By Bruce Barbour
Part 3 - The Happiness Strategy
Happiness - Is That All There Is?
Before we look at which approaches can be put in place for achieving long term happiness there is another question that needs to be asked: - is maximising your own happiness the sole aim of life?
A similar question to this was posed by the lecturer in a philosophy lecture I attended many years ago. He asked - if you could be attached to a machine that kept you in a constant state of happiness - perhaps Woody Allen's Orgasmatron (22) - would you do it? Would you do it even if while attached to this machine you couldn't do anything else? It was interesting that a fair proportion of students said that they would attach to the machine. After I thought about it for a while I came to the conclusion that solely having happiness for oneself is not enough. In fact solely seeking happiness as the primary goal of existence is akin to a form of opting out and could lead to other lifestyle problems (23). This is a philosophical choice, the reason for which is beyond the scope of this site.
Given this, you may choose not to necessarily utilise to the maximum extent the approaches that provide the most happiness. You can choose to build up an approach to happiness that allows active participation in and engagement with the world and humanity even though it may not provide continuous happiness.
One obvious example of this is where a person volunteers
to work in a famine affected country, distributing food or
medical supplies. They are going to see some shocking
cases of human deprivation. There is no way that person
could be happy all of the time while undertaking this
work. So is this is a reason to abandon this project and
go and do something that affords a more instantaneous
happiness? This is where values and meaning comes in.
Clearly when someone volunteers to work in such a
situation it must mean that the work aligns to some
significant values, probably values that they see as
universal (refer to the section on "Values Based Lifestyle"). They
may see it as a duty to assist others in this manner. It
may be of such significance to them as to give their lives
A life filled with meaning can also be a happy life even if the situation that the person is in is on the surface not happiness inducing. From living a life aligned with their values a person derives a sense of satisfaction. And from that sense of satisfaction happiness flows.
22. The "Orgasmatron" was a machine proposed in the Woody Allen film "The Big Sleep". As the name suggests its purposed was to provide the user with intense physical pleasure. Also refer to Orgasmatron in Wikipedia
23. Another example of an opt out approach to life would be the taking of various drugs which lead to short term happiness but can have a serious down side - not just to the person themselves but to their family and other people close to them. Perhaps becoming a hermit or going into a monastery that is cut off from society is another form of opt out however these lifestyles would not be harmful to yourself nor anyone else, and could be a viable option at least for part of life.
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