I've come across two sources since my last post about happiness that make me want to discuss it more:
1. "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner.
2. Google Buzz comments from the last post. (thanks, Daniel, Gerrit, and Dan!)
So there are at least two meanings of "happiness." One is kinda "any good thing in your life" and therefore it's about as vague as "goodness". I'll call this meaning "big-H Happiness." Another meaning might be, as Daniel suggested, "a pleasant and optimistic mood that comes from things going right and not wrong." I'll call that one "contentment". (is that fair?) Fulfillment is yet another kind of happiness.
BUDDHIST ASIDE: contentment is not at all Happiness. Seems like you maximize contentment by avoiding suffering, while if you're Buddhist, you maximize Happiness by knowing the 4 noble truths, being superbly mindful, and ultimately ending suffering. END BUDDHIST ASIDE
SINGULARITARIAN ASIDE: ultimately all suffering comes from the set-in-stone fact that we all must eventually die. Someday that fact may not be set in stone anymore. This is a much longer debate, but if we find a way to become immortal, can we find a way to avoid suffering forever? Does the end of death mean the end of the need for Buddhism? END SINGULARITARIAN ASIDE
Back to the main point: there are many kinds of happiness. Eric Weiner starts his book with a quest: to search for happiness. He visits the Netherlands, Thailand, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, and others, all "happy" places by one measure or another, to see if he can recognize any common threads between them.
Now actually, I think I'm behind this plan. At first, it sounds absurd, like searching for "goodness", but I guess it's also like searching for "beauty", and the latter sounds like a good plan for a series of travels. Go to the Louvre, the MOMA, the Sagrada Familia, Fallingwater, Costa Rica, Grindelwald, and everywhere in between, and try to see what beauty is. This is an absurdly ambitious task, sure, and the search for happiness even more ambitious, but what the heck. It's a book.
But still, it's a search for happiness; I don't think he's very sure what he's looking for. Nevertheless, it's entertaining. And despite all my predictable grumbling about "he's not finding the right KIND of HAPPINESS", he has some good points:
- About the Swiss: he doesn't know if they're "happy"; "content" is more like it. But that's not quite it either. "We have far more words to describe unpleasant emotional states than pleasant ones. (And this is the case with all languages, not just English.)"
- About Bhutan and Gross National Happiness: "John Ralston Saul, the Canadian philosopher, describes Gross National Happiness as a brilliant trick. 'What it does is go "Snap!" and changes the discourse. Suddenly you're talking about something else.'"
I find this very appealing. Often changing the conversation is the best way to get what you want.
- "In the west and in the United States especially, we try to eliminate the need for compromise. Cars have personal climate controls, mattresses have personal firmness levels... If we no longer must compromise on the easy stuff, like mattresses, then what about the truly important issues? Compromise is a skill, and like all skills it atrophies from lack of use."
Also s/compromise/suffering/g. (that means "substitute 'suffering' for 'compromise'".) Stop trying to eliminate suffering/compromise, and just get better at dealing with it. A portion of your happiness cross-training regimen.