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Are We Living in a Post-Happiness World? (nytimes.com)
80 points by laurex 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Family, friends, health, purpose. Even without the latest gadgets and being a millionaire, if you have the love of family and friends you can find happiness. I guarantee you won’t find happiness by reading the NYT all day and getting worked up.

That and simply learning to ignore all the rage of the week stuff. It’s pretty easy to live happier by living simpler and realizing that the things that worked for the human race for centuries didn’t magically stop working because of some political marketing campaigns.

I agree - I feel the "post-happiness world" that they're talking about is really just people attempting to find happiness through money and possessions as defined by other people/groups, and validation of that happiness through social media. The most happy times and happy events in my life may get a mention on my social media; but the truly happy memories and feelings come from things outside of what I expect to post publicly. I think what people need to focus on is what has made them truly happy, without direction from others (NYT or otherwise) and without any public validation of their happiness.

Being a millionaire won't make you happy. Now a billionaire

> Now a billionaire

Enough to have people around you always to absorb your manic-ness to feel a little better. Works for the president

NYT used to be a really good paper though.

I thought it was supposed to be this amazing intellectual, philosophical, humanistic thing spreading the courageous word of the truth to unwoked. These people were supposed to be focusing on what we have in common and building common ground.

Fundamentally, the formula of news in 2019 is like this (working on the this):

Create a topic that ignores basic human need that everyone struggles with (housing, school, paying bills, romantic life, family, etc), then imply something less urgent needs priority - oh, and only an arbitrary subset of people have problems. We need to reshape society now, after all, everyone else has an easy life.

Deprive people the validation of even having their needs recognized, even in the title itself. It insults men, women, young, old, of all situations equally :) Except if you use private mode.

Remember that news is a failing business. Most reporters and opinion writers are young (people with seniority who would have helped them with topics were laid off), they have massive student loan debt, they live in expensive metropolises (NYC in this case), are helped with rent by their parents, and are working at their first job. Those factors explain what you read on news sites and the distance between it and the concerns of 90% of the people in the US.


It's easy to see the level of desperation behind the words, they're provocateurs deliberately being disingenuous to get clicks, with a big smile of how they're duping everyone.

They're very mean and hurtful and should apologize. If only they just admitted they are in huge debt, in an expensive city, and have lack experience in the world.

Also, one more thing:

> people with seniority who would have helped them with topics were laid off

The management definitely betrayed the ones that made them. You can see it when you click some news articles and instead of a reporter, there is music and text scrolling made by some intern. Behind that, there were once proud people with jobs, and it has to be hell for them.

Maybe I don't get it, but wasn't there a concept a ways back where they had standards, legitimacy (gravitas even) and were good quality? I guess the end of newspapers destroyed that.

By the way, do you ever notice that news in UK, Australia seems a bit more sober and more mature than USA?

SPOILERS BELOW (Love, Death and Robots)

There's an episode of Love, Death and Robots called Zima Blue, where a robot that scrubs the tiles on the side of a swimming pool is progressively upgraded over many years by engineers until it becomes a fully conscious android. It then obsessively pursues the meaning of life through ever larger art projects, some reaching planetary scale. It eventually concludes it has found the meaning of life and in it's final art project it disables all it's higher cognitive functions and "downgrades" itself back to it's original tile scrubbing form with just enough awareness left to take pleasure in the singular menial task.

EDIT: I just found out it was adapted from a book called Zima Blue and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds

That was such a great episode. But one thing I hate about the philosophy, on the surface of it, is the cynical belief that you have to be simple or stupid to be happy. This is so patently un-true. In the immediate moment, maybe you can be happier but it becomes a short path to ruin for most people.

Although I do love the idea of how Zima constructed his own version of heaven and relegated himself to it. I just hate how he had to become unconscious to do so.

The author did not do a good job of spelling out the differences in the two types of happiness. In fact, she didn't even address them by their proper names (hedonic and eudaimonic). Identifying the two and really digging in on their differences would probably have made for a more interesting article - and certainly a more enlightening one. Just saying "people are unhappy, don't confuse unhappy with unjoyful" isn't enough. (Spoiler alert: people think they want hedonic when what they're really seeking is eudaimonic.)

We're driven to hedonic happiness to which the article loosely alludes just by having stuff and labels that say to be happy. While short term satisfactory it does nothing for people long term. Eudaimonic happiness is a deeper, almost stoic-like approach to happiness. It involves being a part of something that has potential of outlasting the individual. From my experience it took a while to get to this point and understanding the real differences and putting into practices the ceremonies that go with it.

One little trick that I learned a while back: never say "I have to" when you can say "I get to". For example it's not "I have to help a friend move" it's "I get to help a friend move". It turned from a chore to a treat - and it is a treat because I get to spend time with my friend. Yeah, it's hot, physically exhausting, and all you get at the end of the day is pizza and beer, but at the end of the day _you get pizza and beer_ which is better than 99% of the rest of the world. It may sound kitchy (spelling?) but it works.

While I stand by your desire for more nuance in the discussion, I'd be wary of assuming one theorization of happiness, and it's attendant conceptual divisions, is the only theory of happiness. While the hedonistic and eudaemonic conceptions come down to us from tradition for good reason, it seems somewhat presumptuous to call these categorizations the "proper names" for the kinds of happiness.

Since it's a humanistic concept, there are many ways to break it down and define it--some competing theories might not even agree with the hedonistic/eudaemonic split (some might find the division too simple, others unnecessary).

There's a lot of different ways one can approach it. For instance, the discussion gets even more interesting when we consider, on the hedonistic side, the world of Sadism--as concepts that seems diametrically opposed (pleasure/pain) intermingle quite interestingly. I would not be surprised if a similar phenomena occurs on the level of hedonism/eudaemonia--the pursuit of one may also mix with some of the incentives and pleasures of the pursuit of the other.

> it seems somewhat presumptuous to call these categorizations the "proper names" for the kinds of happiness

Maybe so, but all kinds generally fall into one or both of these kinds (there's grey area as there always is). My point though was to show that the author didn't even scratch the surface in examining what happiness is and because of that the article just seemed like filler.

Those seem more like tags for happiness. Or buckets into which happiness can be sorted. As an awkward not-so-great fit into two buckets example, think of someone who puts effort into putting together a collection of objects over a long period of time. Maybe it's art, or toys, or whatever. Over time, they show this collection to others. People hear about it and want to see it before they die. Awards may be won. But the person at the center doesn't necessarily need to decide on either type of happiness, and the philosophy barely even needs to exist. It's more of a journey of attention and energy directed both externally and internally.

I think it's worth considering whether this bi-modal distribution of happiness may in fact be just another perspective among many in an N-dimensional space of perspectives. Sure, it has some leverage. But like any model it should probably be held lightly. A multiple model approach to something as important to humans as happiness would be hard to fault.

> (spelling?)

You were probably thinking of "kitschy", but "corny" would fit your intended meaning better. Though I agree that it's actually not corny at all.

Thanks! :)

Anybody ever watch Steve Cutts, especially the animations he did for Moby? They are crazy depressing. I feel like happiness is exactly what Denis Leary explianed it as. It's a brief moment, like a smoke or a beer.

But on to the videos:

[happiness]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9dZQelULDk

[moby are you lost]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VASywEuqFd8

Thanks for posting. I realize how true the rat race is for software workers.

The pursuit of "happiness" is just about the best way to ensure you remain unhappy. I'm not sure when precisely it happened, but "happiness" got a lot harder to find as soon as humanity hypostatized it and made it into a psuedo-religious concept and the end all-be-all of life--seems like everyone just want's to "be happy". Unfortunately, "happiness" is not concrete--it's a lazy stand-in for the goals you ought to actually be setting for yourself. The point of life is not to "be happy"--happiness is a pleasant side effect of the life well-lived, not its telos.

Pursue something concrete. Set a measurable goal. Aim for small things. Remove the term "happy" from your vocabulary. Just be and do, and focus on things that are small, well defined, modest and not amorphous. Cast aside your distractions. Choose an identity for yourself. Write the obituary you'd want to have. Work toward it. Fulfill your being. All of a sudden, you might feel a certain nonchalance, a certain comfortability, you might find that you can get on just fine without fretting so much. Over time, your worries might even start to dissipate.

Oh, and stop spending so much time consuming and start spending more time producing, crucially, for yourself or for your loved ones, not for an employer. When you interact with other people, use your brain, don't turn it off. Think about them in a serious, focused way. Be present. Contemplate moments. Give good gifts. Break from patterns. Don't be afraid of embarrassment, corniness, or sentiment. Stop following prescribed modes of interaction and existence without even consciously acceding to them.

"Happiness" itself is a big part of the problem, it's just as problematic as every other hypostatized concept that's ever dawned in the course of human history.

>Haïta told him all: how thrice he had met the radiant maid, and thrice she had left him forlorn. He related minutely all that had passed between them, omitting no word of what had been said.

> When he had ended, the holy hermit was a moment silent, then said: "My son, I have attended to thy story, and I know the maiden. I have myself seen her, as have many. Know, then, that her name, which she would not even permit thee to inquire, is Happiness. Thou saidst the truth to her, that she is capricious for she imposeth conditions that man can not fulfill, and delinquency is punished by desertion. She cometh only when unsought, and will not be questioned. One manifestation of curiosity, one sign of doubt, one expression of misgiving, and she is away! How long didst thou have her at any time before she fled?"

> "Only a single instant," answered Haïta, blushing with shame at the confession. "Each time I drove her away in one moment."

> "Unfortunate youth " said the holy hermit, "but for thine indiscretion thou mightst have had her for two."

Ambrose Bierce - Haita the Shepherd.


>The pursuit of "happiness" is just about the best way to ensure you remain unhappy.

I strongly disagree.

We may agree, however, that the route many people take in pursuit may be somewhat... misguided.

It's like watching children pick 3-4 random things off the internet, weave a connection between them, and then broadcast the creation to millions of people. Well done nytimes. Keep it up.

Happiness, in the fundamental sense, is a choice. That choice can be easier or harder at times, just like it's easier to speak your mind with a good friend then in a room full of strangers. It is however a choice, and it's a choice you can make even when it's really difficult.

Happiness shouldn't be conflated with what the article calls "joy". Joy is good and fine, but it's a primarily external phenomenon.

I find happiness to be like a muscle. When you actively choose to be happy most of the time, it's easier to be happy in difficult times. If you never practice happiness, the ability to make that choice decays and weakens.

The single greatest practice you can do for your own happiness (and general sanity) is to create a feedback loop. For most people, this takes the form of a journal. Electronic, physical, who cares. Jot down something every night, read the previous nights entry when you're done.

You didn't state your circumstances but in my limited experience I rarely meet happy people that don't have a sitaution for happiness. They have a loving partner and/or loving friends and family around and/or a fulfilling job. VS say myself which hasn't had a lover in > 16 years, no family within 7000 miles, and no hangout friends, only a few friends I see once every 1 to 2 months. In my 50s also makes it hard to find peers to make these things from vs say if I was 20 in college it's trival (or at least much easier) to find people to hang with who have time to hang out, to being around the same often enough that mutual attraction develops into lovers, etc...

If it's not clear what I'm saying I'm saying that just writing in a journal everyday and someone will be happy is not enough to make someone happy. They do actually need love and friends and physical contact and purpose.

Are you sure you haven't swapped cause and effect? Your statement implies because I had friends and a partner, I was able to be happy. Yet, perhaps it's because I was happy I was able to form deep relationships.

I suggest this based on my own life. I've had moments where I was fundamentally unhappy, and despite having a partner and friends on the books, I was effectively alone. Likewise, I've had moments where I was happy but alone, but didn't struggle to build up meaningful connections relatively quickly.

The reason I suggest the feedback loop mechanism isn't because writing in a journal is going to directly bring you happiness anymore than reading a book on finances will make you rich. It's because it gives you the insight into your life so you can make the changes needed.

As a side note, if you want to find friends and companions, you need to engage with others and have shared activities and rituals. Check out meetup, check out your local social groups (Elks, etc). Attend events, talk with other people, etc.

I still like Naval Ravikant’s definition from his extraordinary guest spot on the Farnam Street podcast[1]: “Today, I believe that happiness is, it’s really a default state. It’s what’s there when you remove the sense that something is missing in your life. We are highly judgmental, survival, and replication machines. We are constantly walking around thinking I need this, I need that, trapped in the web of desires. Happiness is that state when nothing is missing. When nothing is missing, your mind shuts down and your mind stops running into the future or running into the past to regret something or to plan something.”

[1] https://fs.blog/naval-ravikant/

If it were the default state would people find it so hard to attain? It's hard not to want things, to not believe that there's just one more thing that could make things better. If it were simple it wouldn't be the core basis of so many religions.

I'd say the core basis of at least Buddhism is basically in line with Ravikant's thinking.

And based on my experience with Christianity, much of Jesus' teaching, while not exactly the same, also emphasizes practicing not wanting things ("See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?")

I wouldn't be surprised if this thought is a core element of most religions. Of course, religions are messy, so you're not entirely wrong either.

If you think even basic social interactions are lacking for suffering, you’re wrong.

Happiness is a social phenomenon and can’t be solved by individuals. You can move to your own idea of paradise but if you care about other people your happiness will depend on theirs as well.

I think when people say they want to be happy what they really mean is they want to find contentment. Contentment is a long-lasting feeling. Happiness is ephemeral.

Even if happiness is ephemeral, it’s worth pursuing. It’s something you can really only recognize through contrast with unhappy states.

To me the best kind of happiness is tinged with the sadness of knowing that it won’t last.

More and more Americans are living in larger cities than previous generations. I think lack of a connection with a local community is contributing to high stress. I moved down to the Sierra Nevada mountains from Seattle and my anxiety and stress is much lower.

Large cities can have very vibrant local communities. I lived in NYC for several years and had very rewarding connections with other people in my same neighborhood, not different from the one you'd expect in a small village.

I lived in Brooklyn for a while. For the first 6 months, no one in my building talked to each other until one day my roommates and I took a couple of chairs up to the roof to have a few beers. Quickly, the neighbors came out of the woodwork and it wasn't long before the whole building was just a big group of friends.

Compared to living in a building in Seattle for two years where I only ever met one neighbor, who was an old lady that need helped down some stairs when the fire alarm went off. People mostly avoided each other in that building.

It's a bit hit and miss, but if you feel like you are a part of a strong local community (even just a building full of friends), it is incredibly rewarding.

Maybe it's a question of having time to get together with others.

In the unending war for attention, I feel like I've lost; and through being out of all the social loops, also lost the chances for joy I used to have.

I can't be the only one that feels like there's just not enough time to go around, even less so than there used to be. That it's impossible to get together with friends to do anything on the weekend. That the transaction cost of trying to overcome physical distance is rising. That seemingly everyone has something else they're investing time in.

Happy people buy less stuff. Unhappy people try to consume their way out of unhappiness. Our socio-economic paradigm is centered on maximizing consumption aka economic growth.

What does being happy even mean? What does it get you as a goal? I’m not sure it’s even worth chasing.

My favorite view on “happiness” comes from The Oatmeal, How to be perfectly unhappy: https://www.theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy

It boils down to this: stop chasing happiness or joy or whatever marketing departments have decided you need and their product can provide.

Focus on meaning.

I struggled a lot with purpose until my first son was born. Then life suddenly snapped into perfect clarity. I also had this instant revelation about what "faith" really means to the religious. It was a beautiful feeling to know, without any doubt or waivering confidence what your purpose is. It makes every decision I ever have to make really simple, because it always boils down to what is best for my kids.

Am I "happy"? I dunno. My 10 month old woke me up 5 times last night and as a result today was a stunningly miserable slog. But I have meaning, and that gives me direction and tremendous joy.

Your argument perfectly applies to 'meaning' as well, as companies increasingly market their products as life styles, communities, families etc. Someone can focus on meaning and still fall into that exact same trap, which I don't think is helpful either.

I think the problem lies with work. Increasingly, people have to work more for less in order to survive. They have to squeeze more out of meager savings, worry about their health and often have little to no time to actually explore their lives or their communities. Suburbanization has made this aspect worse by making it harder to leave the suburbs and placing people into small bubbles of slowly fermenting restlessness.

Unless meaning makes me happy, I don't see the reason to focus on it.

This discussion is rather circular, to be honest. Happiness, by my definition, is a state of having achieved a goal or goals. (I wrote this lengthy thing over ten years ago trying to put hard definitions on words like happiness/satisfaction/pleasure etc: http://www.karmatics.com/docs/dictionary.html )

Maybe you define happiness differently than me, but I have a hard time understanding how it can be considered "not worth chasing" by any definition that makes sense to me.

Because some things get further away when you chase them

Happiness is a state of mind. I can't tell you how to get there but I do know that you can't expect things and people to make you happy. It's all around us but only you know what your state of happiness is. You have to find it for yourself.

Should you expect to be happy most of the time? I feel like a lot of youngsters self-diagnose themselves with depression/bipolar disorder because they feel they should be happy the majority of the time, then feel there is something wrong with them if they aren’t.

Tangentially related: why are some people always in a bad, meanie-pants mood? Don’t they too believe happiness is a mindset they can just be in if they want to?

"The best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive.” - Coco Chanel

It's great when a question so simple is asked that you can answer it and then never think about it again.


Life isn't about happiness is about misery....

I know I am!

Happiness comes from within. Our social medias are stifling that. Get off them (or at least know how to limit and ignore)!

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