Sunday, December 08, 2013

Happy Happy Joy Joy (Again)

Harari takes a look at Daniel Kahneman's studies of happiness.

His starting point is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World where everybody is drugged to be happy all the time. What's wrong with that, he asks. Most readers do not like that world and find it dystopian.

Kahneman took a virtual microscope to the lives of working women in Texas, and asked each to record what they were doing every few minutes and write down how they felt about it. One striking result was that the most unpleasant parts of their day were spent dealing with their children. On the other hand, when asked in the abstract what gave them the most joy in their lives, they named their children.

There is more than one way to interpret this, but he pays attention mostly to the idea that what really gives us happiness is meaning in our lives. In that way, the much harder life of the medieval peasant might have given him more happiness if he could feel meaning in the pursuit of heaven and other meaningful goals.

Science does not offer much (or any) meaning to life.

He also seems to like Buddhism a lot - but is not too fond of New Age interpretations thereof.

His aim was not to tell us what happiness is, but expose us to a few current theories.

The biggest hole in our understanding of human history is how it affected the people who lived then.

Next: the future.