The pursuit of happiness is one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. But is our relentless striving to feel good no matter what actually making us miserable? Would we be better to accept that life comes with good times and bad, and make peace with that?
This IQ2 debate, held in Sydney in March 2010, pits those who believe that happiness is a worthwhile goal that can be found in pleasures material and social, against those who hold that people should abandon unrealistic goals and seek quiet comfort within.
Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatry registrar and writer. He is a former television journalist who is a regular contributor to the major circulars, primarily The Sydney Morning Herald.
While Ahmed has varied interests (he is an appointee to the Advertising Standards Board, has been a national representative for the Australian Medical Association, has been chosen as one of 100 future leaders of Australia, and has even appeared as a co-host on a prime time game show), he is most well-known for his writings on Islamic affairs and multiculturalism.
Clive Hamilton is an Australian author and public intellectual. In June 2008 he was appointed Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, a joint centre of the Australian National University, Charles Sturt University and the University of Melbourne.
For 14 years, until February 2008, he was the executive director of The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank he founded. He holds an arts degree from the Australian National University (majoring in history, psychology and pure mathematics) and an economics degree from the University of Sydney (majoring in economics and government, with first class honours in the former). He completed a doctorate at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex with a thesis titled "Capitalist Industrialisation in Korea."
He has published on a wide range of subjects but is best known for his books, a number of which have been best-sellers. They include Growth Fetish (2003), Affluenza (with Richard Denniss, 2005), What's Left: The Death of Social Democracy (2006), Silencing Dissent (edited with Sarah Maddison, 2007) and Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change (2007). His latest book, titled The Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-secular Ethics, was published by Allen & Unwin on 1 August 2008.
In June 2009 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to public debate and policy development, and in December 2009 he was the Greens candidate in the by-election for the federal seat of Higgins.
Professor Ian Hickie is a professor of psychiatry and the Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, based at the University of Sydney. Hickie was the inaugural CEO of Beyondblue: the national depression initiative, which aims to address issues associated with depression.
Russel Howcroft is the Chairman and Managing Director of advertising agency George Patterson Y & R and is the former Chairman of the Advertising Federation of Australia. He is also a panellist on the ABC television program "The Gruen Transfer."
Petrea King is the Founding Director and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation and practices as a counsellor, inspirational speaker and workshop leader in the field of holistic health. She is the author of several books including Quest for Life and Your Life Matters.
Dr. Simon Longstaff is Executive Director of St. James Ethics Centre. Simon spent five years studying and working as a member of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Having won scholarships to study at Cambridge, he read for the degrees of Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy. He was inaugural President of The Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics and is a Director of a number of companies. He is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum and a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Foreign Policy Association, based in New York.
Professor Judith Sloan is an economist and the Commissioner of the Productivity Commission and the Australian Fair Pay Commission. She is a director on the board of the Lowy Institute for International Policy and the Westfield Group Board. She has worked as an academic at the University of Melbourne and Flinders University, South Australia.
At any given stage in life, or in connection with external events, or as we age, we will experience fluctuations in our philosophies about such things as the "right" way to go about this thing called Life. Part of that will be how we deal with the longings we feel, the dissatisfaction we may have (about whatever), disappointment...and so on. I think it is natural to want to define things one way or the other--are you with the guys at the table to the left or are you with the guys at the table to the right?--as though if you choose "this one" you are better (even a better person) off. So much is a matter of perspective, and our perspective is formed by our experience(s). Had we had other experiences than what we've had, we may feel differently from what we presently feel.
People who are very successful sometimes seem to have a tendency to attribute their success to their phenomenal brilliance, and another person's lack of phenomenal success to that person's lack of phenomenal brilliance. There is very little room for luck or fate or being in the right place at the right time--whatever you want to call it. In other words, there is this attitude that you control everything and if things aren't going well for you, it's your fault.
This carries over into the happiness movement too--if you aren't happy, it's something you are doing "wrong." This is the quintessential question of being human: Am I doing this right?
We are all learning as we go. It is good to leave room for changing our minds.
Oh, one little note to wsoutherland: Don't think I agree with you, even though I have had several times where I contemplated suicide. Suicide affects others who get left to deal with the ongoing turmoil. If each of us knew we were entirely separate and our suicide was perfectly immaterial, that'd be one thing, but it's not the case. Sometimes even with medication and therapy, people's lives still aren't working. This takes me back to what I was saying---the way we are trying to find a way to make all this work...being human can be very painful indeed.
Ironically I am unhappy whilst writing this. I know I can be happy instantly if I want because I am in control and I know how lucky I am regardless. The reason I don't is because the problem I am having needs to be addressed. It needs to be thought about and I need to be in touch with my emotions to overcome it.
It is just as important to be unhappy as it is to be happy. It's a matter of survival.
The one thing I will say is that people are usually blind to their own happiness. Always looking for something else, something better, "what that person has". The only way we understand our state of mind is to have something to compare it to, another perspective. Usually interpretated by some bad memory or mundane day to day life. In most cases it's dislike for their mundane uninteresting lives. Clearly these people have lost control of their lives, they don't know what they want or something else is preventing them from taking action themselves. A lot of people think they deserve happiness but never even attempt to bring it to themselves, they expect it to be given from others. Surely though if you expect to be given it they would expect the same from you?
Happiness is easy and can be found in any and every aspect of any moment in life. If you disagree then you don't know how lucky you actually are and you should probably open your eyes and take a look around at this beautiful world we live in. Sure there is a lot of bad stuff too, but you're looking for happiness this time so focus on that instead.
Happy to comment and happy when commenting.The pursuit of happiness is embeded in the question "How do I know when I have enough".Happiness is like money, "If I knew how much I have(money)I didn`t have enough. Yes inside job, yes tell that to those starving in darfur!.Also pursuit of happiness is also a addiction, there is a fine line between passion and addiction.Childhood abuses leads to adult addiction therefore addiction to the pursuit, to the anticipation, memory of a better time, pre-mature cognitive committment to the pursuit of a purpose in life where happiness comes through service, service to others, Once you get your own pursuit out of the way, addictted to service to others.`happiness is still an attachment and quickly become addiction-habits that look like happiness, the clown crying inside-laughing outside! happiness I can trade for contentment, lifestyle harmony, Life is good when you know what your doing, thanks Peter Happy Knopfler.
They seemed to be whether pursuing pleasure makes people miserable. It does seem the search of pleasure has increased immensely, and if nothing else, I think it absolutely keeps us from achieving higher levels of well-being.
I was very annoyed by how positive psychology was characterised as the science of pleasure, as it couldn't be further from the truth. This is Seligman in his own words:
"Happiness equals pleasure?
So pervasive is this "hedonic" view of happiness that when I tell audiences that there are two other paths to happy lives--the Good Life and the Meaningful Life--that need not have any positive emotion at all, they are incredulous. "You are redefining happiness arbitrarily," they say.
The hedonic view of happiness convinces us that Goldie Hawn and Debbie Reynolds are the paradigmatic examples of being happy: smiley, ebullient, cheerful, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Two things wrong with this idea
But there are two things radically wrong with this hedonic view. The first is that smiley ebullience is highly heritable and very hard to get more of. This trait is called "positive affectivity" and identical twins are much more likely to share it than are fraternal twins. It is not very changeable, and the best that learning skills such as "savoring" and "mindfulness" can do is to help you to live in the upper part of your set range of positive affectivity. The fact that it is normally distributed means that half the population is not very smiley, cheerful, and ebullient, and not likely to become so--even with carefully reading and diligently doing the exercises in Authentic Happiness.
The second problem with the Hollywood view of happiness, as pervasive as it is, is a very poor intellectual provenance. When Aristotle spoke of the "Eudaimonia," the Good Life, he was not focused on the positive feelings of pleasure--orgasm, a backrub, and a full stomach. Rather he was concerned with the "pleasures" of contemplation--which do not reside in orgasmic thrills or sensations of warmth, but in deep absorption and immersion, a state we now call "flow." And during this state there is neither thought nor feeling. You are simply "one with the music.
Eudaimonia predicts satisfaction
Ms. Huta followed people in their daily lives and beeped them at random (using Csikszentmihalyi's ESM method), asking them what they were doing and what their emotional state was. She devised a scale reflecting hedonic motives (i.e., pursuing pleasure, enjoyment, and comfort) and a scale reflecting eudaimonic motives (i.e., pursuing personal growth, development of their potential, achieving personal excellence, and contributing to the lives of others). Eudaimonic pursuits were significantly correlated with life satisfaction whereas hedonic pursuits were not." http://www.authentichappiness.sas.up...ter.aspx?id=54