Thursday, September 10, 2009
Really enj0yed our last How of Happiness session this afternoon, despite literally losing my voice. But it'll be back, I promise. The new seating arrangement worked great, facing all our interlocutors really seemed to grease the conversational skids: everyone had lots to say. The rain outside didn't please some, but it cooled things off nicely for us; and isn't it always good to help the plants grow?
Kevin's question about cultural differences in people's (and peoples') various conceptions of happiness was hugely instigating, as we wondered (among other things) what more one could or should wish to say to cannibals and dog-eaters and ritual sacrificers (and whomever) to indicate discomfiture with their respective happiness ideals.
Is there a universal human nature to which we can appeal, in trying to adjudicate competing practices and the beliefs they rest on? Even if we assume substantial agreement among humans, what would or should we say to beings who possessed radically different "conceptual schemes" and renounced any interest in our notions of happiness? And is there a "greater good" (with respect to planetary ecology, material excess, public safety, personal predilections et al) that overrides our particular pursuits of happiness? Just a few of the challenging questions we generated and commented on today. Fun!
As we wave bye-bye to Sonja Lyubomirsky, I hope we all saw the practical value in trying to nail down our respective short lists of "happiness activities." I also hope we all have the chance to experience and cultivate that transcendent-ecstatic "Super-flow" she writes of.
I said in class, with my last thin rasp, that her summarizing point about the importance of forming solid happiness habits is strong. It complements her other big Jamesian point about "attention" as crucial to the possibility of living a good life.
I didn't get around to saying today that I also like another Jamesian (and Spinozist) point she makes, that "approach" behavior is better than "avoidance." Put another way: always seek your happiness under the positive aspect of good, sub specie bonum, rather than trying to get it through the back-door merely by pushing away the bad (sub specie mali). Minimizing misery is not the same as maximizing joy. And aspiring only to a flat-line condition, neither happy nor excessively sad, is selling short your potential for real flourishing.
One more thing: she selects really good epigrams. "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate." (Thornton Wilder)
And I especially like this bit of seasoned wisdom from Santayana, in ch.10: "To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring." Very true, particularly in September.
Now for Jonathan Haidt.