The state of

happiness as a condition of wellbeing is a good because by possessing all of the things

that encompass wellbeing a human will tend to flourish. This may partly be the reason

why humans tend to want to establish friendships, have children, and work, because

experiences that produce pleasure are simply not enough to be happy. We don‟t pursue

meaningful things because they produce pleasure, we pursue them because we can

28 Raymond Belliotti, Happiness is Overrated. (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004) pp. 120-122

discriminate between the things that will make us happy for a short duration and things

that will make us happy for a longer duration.

The state of happiness may appear to be a non-good because it lacks the felt quality

experience that the feelings of happiness produce but this is actually a feature not a flaw

of this condition. The repelling aspect of the state of happiness is that it lacks the felt

experience and intensity of pleasure that the feelings of happiness have: this may be why

some people are turned away from this lifestyle. By juxtaposing the phenomenal

experience of a sexual nature-such as an orgasm- next to the experience of being happy

that one is having a child, one can see that both are not of the same kind. Both are

experiences of happiness but only one can be physiologically felt, the other cannot. Both

are important in their own respects, but only one is a meaningful experience, the other is

not. Because one lacks the felt quality of happiness, some may think that it is not

important to pursue, but those who understand the value of having a child would certainly

understand why this isn‟t true. Just because an experience does not produce physiological

stimulation does not mean that it does not produce happiness. Being able to differentiate

between the two experiences however is the first step in being able to identify which is

the greatest good.

IMMEDIATE VS. DELAYED REWARDS

Another reason why it is difficult to conceptualize the greatest good by

differentiating between the feelings of happiness and the state of happiness is because the

effects of one are more immediate than the other. A feeling of happiness may be short in

duration, but one of its distinguishing features is that it is immediate-that is, it

immediately follows a behavior that produces it. When we experience a feeling of

happiness, let‟s say the sensation of pleasure of eating a hot fudge sundae, the feeling of

pleasure occurs immediately right after we engage in the behavior. Cognitive science has

found that “the more immediate the reinforcer, the stronger its effect on the behavior.” 29

This means that the shorter the time gap is between a behavior and the experience of a

sensation of pleasure, the stronger the desire will be to do the same behavior again. This

explains why once we start eating the sundae it is difficult to stop after just one gulp.

Experiencing one sensation of pleasure leads to the desire to repeat the same behavior

that produced it. The immediacy of the effects of a pleasure producing behavior may also

explain the hedonistic lifestyle. Hedonists prefer their lifestyle because they believe that

only behaviors that produce immediate consequences are good, and those that do not are

a non-good, so they avoid them. But just because the consequence of a behavior is not

immediate does not mean that it is a non-good: as is the case with the consequence of

living the state of happiness.

In contrast to the immediate consequence of a behavior that elicits a feeling of

happiness, the consequence of a behavior of someone who is in the state of happiness is

delayed. The fruits of living in the state of happiness are not as immediate as those of the

feelings of happiness. Living the authentic, self-authority, ethical, and pursuit of

knowledge kind of life takes time and effort to master: it is a state that we have to work

hard to experience. Because of the time and effort that must be put in, the fruits of living

this lifestyle may seem too far to apprehend: which may turn some people away from

pursuing it. Some may find meaningful activities unattractive because these activities are

29 Russell A. Powell, Learning and Behavior. (Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009) pp. 234-235

weak reinforcers to behavior. Ultimately, “the effect of delayed reinforcers on

behavior…are weak…whereas the effects of alternate activities are… immediate and

therefore powerful.” 30 But the value of the fruits that can potentially be gained by being

in the state of happiness should not be measured in terms of their delayed effect on

behavior, their value should be measured in terms of their quality. A meaningful life

ultimately has more value than one that has to constantly refashion new ways to

experience the immediate feeling of pleasure.

The inability to invariably discriminate which of the two is the greatest good, the

feelings of happiness or the state of happiness, is a conceptual problem with happiness.

Both forms of happiness are important to the life of a human in their own respect. Both

are a good that man strives to achieve. Yet it seems odd that the inadequacy of either one

leaves man empty and without solace. Can we live a meaningful life, but also experience

the pleasant sensations that accompany the behavior of a hedonistic life? If not, which of

the two is the greatest good? Until we are able to resolve the deeply rooted concerns of

man, what a life would be like without pleasure, a life without meaning, or a life with

meaning and pleasure, will we begin to move forward in the attempt to define happiness

as a universal concept.

30 LAB; p. 234

CHAPTER 3

IS THERE AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING ABSOLUTE FORM OF HAPPINESS?

Happiness can take on various forms; some instantiations may even appear to be

more perfect instances than others. This might explain why some would prefer to pursue

tangible feelings of happiness rather than an intangible meaningful happiness: the

feelings of happiness may appear to be more real to an individual. But perfection does not

always entail absolute reality, as tangible feelings may at times even be elusive forms of

happiness. As I have already described, we denote the term happiness to a number of

different experiences that may or may not be perfect or all encompassing. But before we

can ascribe feelings to notions of happiness, it might be wise to determine whether

happiness is an attainable goal. Why should we bother to ascribe any kind of description

to happiness if there is a possibility that absolute happiness may only be an ideal? Is there

an all-encompassing perfect form of happiness that we can all potentially achieve? This is

another conceptual problem with happiness. In this chapter I will argue that the objective

status of happiness can be understood in two different ways, as such my argument is

twofold: one is that happiness can be regarded as a concept that is absolute: and two that

happiness can also be regarded as an experience that is non-absolute. Happiness is a

conceptually deceptive term because it contains two ontological aspects that are opposites

of one another and because of this it appears as though there is and there isn‟t an absolute

form of happiness.

HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS ON ABSOLUTE FORMS OF HAPPINESS

Plato, in The Republic, gives the first instance that happiness may be an absolute

that is incomprehensible and that humans are unable to be experience in the realm of

being. Plato‟s theory of the forms suggests that such ideals are so perfect that a human

cannot conceive their true nature. A form is simply the most perfect, non-changeable, and

absolute entity. What we perceive through our senses are merely copies of the real Forms

that exist in the realm of non-being. Plato‟s account of the forms suggests however that

happiness, in its most perfect form, is inaccessible to us in the material world. By this

reasoning, he suggests that happiness is an absolute because happiness in its most perfect

form exists in a place that isn‟t here on earth: a place where it isn‟t accessible to us. The

form of “the good”, which I am associating with happiness, is in a higher realm which

we cannot access but only until we die. Of course Plato certainly falls short in providing a

reasonable defense for why he believes this. In any case, to access these forms, he

believes that our bodies must vanish from the physical world and be risen up into the

heavens where these forms reside. If we cannot access these forms here on earth, then

any attempt to achieve happiness is virtually impossible and so it is not worth pursuing

because it is only an ideal. Aristotle‟s concept of happiness is another account that turns

happiness into an absolute condition.

Aristotle‟s concept of eudaimonia is another absolute account of happiness. In the

Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle coins a term for an all-encompassing state of happiness he

calls, eudaimonia. “Eu” means “well” and “daimon” means “divinity” or “spirit.”

Eudaimonia can essentially be translated as flourishing, though many translations regard

it as happiness or wellbeing. This state is characterized as one in which a person is able to

find the mean between two vices; that is, a person is courageous when he or she can find

the mean between the vice of being a coward and acting fool-heartedly without the use of

reason. Ultimately, Aristotle believed that through the sum of a number of similar virtues

a person can potentially live in what he calls a state of flourishing. But this account is

absolutist because it suggests that one cannot experience happiness until one dies.

While Aristotle‟s account of happiness is proactive, it appears that happiness may

still be far-reaching for those who are unable to live to their potential: perhaps even

worse is that a person can never know with certainty whether he or she lived happy or not

but only until they live a full life. In the Nicomachena Ethics, where Aristotle examines

Solon‟s dictum that no man should be counted happy until he dies, Aristotle argues that

man can only know whether he or she lived happy until they have lived their life in its

entirety; that is, until a person dies. However, if the evaluator is deadthat is, if he no

longer exists to make an evaluation of his lifehe cannot know with certainty whether he

lived his life to the fullest or not when he was alive. So even an experience of

satisfactionof knowing one has lived one‟s life to the fullest when one is alive—may

be one that is fallible. Perhaps a more practical approach to Aristotle‟s theory of

happiness is that flourishing is the product of living a virtuous life.

Aristotle‟s account of happiness is one whose focus is on how one chooses to live

and not on ends, such as happiness. Happiness is byproduct of a virtuous life: one that we

experience as a result of living the kind of lives we wanted and fulfilling the goals that

we set out to accomplish within the bounds of a rational life. Aristotle‟s account of

happiness is somewhat elusive and idealistic however because it is short-lived and is

inaccessible to all. If a person suffers from an inherited biological illness, which he or she

may have no control over acquiring, then flourishing is impossible for them because they

cannot live up to their healthy human potential: again, happiness becomes elusive.

Because there are events that we have no control over and because total satisfaction is

something we experience until we die, Aristotle‟s account of happiness is idealistic.

Because of its ambiguity however, there is a double aspect inherent in happiness that is

also worth noting: and that is that it is both an absolute and a non-absolute.

HAPPINESS: A CONCEPT THAT IS A UNIVERSAL ABSOLUTE AND A MULTIPLE INSTANTIATED EXPERIENCE WITH A PARTICULAR PHENOMENOLOGY

Happiness is an absolute because it is a concept that is universal 31 and it is not an

absolute because it is an experience that is particular 32 , therefore happiness is both an

absolute and a non-absolute. A particular is a property of a universal (i.e. the redness,

circumference, or hardness of an apple). There are many instances of happiness, some of

which I have outlined in previous sections. The experiences of elated feelings of

happiness such as pleasure, exuberance, or joy are all examples of particular instances of

happiness. The state of happiness, characterized by wellbeing, is another particular

instance of happiness. These are particular instances of happiness because they have a

distinctive phenomenology that differentiates them from other experiences that are also

referred to as happiness. More importantly, these are non-absolute because they are

always in a constant flux and so they are realized in different ways.

Particular experiences of happiness are non-absolute because they are

qualitatively different and are never static. Perhaps a more simplistic way of

31 Def. Universal: A property or characteristic that is present in all dissimilar members of a group.

32 Def. Particular: A property of a universal that is specific to a member of a group. (The redness of an apple, the roundness of an apple, the hardness of an apple)

understanding why happiness is a particular is if one were to think of it as a physical

object. There are many kinds of tables in this world, there are small tables and large

tables, there are brown tables and black tables, there are oval-shaped tables and round

tables. Each table is different from the other in that each has a specific property that

differentiates one from the other. The feelings of happiness are of a similar nature. There

are various kinds of feelings, with distinctive physical properties that differentiate one

from another. Some instances of happiness are more immediate than others, some are

more intense than others, and some are more enduring than others, but each experience is

not of the same kind. Each experience constantly changes from one kind to another. For

example, today your degree of happiness may be stronger than your degree of happiness

yesterday. Perhaps because of an unprecedented event, your mood has fluctuated from

being happy to being exuberantly happy. It‟s odd however that each experience is of the

same type- that is, all of these experiences are what we call happiness, how is this

possible? Is there something being instantiated in each experience that is universal to all

experiences of happiness?

Because happiness is a concept that is absolute, this may possibly be the universal

conceptualization that is instantiated by all experiences of happiness. Happiness is not

only an experience but a concept as well. Bertrand Russell in The Problems of

Philosophy 33 makes the claim that if we introduce several instances as separate

individuals, we nonetheless have to accept that the reason we group them together is

because they must be similar: therefore the one universal that must be true is that of

similarity. There may be many instances of what we call happiness, but there is only one

33 Russell, Bertrand (1912). The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford University Press.

universal concept that we would use to refer and identify those instances. For example,

we may experience a number of feelings that we call happiness even though not a single

one is exactly the same as the other, and yet we group them together and refer to all of

them as happiness as if they were all similar. Perhaps this similarity is the concept of

happiness. Through this concept we‟re able to differentiate what is from what is not an

experience of happiness. This is made possible because the concept of happiness is an

absolute that never changes: it is always static. The literal meaning of what happiness is

may evolve over time, through different cultures, or experiences: but the concept always

remains fixed and unchanging, as such it is an absolute.

Happiness is an absolute because it is an uninstantiated universal concept and it is

a non-absolute because it is an instantiated 34 universal experience. An uninstantiated

universal is a universal that doesn‟t have a specific physical kind, token, or property and

is shared by different members of a group. The concept of happiness is an uninstantiated

universal because it isn‟t a property of an object or thing yet it is present in various

instances of happiness. We cannot directly perceive a concept by way of our senses but

only with our mind. But even though we cannot measure, quantify, or delineate its

existence through observational methods, the concept of happiness is very much real. We

conceptualize the concept of happiness when we experience the feelings of happiness that

elicit the concept. The reason we are able to conceptualize the concept of happiness is

because it is a universal absolute: it is static, constant, and unchanging. This is why we

are able to identify experiences, events, or states of affair that lack physical instantiation,

but are associated with the concept of happiness. Namely, what we are conceptualizing is

34 Def. Instantiation: An attribute, characteristic, feature, trait, or aspect.

the universal concept of happiness. Happiness is also a universal instantiation because

there are certain properties of an experience of happiness that are universal.

A physical instantiation of a feeling of happiness is universal in that every

individual who experiences it has the same incidence and because it is not a metaphysical

experience it is not an absolute. There must be something universal about an instantiation

of a feeling of happiness if all who experience it are driven toward the same related

phenomena. All humans are driven toward properties, traits, and characteristics that are

inherent of feelings and are instantiated by the body. Maslow's hierarchy of needs 35 is an

exhaustive list of things that instantiate the feelings of happiness. Humans are innately

driven to desire fundamental things such as: physiological needs (food, water, sex, sleep,

excrete), safety needs (security of the body, employment, family, health, and property),

social needs (Need for friends, family, and sexual intimacy), esteem needs (self-esteem,

confidence, achievement), and self-actualization (truth, justice, wisdom, meaning). When

the particular phenomena associated with these needs is raised into consciousness, we

become aware of them by way of feelings. On a physiological level for example, humans

eat, drink, or have sex, because they desire the particular instantiation that these

experiences produce, namely the experience of pleasure. The raw physical happening of

pleasure is what a feeling of happiness is in its instantiated form. These feelings of

happiness are universal in that all humans with the faculty of perception can experience

it. These experiences are not absolute because they are accessible. Unlike Plato‟s perfect

form of the good, which exists in the realm of the heavens, a perfect instantiation of a

feeling of happiness can be experienced in the material realm, and this is done so by way

35 Janet A. Simons, Donald B. Irwin and Beverly A. Drinnien, Psychology - The Search for Understanding (West Publishing Company 1987)

of feelings. Happiness may have the descriptive features of an absolute and a non-

absolute but when we think of it as a state or experience that is perfect and unchanging it

will become elusive.

While the concept of happiness may be an absolute that is instantiated by all

instances of happiness, the feelings of happiness are components of a kind of happiness

that is a process of change that evolves from a material cause, to a formal cause, to an

efficient cause, and finally to an existing cause. Aristotle believed that there were four

main causes of nature- that is, there are four ways by which things come into being. He

believed that instantiations began with the existence of material objects and that their

presence came into being through someone that would perceive them. In this case the

feelings of happiness are the objects of instantiation. First we experience these as material

causes, these are the physical nerve impulses that occur when we engage in a behavior

that is pleasant. This physical occurrence then elicits the formal cause or idea that is in

the mind of the individual prior to the experience that engenders it. The individualwho

is the efficient causeis the vehicle by which the experience comes into being and

conceptualizes it as an experience of happiness. Finally, the final cause or telos of an

instantiation ends with the experience of self-realization; that is, the cognitive realization

that the entire process has occurred. This account on the process of how an individual

comes into being with his experience of happiness underscores the idea that happiness is

a process that gradually evolves from one event to another. As such, it is not an

occurrence that happens as a single particular event but rather one that is multiple,

therefore it is not an absolute static condition. Every time an individual experiences a

feeling of happiness he or she goes through the process once and again starting with a

material cause and ending with a final cause.

Happiness is an ambiguous term that refers both to things that are absolute and

non-absolute. The concept of happiness is one aspect of happiness that is static and

unchanging. In virtue of this aspect, humans are able to conceptualize their feelings of

happiness. But happiness also has another aspect that is not static, which is why I have

referred to it as a non-absolute. Happiness is not an absolute because the instantiating

experience of the feelings of happiness are particular to the individual who is

experiencing it. In this regard, each instantiation in itself is a particular experience in that

it is different from other instantiations that are also referred to as happiness. The question

of whether happiness is an absolute or not depends on the contextual reference made by

the term: as such, it can be both.

CHAPTER 4

DO MOODS AND EMOTIONS INHIBIT THE CONDITION OF A GENUINE FORM OF HAPPINESS?

In times of distress, emotionslike moodscan become useful tools that help

identify an adequate course of action. They can help diffuse conflict within one‟s inner

self, direct our consciousness toward objects that we care about, and alert us of potential

harm. An emotion can be defined as a relatively intense feeling characterized by

physiological arousal and complex cognitions. A mood is a long-lasting feeling that is

diffuse and is not directed toward any particular thing or object. In this chapter I will

assess the conceptual problem of happiness that results when moods and emotions distort

the truth validity of a personal assessment of one‟s condition in life. This is of course

based on the presupposition that a life without self-inquiry is not a happy one. Emotions

may be practical survival coping mechanisms but they are not a reliable means by which

to assess our condition in life. This raises the question of whether it is better to live

somberly in a false mood/emotional reality in which we think we are happy, or one in

which our subjective views correspond to objective truth. Ultimately, a life that is free of

delusion is more worthwhile than one that isn‟t.

EMOTIONS AS SELF-SUBSTISTING TOOLS OF PRESERVATION

There are several philosophical views on the notion of the ontology of emotions,

one such view originates from Sartre who believed that emotions were interpretive tools

used to understand objective reality. Jean-Paul Sartre believed that “we perceive and

understand value through our emotions” “emotions are magical transformations of our

world, as ways of changing our perceptions of the world without objectively changing the

world.” 36 On this perspective, an emotion is the means by which an individual becomes

conscious of what is most valuable to him or her. Through anger we judge an imbalance

in the condition of justice in the world. Through emotions we restore equilibrium to the

imbalance not in the world but in our interpretation of it. By way of emotions we cope

with our objective reality by changing our subjective views of it. Robert Solomon

expands on Sartre‟s vision of what an emotion is.

An emotion is not only a tool by which we perceive things that are intrinsically

valuable, it is also a coping mechanism. Robert Solomon believed that an emotion was

“an ongoing practice in which one is actively and interpersonally engaged… It is not

merely personal but also interpersonal, socially constructed, and learned…an emotion is

not a feeling…cannot be reduced to a physiological occurrence…cannot be understood in

terms of mere individual behavior…the emotions are intentional and strategic ways of

coping with a „difficult‟ situation. We „choose‟ them…for a purpose.” 37 For Solomon,

emotions are social constructs that we learn to use in times of distress. They help us cope

with and understand uncertainties that we might not be able to approach by way of

reason. They are reactionary tools that occur to us during incomprehensible

circumstances. A more evolutionary approach to emotions that can expand on Solomon‟s

definition comes from social psychology which would make the case that emotions serve

a very important adaptive role for humans “in both the short and long term, they help us

36 Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel Barnes (New York:

Philosophical Library, 1956)

37 Robert Solomon, Joy of Philosophy: Thinking Thin versus the Passionate Life, (Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. 43-44, 53

deal better with the negative events and crises that confront us.” 38 From a practical

perspective, it appears that emotions are adaptable tools that help humans live better:

perhaps happier, one might say. Because we respond with the appropriate emotion to a

particular circumstance we‟re able to adapt to such circumstance and live better. Moods

have a similar adaptable use for humans according to Robert Nozick.

Like emotions, moods also have practical uses that allow humans to live happier

lives. According to Robert Nozick there are five ways that moods improve people‟s lives.

Moods direct “attention toward positive (or negative) facts, by resisting dwelling on

certain types of facts when they come to attention, by adjusting the

benchmarks/standards, by intensifying the degree of evaluation, by intensifying the

degree of the associated feeling by affecting the factor proportionality, or by lengthening

the feelings duration.” 39 All these are practical ways that moods help humans adapt to

various circumstances, events, or states of affair. Moods give us information about the

nature of our immediate situation. 40 For example if one is feeling happy at the moment

it‟s likely that the present environment has been positively rewarding. If one is feeling

sad however chances are that the environment has yielded something negative or

unfortunate: as such, one will feel susceptible or vulnerable to these conditions. Moods,

like emotions give us information about the potential danger associated with the present

environment we‟re in. This is a vital component for the well-being of any human‟s

survival which is defended by Daniel Haybron‟s emotional state view theory of

happiness.

38 Douglas T. Kerick, Steven L. Neuberg, Robert B Cialdini. Social Psychology: Goals and Interaction. (Pearson Education Inc., 2007) pp. 48

39 Robert Nozick. The Examined Life. (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1990)

40 Douglas T. Kenrick. Social Psychology: Goals In Interaction. (Pearson, 2007) pp.165

According to Daniel Haybron, happiness is a psychological emotional state in

which a person is temporarily experiencing positive emotions. In defense of this theory,

he claims that “this view makes happiness less vulnerable to common doubts about the

importance of happiness, and indicates that mood states are more important for well-

being than is generally recognized.” 41 Haybron believes that moods are psychological

states that are essential components to well-being. Perhaps for the reasons I have already

provided above, all of which Sartre, Solomon, and Nozick would defend as well. Moods

and emotions can be very practical tools that help us survive in this world, but they are

not a reliable means by which to live a well condition in life.

THE DECEPTIVE NATURE OF MOODS AND EMOTIONS

Moods and emotions can be very useful tools when coping with our objective

reality, but they can also be an obstacle to achieve an optimal form of happiness. The

conceptual problem with happiness in regard to emotions results when an individual is

caught up in a psychological state engendered by emotions and is unable to properly

assess his or her life in order to live a more meaningful life. For example, Robert Nozick

suggests that, “someone whose emotions are based on completely and egregiously

unjustified and false evaluations we will be reluctant to term happy, however he feels.” 42

If someone‟s emotions do not correspond to his or her objective reality, is this person

really happy? A person who has an emotion that does not correspond to his objective

41 Daniel Haybron. On Being Happy or Unhappy, Journal Entry: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LXXI, No. 2, September 2005. pp. 1

42 Robert Nozick. The Examined Life. (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1990)

pp.111

reality is not happy- that is to say, someone who is living under poverty, hunger, or

lacking social interaction, and yet expresses happy emotions as if their condition were

optimal, are not happy. Genuine happiness entails that an individual flourish: that is, live

to his or her potential. This includes working toward satisfying man‟s most essential

needs such as, establishing meaningful social relationships, having sufficient income to

sustain oneself, and having a reliable source of food. If a person is not living to his

potential but expresses a content disposition by way of happy emotions, one cannot say

that he or she is happy because there is nothing objective about their condition that is

evident of this. Genuine happiness entails that one work toward acquiring the things that

will be objectively evident that one is flourishing.

The truth is that, genuine happiness entails that one work toward living a life that is

meaningful and worthwhile and not just indulge on the emotions that accompany this

lifestyle only because they are more pleasant. Emotions, like moods, can be deceiving.

They can mislead us into thinking that they are more important than the lives we ought to

lead. Robert Nozick‟s thought experiment of the experience machine can probably best

illustrate the importance of working toward acquiring happiness and not just relying on

our emotions to do this for us. The experience machine is a place where an individual is

free of choice. His brain is connected to a machine that feeds pleasant thoughts, events,

and creates pleasant memories. The individual has no access to a physical or objective

reality but is only conscious of the pleasant emotions that the machine feeds his brain.

This thought experiment raises the question of whether it is more important to live a life

in which we experience happy emotions but do nothing to objectively demonstrate that

we deserve them, or a life in which we prioritize meaningful actions that may or may not

elicit an objective happy disposition.

A life in which we are in control of the decisions we make is more meaningful than

one in which we‟re not: this freedom however does not make us less susceptible to being

deceived by our emotions. A genuine form of happiness entails accurate evaluations of

our present, past, and future. Emotions and moods can distort our thoughts and ideas

about how we interpret our objective reality, which at times may be helpful but at other

times it might not. For example, on a particular circumstance such as the parting of a

loved one, an emotion-such as sadness-can help heal the psychological wound created by

this event. At other times, this same emotion can be very harmful, such as when an

individual harbors disruptive thoughts when he is in a state of depression. When in a state

of depression, an individual is very unlikely to see his objective reality very clearly when

this emotion is clouding his mind with negative thoughts. In this condition, a person is

likely to exaggerate the negativity in the world by focusing their consciousness on

negative aspects of his or her objective reality. Emotions are of a very fickle nature: they

fluctuate from one state to another at various times and this is why they are unreliable

means by which to assess one‟s condition.

Emotions can change across time and this is why our evaluations at distant

periods are likely to be different. Another reason that emotions are a conceptual problem

for happiness is because they change over time. Robert Nozick claims that a positive

evaluation of one‟s life at one point in time may be completely different at another point

in time. If we evaluate our lives positively on one day, then we look back on a future day

and decide that that positive evaluation was incorrectly made and that in actuality there is

nothing to be positive about, can it really be said that we were in fact happy then or not? I

believe the inconsistency of our evaluations can be explained in part because of the

nature of emotions and moods, which is that they not only fluctuate but tend to linger

within those evaluations. When they do, moods and emotions have the power to distort

our evaluative thoughts. The reason that past and present evaluations about our condition

are different is because the mood or emotion that was present at the time when that

evaluation was made has changed. It‟s not that the thoughts associated with the

evaluation are different, but rather the emotion which corresponded to that evaluation is

what has changed. The fact that emotions change however, indicates their unreliability

when it comes to assess a proper course of living- that is to say, if we were to live

through the guidance of emotions we might find that what makes us happy today, might

not make us happy in the future.

A genuine form of happiness entails a kind of living that is free from any distorted

views about the state of our current lives. Emotions can be very deceptive: they can lead

us to think that a certain form of living will make us happier than another by distorting

our judgment. On certain times, this may actually be a good thing: particularly when

having to cope with certain events in our lives that we would otherwise be unable to

handle. As a survival mechanism, moods and emotions can be very practical and thereby

make us happier. But emotions can also drive a person into a state of delusion in which

they are unable to see their objective reality very clearly. This kind of approach to life

can limit the extent to which one can achieve a genuine form of happiness. Ultimately, a

genuine form of happiness can only be one in which we see reality from an objective

standpoint and accept it however positive or negative it might be. After all as John Stuart

Mill said, “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be

Socrates dissatisfied, than a fool satisfied.”

CHAPTER 5

THINKING VS. BEING HAPPY: IS HAPPINESS ONLY A SUBJECTIVE MATTER?

I have already considered how emotions can both optimize and inhibit a person

from being happy. To expand on this matter, another very important factor in the study of

happiness concerns the issue of whether it is sufficient to think that one is happy in order

to be happy; that is to say, is it enough to have a cognitive process that indicates to

oneself that one is happy in order to be happy? Like emotions, cognitive processes (i.e.

thoughts) are subjective experiences; that is, only through a first-person account can a

person know what it‟s like to have the experience of a cognitive process. This is one

particular feature of a cognitive experiences; another is that the content of our thoughts is

also subjective. No one but the person having a thought can know with exact precision

what they are thinking about. Because thoughts are very personal experiences, this raises

the question of whether cognitive experiences of happiness and the content of individual

minds can be objectively known. If a person says that he or she is happy and attests to

this because they think they are, can one argue otherwise? Perhaps a better question

would be, to what extent is a self-account of happiness a credible one? This is the fourth

and final conceptual problem of happiness that I will consider in this project. In this

chapter I will argue that it is insufficient to think that one is happy in order to be happy:

all subjective accounts of happiness must map on to reality in-itself/objective states of

being. A genuine form of happiness is one in which a person has a true self-conception of

himself that is based on accurate objective facts. If objective facts do not correspond to

subjective states, then a person‟s subjective account of happiness is false and they are not

in fact experiencing a genuine form of happiness.

MOODS AND EMOTIONS AS PSYCHOLOGICAL DEFENSE MECHANISMS

Humans have inherited several biological defense mechanisms that have helped

them survive throughout their evolution: as a consequence, these have optimized their

happiness. In times of distress, the mind often resorts to a number of measures in order to

cope with aversive conditions. The purpose in the use of psychological defense

mechanisms, otherwise known as defense-oriented coping, is to “discharge or soothe

anxiety… and help a person push painful ideas out of consciousness instead of dealing

directly with the problem.43 Several cognitive mechanisms by which this is done

include: displacement, fixation, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression,

repression, and sublimation. All these are irrational protective measures that the ego

resorts to in times of distress in order to maintain cognitive equilibrium. For example, a

person can optimize his or her happiness by utilizing a defense mechanism such as

repression by preventing painful and unpleasant thoughts from entering consciousness.

Likewise, a person can engage in displacement behavior by discharging hostel feelings

onto objects that are less dangerous that the actual object that is causing this person to

feel anxiety. But although helpful in reducing anxiety, not only are they temporary

solutions, these can also inhibit a person from experiencing a genuine form of happiness

by distorting their subjective view of their objective reality/state of being. Therefore, a

43 James Butcher, Susan Mineka, Jill M. Hooley. Abnormal Psychology: Core Concepts. (Pearson Education, 2008). Pp. 44-46.

genuine form of happiness is one in which we bring our subjective states into an

objective awareness.

When some feelings of anxiety or painful ideas are brought into consciousness a

person experiences a genuine state of well-being. Because a person can solve a problem

that may be inhibiting them from being happy when he or she is aware of it, resorting to

the use of irrational mechanisms can actually limit the extent to which a person can do so.

By resorting to the use of irrational defense mechanisms a person chooses to live in

ignorance to the object that is inhibiting him or her from being happy. As a consequence,

this often has repercussions that inhibit a person‟s well being. However, by seeing

oneself from an objective standpoint, that is by rising into consciousness feelings and

emotions that have been suppressed, one chooses to alter one‟s subjective state,

objectively and thereby experiences a genuine form of happiness. I have thus far

considered how changing one‟s subjective condition objectively can result in a genuine

form of happiness, but what if our objective condition cannot be changed?

THE ENHANCEMENT FACTOR

There is a psychological principle known as the enhancement factor that many

people resort to when it seems impossible for them to change their objective condition. In

order to match personal expectations to actual circumstances, most people often distort

reality or harbor illusions in which they depict themselves in a more pleasant condition.

As a consequence, these people tend to be “the happiest and healthiest human beings who

have unrealistically positive views of themselves, exaggerate the amount of control they

have over their lives, and are unrealistically optimistic.” 44 Having this kind of self view

of one‟s objective reality seems like a temporary solution to the problem of matching

expectations to actual circumstances. After all, one can successfully alter one‟s subjective

reality by simply reorganizing one‟s thoughts: which as a consequence results in the

experience of pleasure or emotion. However, this kind of thinking can often lead a person

to develop a kind of disposition that is based on unrealistic thoughts: which is not a way

to live a genuine form of happiness.

We do not foolishly want to become chronic unrealistic optimists, who are

individuals that fail to acknowledge that they are vulnerable to bad events and don‟t take

precautions to prevent them, but we also don‟t want to have a view of reality in which we

see things as they really are. As Raymond Belliotti in Happiness is Overrated suggests,

“Embracing delusions of grandeur is not a road to happiness. But neither is relentlessly

viewing things as they really are.” 45 Wellbeing results from developing a self-conscious

disposition; that is, a disposition that is fully aware of its subjective and objective

experience. This disposition would be fully aware of itself and would not be oblivious to

the positive or negative stimulus that it is constantly confronted with. One shouldn‟t be

oblivious to any stimuli. After all, most stimuli that appear adverse is often not quite how

we perceive it. It‟s often the case that once we become aware that a stimulus is not

adverse, it no longer has the same anxious effect on one‟s disposition. For this to happen,

certain skills or virtues are also necessary to address the future and to counteract these

tendencies: virtues of thought (i.e. intellectual, wisdom, sophia, intelligence) and moral

virtues (i.e. courage, temperance, moderation, gentleness, agreeableness, truthfulness, and

44 Raymond Belliotti. Happiness Is Overrated. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) pp. 62-63

45 Belliotti. Happiness Is Overrated. pp. 63

wit). At times it may seem difficult to suppress the use of cognitive defense mechanisms,

since these are innately built into our biological systems. Understanding however that

truth and objective reality is a greater good than a temporary relief from anxiety, will

result in the experience of an optimal form of happiness. A possible alternative to the use

of these can be to displace one‟s consciousness from objects that inhibit positive

affectivity.

Certain patterns of thinking can often lead a person to develop a negative

disposition; however, by displacing one‟s consciousness from objects that inhibit positive

affectivity one can prevent such thoughts from having an adverse effect on one‟s

subjective state. "Positive affectivity involves a disposition to feel joyful, energetic, bold,

proud, enthusiastic, and confident; people low on this disposition tend to feel

unenthusiastic, unenergetic, dull, flat, and bored." 46 By displacing one‟s consciousness

from objects that inhibit positive affectivity, one is able to maintain positive affectivity

and thereby a positive disposition. One cannot rule out the importance that one‟s positive

disposition should also be based on a true objective assessment of the situation. Positive

affectivity results as a consequence because typically one is affected by stimulus that one

is conscious of. If our consciousness is unaware of an objective stimulus that is aversive,

then the ego cannot be affected by it. This might explain the phenomenon of why

personalities that are characteristic of positive affectivity are able to endure stressful

conditions when they are faced with them and those that are not have more trouble doing

so. Objective aversive conditions are often unpredictable in the way they happen to

people, however if a person is habituated to displace its consciousness in the presence of

46 Butcher, James, Susan Mineka, Jill M. Hooley. Abnormal Psychology: Core Concepts. (Pearson Education, 2008). pp.187

negative stimulus and instead have it fixed only on objects that reinforce positive

affectivity, this will result in a prolonged state of well being.

In substitution of a consciousness that is fixed on seeing reality as it really is but

is susceptible to being entrapped in a state of subjective unhappiness, one that is fixed on

stimulus that reinforces positive affectivity is more likely to endure in a state of well

being. Normally, people who have dispositions that characterize positive affectivity are

able to maintain these personalities because their consciousness is fixed only on objects

that reinforce this condition and tend to move away from those that don‟t. They bring into

their conscious awareness people, objects, and situations that reinforce this condition,

making it more likely that their positive affectivity will endure. If a person, object, or

situation doesn‟t reinforce their condition they tend move away from it; that is, since the

effects of remaining too long in this condition are often self-destructive. Essentially, the

important thing is to be aware of one‟s objective reality regardless of how inhibiting it

may be to the maintenance of positive affectivity. After all, thinking that one is happy

when it is objectively clear that one isn‟t, is foolish: our subjective states must map on to

an objective reality. Finally, one‟s subjective state of happiness must also correspond to

an objective form of happiness such as flourishing.

One‟s subjective state of happiness (i.e. the self-conception that one is happy) is a

credible self-account of happiness when it is reflected through an objective character that

is exemplary of meaning and virtue. An accurate internal state of happiness is a character

that strives to achieve virtue in order to be happy and manifests mastery in the acquisition

and maintenance of: authenticity, self-authority, the ethical life, and the pursuit of

knowledge: all of which are components of well-being. To think that one is happy

therefore is simply not sufficient to be happy. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle

articulates a theory of happiness in which he says that a person experiences Eudaimonia

(i.e. flourishing) when he or she excels in what he does.

Flourishing will result from full involvement in one‟s talents, creating and

recreating new ways to be the best at the activities that we do. A person who wants to

flourish would have to be the best that they can be at what is most important to them and

their efforts would have to be objectively evident: only then can one say that they are

experiencing Eudaimonia. For example, if one possesses a talent like singing, a person

can only achieve Eudaimonia if he or she becomes the best singer that he or she can be. If

one has the talent of being a good listener, then perhaps a person who works toward

becoming the perfect listener is experiencing Eudaimonia. As Aristotle suggests, every

person can potentially experience this condition but they must look inward and seek that

which they are best at from within. Once this is found, flourishing through one‟s talents

will require effort to maintain. Ultimately, Eudaimonia can be achieved when the efforts

to reach one‟s potential have been exhausted and our lives come to an end.

It isn‟t merely enough to think that one is happy to be in a condition of happiness,

though humans can very easily deceive themselves into thinking they are. These types of

cognitions have proven to be significantly important for the self-preservation of the

human species: but as I have argued they can also inhibit a person from being in a

genuine state of happiness. So that a person can experience a genuine state of happiness

their subjective cognitions must correspond with an objective reality; one that can be

perceived by other beings. This objective form of happiness needn‟t be empirically tested

to be confirmed as a genuine state, but it must be perceptually evident that the person is

flourishing; that is, it must be evident through a person‟s disposition. Ultimately, it is

working toward achieving Eudaimonia that will result in characterizing positive

affectivity through an agreeable disposition. By working toward achieving Eudaimonia

and directing one‟s consciousness toward objects that reinforce positive affectivity one

will experience a genuine form of happiness and not merely a delusional psychological

state in which one falsely believes that one is happy.

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