Dufresne

Factors influencing happiness

58 posts in this topic

Suppose you had a record of all emotions and all feelings of an individual across a period of weeks, months or years. Suppose you knew, for each concrete emotion or feeling, the reaction’s intensity and whether the reaction was positive or negative. An intense emotion of joy would be recorded in the form of a big positive number such as 10. An intense negative emotion of anger would be recorded in the form of a big negative number such as -10. A mild form of pain would be recorded as a -2 and so on. Based on this huge record of numbers, would it be possible to tell whether the individual was happy at a given point in time? I am asking because I would like to know what happiness depends on. I am not interested in how to cause positive emotions and feelings or in how to avoid negative emotions and feelings. I am assuming that this is a separate question. Does happiness only depend on one’s emotions and feelings or is there another factor that I am not aware of? Does happiness depend on feelings at all? I have noticed, for example, that happiness is possible despite intense exhaustion. How can this be explained? Is happiness really possible DESPITE pain or does pain have no influence on happiness at all? Or is it just the case that really intense positive emotions cancel out exhaustion? Would it be possible for an individual to achieve happiness if one could turn off his capability to experience emotions but would induce a lot of pleasure and avoid pain altogether? I am basically asking all these specific questions because I would like to know in general what role emotions and feelings play and whether there is another factor that I have left out.

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The main reason for a person being happy is because that person is either working toward their goals or has achieved their goals. As Ayn Rand states, "happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values." So, it is not that happiness cancels out pain or exhaustion, happiness is what makes going through those things worth it.

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Also, if happiness is a value than virtue is the action which gains or keeps that value. I highly recommend Tara Smith's book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. I think some of your questions will be answered after reading this book.

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I would make the following distinction. When we experience concretes that reflect or endanger our values, emotion is the reaction. But what kind of concrete? I think that's what separates the emotions you describe from happiness. Ordinary every day subconscious reactions to watching a movie, having a conversation, all have as their object aspects of reality external to ourselves. Happiness, however, is concerned with your self-generated actions and their efficacy in the world. So you may be angry or frustrated with others, but still be happy as long as you are free to pursue your goals. You might be exhausted with effort, but feel happy at your work. What affects your happiness is not other emotions, but your ability to produce values.

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It has just occurred to me that after reading Smith's book, that my emotions concerning certain issues are actually intensified. Sometimes I am angrier about something and more willing to express that anger. I don't necessarily view this as a negative but I have actually found myself generally happier because of it.

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------

Does happiness only depend on one’s emotions and feelings or is there another factor that I am not aware of? Does happiness depend on feelings at all? ------------

Happiness, as conceived within Objectivism, not an emotional state, per se. It is a state that one's consciousness and body experiences when rational values that further one's life are achieved. It is "a state of non-contradictory joy." The specific emotion is joy. Although the statement "I feel happy" is often used when something nice happens in one's life, that is more of a colloquial use than the philosophic use. In Objectivism, to say "I am happy" means that one has achieved values that support one's life across a significant span of time. It means that one's values are integrated to achieve the value of one's life. Happiness is an achievement requiring effort.

Tara Smith, in Viable Values, makes interesting distinctions between happiness and flourishing because of the emotional associations that most people have when it comes to happiness.

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An intense emotion of joy would be recorded in the form of a big positive number such as 10. An intense negative emotion of anger would be recorded in the form of a big negative number such as -10. A mild form of pain would be recorded as a -2 and so on.

Anger and pain are not "negative." Anger tells us that something in reality is threatening a value and motivates us to destroy the threat. Pain tells us that something in reality is damaging our values and motivates us to avoid it. Pleasure tells us that something we are doing achieves a value and motivates us to continue doing it.

While certain emotions don't feel good, being able to feel all emotions really is good. Emotions give us vital information about the relationship between reality and our values and motivates us to act to preserve our values.

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Also, if happiness is a value than virtue is the action which gains or keeps that value. I highly recommend Tara Smith's book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. I think some of your questions will be answered after reading this book.

I believe the book where she discusses happiness and flourishing in detail is in Viable Values, or am I mistaken?

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Does happiness only depend on one’s emotions and feelings or is there another factor that I am not aware of? Does happiness depend on feelings at all? I have noticed, for example, that happiness is possible despite intense exhaustion. How can this be explained? Is happiness really possible DESPITE pain or does pain have no influence on happiness at all? Or is it just the case that really intense positive emotions cancel out exhaustion? Would it be possible for an individual to achieve happiness if one could turn off his capability to experience emotions but would induce a lot of pleasure and avoid pain altogether? I am basically asking all these specific questions because I would like to know in general what role emotions and feelings play and whether there is another factor that I have left out.

These are very good questions.

First off, I think that it is very important to differentiate between happiness the feeling and happiness the state. Sadly, the English language does not offer a clear distinction between these words and both have been jumbled into one (This is similar to the word love; surely you don't love your mother in the same way that you love your friend in the same way that you love your spouse in the same way that you love a movie.).

If you are looking for happiness the feeling, then the answer has been given by previous posters. Feelings of happiness can come from the actualization of a value or the completion of a goal. You feel happy when you win a marathon race for which you have trained long and hard. You feel happy when you find out that you have won the lottery. You feel happy when your spouse brings you a nice cooked meal to work. But each of these things are feelings and, if happiness was only a feeling, insufficient for a happy life. If you were only to rely upon the gain of such feelings for happiness, your life would be a roller-coaster. One minute you win a marathon (happy). The next minute, you get laid off at work because of downsizing (sad). Then you complete a set of poems and send them off to be published (happy). Then you get a rejection letter (sad). Then your dog dies (sad)...etc.

The alternative to happiness the feeling as the only qualifier for happiness is happiness as a state. But how does one arrive at a state of happiness? Both Ayn Rand and Aristotle say that, by living the virtuous life, you arrive at such a state. More specifically, it is not the single act of a virtue (which gives you the happy feeling), but the arrival at habitual virtue, where virtue becomes a prime aspect of your life. It is not telling the truth once, but arriving at the state of habitual honesty (where the virtue has, through repeated actions, become "natural" to you), which differentiates an act from a habit. In this, you can reflect upon yourself and rightfully claim that you are an honest person. The same is true for all the other virtues: by repeated practice and aim for mastery of each of the virtues, you will eventually reach a state where the virtues become habit or "natural", thus designating to you the title of virtuous. The virtuous person is able to withstand the vicissitudes of fortune. John Galt was so virtuous that, though he was being tortured, he still was happy (as a state).

Is it possible to have a feeling of sadness yet a state of happiness? Absolutely! Happiness is not only dependent upon achieving a state of virtue; it is also dependent upon your friends, your family, and material goods. [it is important to note that virtue is the dominate, inflexible aspect of happiness. As such-the person who is wealthy, has a lot of friends, is good looking, and has a caring family, but is vicious (lives the life of vice), though having many aspects of happiness, cannot rightfully be called happy because he lacks the dominant or primary aspect of happiness. On the other hand, the person who is virtuous, but lost his friends, his wealth, is ugly, and has a hateful family, would not be fully happy, but nevertheless his virtue will carry him through these times and allow him to be "essentially" happy (Another important thing to realize is that happiness and unhappiness are not binaries-they are a continuum). However, were this virtuous person to gain a few good friends, his happiness would increase. Were he then to become remarried to a wonderfully loving wife and to open up a new business which sky-rocketed him to wealth, having all the attributes of happiness, it would be right to consider him very happy.] So, you could attain a state of happiness, but experience extreme sorrow at the death of your friend. There are very few cases in which the loss of a value can override your entire state (the death of your spouse, for example, might be such a blow due to the loss that you would be miserable; you would still be virtuous, yet internally are miserable because of such a loss). Nevertheless, the benefit of arriving at a state of happiness is that you are able to weather the vicissitudes of fortune or even a few seldom failures of your own because, overall, you are happy.

I hope this helps :).

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I confess I have not read Tara Smith's book, but it has been so highly recommended on this forum I'll have to check it out.

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Also, if happiness is a value than virtue is the action which gains or keeps that value. I highly recommend Tara Smith's book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. I think some of your questions will be answered after reading this book.

I believe the book where she discusses happiness and flourishing in detail is in Viable Values, or am I mistaken?

I have not read Viable Values, but it is on my list. I mentioned Normative Ethics because the section The Egoist's Need for Principles came to my mind.

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I confess I have not read Tara Smith's book, but it has been so highly recommended on this forum I'll have to check it out.

It was a pleasant surprise, along with Isabel Paterson's The God of the Machine. Two books, I have recently been reading and studying. So yes definetly check it out. Each virtue is discussed in its own chapter.

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At first I would like to get two potential misunderstandings out of the way:

(1) When I use the word “happiness” in this thread, I do not mean an emotion. Emotions are psychosomatic responses to value-judgements. Emotions (such as fear) can appear suddenly (e.g. within a second) and usually disappear in a short amount of time (e.g. within a minute). I know introspectively that happiness builds up over a long period of time (in my experience within weeks) and also vanishes over a longer period of time. In that sense happiness is not an emotion.

(2) When I use the words “positive” and “negative” in the context of emotions and feelings, I mean that a “positive” response is one that one wishes to experience (e.g. joy) and a “negative” response is one that one does not wish to experience (e.g. guilt). I don’t claim that the capability to experience any kind of response is bad.

Now I would like to point out a general observation before I ask another question:

Values can exist in a means-ends relationship. A tool, for example, can be a means to products constructed with that tool. The products can be means to obtaining food. And so on. One could respond to the acquisition of the tool with joy. But once one owns the tool one can use it to create the products. And one could respond to those facts with a number of instances of joy. So the value which is a means to other values can be a two-fold source of joy: (1) the joy of acquiring the value and (2) the joys of acquiring the other values.

Now my question: Is the word “happiness” a collective noun refering to countless instances of joy that one experiences due to the fact that one has achieved a number of fundamental values (i.e. the means to countless other values, e.g. reason, self-esteem, purpose) or does the word “happiness” refer to a phenomenon that psychologically exists in addition to joy?

If my question is not clear enough then here is a metaphor to maybe illuminate the difference that I mean: Suppose a theatre is filled with individuals. At the end of the performance there is an applause. The word “applause” is a collective noun refering to the sum of cheerful sounds of each individual. The applause does not exist in addition to the cheerful sounds. The applause IS those sounds. But if there was a device in the theatre measuring the overall sound level and that created a sound of its own once a certain level is reached then all those sounds created by the people in the theater exist in addition to the sound created by the device.

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I don't agree with the premise that happiness is not an emotion. Don't you feel happy? Isn't that how you experence it, not as a thought but as a feeling, and emotion?

After some thought, I want to revise my previous post. First, I think the following from VOS may be helpful:

Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values. If a man values productive work, his happiness is the measure of his success in the service of his life.

Also:

The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one's own life as one's ultimate value, and one's own happiness as one's highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one's life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one's life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: "This is worth living for"—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

Happiness is an emotion, and I would say it is an emotion in response to the success of your values. I think my previous post was close, but not on the mark. The judgment of whether or not your values are successful is a long-term one, and not based on one or two accomplishments.

I don't think happiness is the same as the joy of creating a single value, nor is it the sum of joys added up over a long time. Rather, the object of happiness is your life as a whole.

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I appreciate the questions and responses in this thread. While I have previously considered a single emotional reaction different from, or at least a delimited experience of, an overall mental state, I had not really considered this as applied specifically to happiness, or the possibility that happiness was a state and not an emotion per se. That is, while I certainly see the existence of a state of happiness, I have also thought that happiness can be experienced as a single emotional reaction not necessarily tied to a sustained state of happiness.

I think of mental states as sustained mental conditions that include cognitive, emotional, and physical aspects. The cognitive aspect has to do with the clarity and focus of one's thinking. The emotional aspect I think of in terms of valence, which in this case would mean the available and basically consistent level of psychological energy one has (such as through habitual acts of virtue, as JRoberts describes) and feels. The physical aspect is closely related to emotions, because emotions have a strong physiological component, but also could include the general state of health and energy of one's body that can impact one's thinking or emotions. There could be other things involved in these areas, but this is what immediately comes to mind.

Based on this, I see a mental state as larger than a specific emotional reaction, again because of reasons indicated in JRoberts's post; it is sustained over time through habitual practices, which themselves typically involve a combination of cognitions, emotions, and actions. So, a single emotional reaction is just one component and, by itself, won't necessarily lead to the achievement of a given mental state.

This being said, I tend to agree with bborg that happiness is an emotion, not just a state. I admit I have not read Tara Smith's book, so I'm open to the possibility that happiness is a state achieved over time (which I take from others' posts in this thread is her idea). But I'm not sure why this cannot be experienced as a single emotional reaction. Is the idea that happiness is an emotional summation achievable only after habitual acts of virtue and all the related instances of joy or pleasure that go into it? If so, why must it only be joy in those single incidents? Or, why must happiness only apply to a larger mental state? Thanks in advance for thoughts on this.

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This being said, I tend to agree with bborg that happiness is an emotion, not just a state. I admit I have not read Tara Smith's book, so I'm open to the possibility that happiness is a state achieved over time (which I take from others' posts in this thread is her idea). But I'm not sure why this cannot be experienced as a single emotional reaction. Is the idea that happiness is an emotional summation achievable only after habitual acts of virtue and all the related instances of joy or pleasure that go into it? If so, why must it only be joy in those single incidents? Or, why must happiness only apply to a larger mental state? Thanks in advance for thoughts on this.

I don't have any data to offer, but I'm interested in this question of whether happiness is an emotion. Is it possible that happiness is both (accrued [over decades]) emotion and sensation, or just sensation?

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These are my thoughts based only on my own experience.

You can feel happy, and feel depressed. To me that qualifies these states as emotional.

Now, I believe it is accepted that depression involves brain chemistry. From this I extend brain chemistry to happiness. The question though is: what gives rise to this state of happiness. Or, why do we have a brain chemistry that makes us feel a certain way about success or failure. (One answer which can be taken up in another thread, is that it was evolution's way of ensuring life sustaining behaviour. )

However, to address what happiness itself is, I think it is a totalizer. That is, a summation of all the feelings one has about everything. Thus to be happy, one needs to take a long term perspective, since happiness is not dependent on a single good outcome. Of course, a single bad outcome can influence the total, but it is unlikely to erase the accumulated positive contributions to one's frame of mind.

Thus happiness results from the satisfaction of (usually many) achievements. This makes life feel worth living. We need that.

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I don't agree with the premise that happiness is not an emotion. Don't you feel happy?

Bborg, I agree completely that that is the question to ask. When figuring out what one's emotions are, the best source is to just look inside yourself and answer; knowing whether emotions are psychosomatic responses to value-judgment tells absolutely nothing about what one feels.

The feeling of happiness is clearly that of an emotion.

Dufresne raises a possible objection: how can it be an emotion if it's more sustained and less fleeting than other emotions such as fear. To respond, I don't think it's any less fleeting than the rest. Fundamentally happiness is sustained by repeated influx of judgments that add to happiness. Over a course of a day, or a week, it's unusual to find such a sum of negative reactions that they tank this emotion to the ground (whereas since fear is less tied to fundamentals and is more easily affected, it fluctuates that much more easily). But to test whether happiness is fundamentally any less fleeting than fear, ask yourself if you've ever been suddenly quite unhappy, when something really important to you was all of a sudden seriously threatened. In those moments when things that influence happiness are affected (the fundamental values of a person's life), it becomes just as fleeting as any of the other emotions.

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Emotions are psychosomatic responses to value-judgements.

Suppose happiness was an emotion. Then it would be based on a value-judgment. And this value-judgment could be based on an unrealistic standard of value. Suppose an individual’s standard of value for his own life was this: “A good life consists of earning at least $200,000 annually, having the mind of a brilliant scientist and being married to a Dagny Taggart.” Given such an unrealistic standard of value, this individual would not be happy even if he made enough money to enable a comfortable living, if he had a mind capable enough to learn and achieve his values and being together with a woman he loves. Despite the countless joys in his life, he would not achieve happiness.

But suppose happiness was not an emotion. Suppose happiness was a state of consciousness produced by countless instances of joy. Then even with an unrealistic standard of value for his own life, an individual could achieve values and goals and thus experience joy and be happy.

Does anyone know of a case in which a person has achieved happiness by correcting an unrealistic standard of value but not having changed in any other way? If happiness was an emotion then this should be possible, right?

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Does anyone know of a case in which a person has achieved happiness by correcting an unrealistic standard of value but not having changed in any other way?

... Do I not know! It's one of the most common and important ways to help a person acquire happiness -- by adjusting their expectations and standards of value.

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Does anyone know of a case in which a person has achieved happiness by correcting an unrealistic standard of value but not having changed in any other way?
... Do I not know! It's one of the most common and important ways to help a person acquire happiness -- by adjusting their expectations and standards of value.
This is a surprise. How do you know that? Is there any literature that you could recommend?

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Emotions are psychosomatic responses to value-judgements.

Suppose happiness was an emotion. Then it would be based on a value-judgment. And this value-judgment could be based on an unrealistic standard of value. Suppose an individual’s standard of value for his own life was this: “A good life consists of earning at least $200,000 annually, having the mind of a brilliant scientist and being married to a Dagny Taggart.”

But these are not standards of value, they are specific values. For this example, the standard of value might be formulated as "Other people's values are important for me to acquire." A standard is a gauge by which other values are judged.

Given such an unrealistic standard of value, this individual would not be happy even if he made enough money to enable a comfortable living, if he had a mind capable enough to learn and achieve his values and being together with a woman he loves. Despite the countless joys in his life, he would not achieve happiness.

Because happiness is a personal achievement that cannot be based upon irrational standards of value.

But suppose happiness was not an emotion. Suppose happiness was a state of consciousness produced by countless instances of joy. Then even with an unrealistic standard of value for his own life, an individual could achieve values and goals and thus experience joy and be happy.

I don't follow what you are implying here. Exactly what would produce any instance of joy (based upon rational values) if someone has an unrealistic standard of value for his own life? Was Rearden happy when he first made love to Dagny? When did he achieve happiness? When he changed his standard and rejected altruism.

Does anyone know of a case in which a person has achieved happiness by correcting an unrealistic standard of value but not having changed in any other way? If happiness was an emotion then this should be possible, right?

I don't see how happiness would be achieved without correcting an unrealistic standard of value. How wouldn't changing a standard of value imply that one has not changed in other ways? One of the ways that one grasps that one has an incorrect standard of value is to grasp the need to change other values because one sees that there is a conflict between one's values and one's life.

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Does anyone know of a case in which a person has achieved happiness by correcting an unrealistic standard of value but not having changed in any other way?
... Do I not know! It's one of the most common and important ways to help a person acquire happiness -- by adjusting their expectations and standards of value.
This is a surprise. How do you know that? Is there any literature that you could recommend?

It's just something easily observed. For instance some newly starting students of Objectivism (I did this, as did many others I knew) set Dagny as their standard of value of an ideal woman. Even more importantly, we adopted the principle of desiring an abstract woman imagined in our heads. This strongly prevented from observing virtuous qualities in real women if they weren't an exact copy of Dagny, leaving people more alone or embittered than they had to be if they just started dating wonderful women already around them.

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I regard happiness as an emotion, but as a metaphysical emotion. Like joy, it is a response to the achievement of a value, but the value involved is very basic and fundamental: the value of oneself.

It is the feeling in response to your awareness that you are able to live and worthy of living. Joy is "I achieved this" while happiness is "I'm the kind of person who can achieve things." Joy is "I did this well" and happiness is "I am a capable person." Joy is "I did the right thing" and happiness is "I am a good person."

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But suppose happiness was not an emotion. Suppose happiness was a state of consciousness produced by countless instances of joy. Then even with an unrealistic standard of value for his own life, an individual could achieve values and goals and thus experience joy and be happy.
I don't follow what you are implying here. Exactly what would produce any instance of joy (based upon rational values) if someone has an unrealistic standard of value for his own life?
Multiple standards of value can coexist in a person's mind. A person can have a standard of value for romantic partners, a standard of value for works of art, a standard of value for jobs, etc. If an individual evaluates facts based on his standards, chooses his values accordingly and achieves those values then he experiences joy, right? A person can have an unrealistic standard of value for his own life but realistic standards of value for other facts such as romantic partners, works of art, jobs, etc. So if happiness was produced by a series of joys - rather than a person's evaluation of himself according to his standard of value for his own life - then happiness would be possible to a person with an unrealistic standard of value for his own life. If, however, happiness was an emotion caused by positive self-evaluations based on a separate standard of value then happiness would not be possible to that person because of his unrealistic standard of value and despite the countless joys he experiences.

I am basically asking all these questions because I don't know what's wrong with me. In September 2007 I started work on an interesting, challenging and financially very rewarding project for a new customer. I remember the day when I got the contract. I remember leaving my customer's office filled with joy. I was excited but I was not happy that day. Happiness slowly built up during the weeks that followed. Work on the project was exhausting and I had to overcome a number of difficult challenges and was under constant pressure to get the project done on time. At the end of 2007 I completed the project successfully. But since then my happiness slowly vanished. I'm not depressed but I'm not as happy as I was then. I want that happiness back but I don't know how I got it in the first place. Was it because I experienced an unusually high amount of joy during the work on the project? That was my first thought. Therefore I started working harder on my other work after the project was done. But the happiness didn't come back. Why not? Did I not work hard enough? If I knew the mechanism by which happiness can be produced then I would know how to make better choices. Now a number of people in this thread suggested that happiness is in fact an emotional reaction to self-evaluation. But if that were the case then why did my happiness vanish? Am I a worse person now than I was during my work on the project and thus feel less happy? I'm not aware of any changes in my character. That's why I am skeptical about the claim that happiness is an emotion based on self-evaluation.

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