We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
...nowadays there is a new science of happiness, and some of the psychologists and almost all the economists involved want you to think that happiness is just pleasure. Further, they propose to calculate your happiness, by asking you where you fall on a three-point scale, 1-2-3: “not too happy,” “pretty happy,” “very happy.” They then want to move to technical manipulations of the numbers, showing that you, too, can be “happy,” if you will but let the psychologists and the economists show you (and the government) how.
On a long view, understand, it is only recently that we have been guiltlessly obsessed with either pleasure or happiness. In secular traditions, such as the Greek or the Chinese, a pleasuring version of happiness is downplayed, at any rate in high theory, in favor of political or philosophical insight. The ancient Chinese sage Zhuangzi observed of some goldfish in a pond, “See how happy they are!” A companion replied, “How do you know they are happy?” Zhuangzi: “How do you know I don’t know?” In Christianity, for most of its history, the treasure, not pleasure, was to be stored up in heaven, not down here where thieves break in. After all, as a pre-eighteenth-century theologian would put it—or as a modern and mathematical economist would, too—an infinite afterlife was infinitely to be preferred to any finite pleasure attainable in earthly life.
Ominously... happiness studies have been diverted into an applied science. The happiness measurers very much want to direct us and are itching to engineer a happy society. They do not know what they are talking about, but are very willing to put “policies” about it into practice anyway. In a finely argued but erroneous book of philosophy, for example, Daniel Haybron a few years ago made a case partly on the basis of the new science of happiness against what he calls “liberal optimism,” or the belief since the eudaemonic movement and the bourgeois revaluations of the eighteenth century that “people tend to fare best—and pretty well at that—when empowered to shape their [own] lives.” He doubts it. But on what basis, since psychology is singularly ill-equipped to yield such doubt? As Haybron himself points out, tests on college kids do not range across enough experience. History is more to the point. Of course people make mistakes about their lives, and sometimes spend their lives badly. But as even Haybron acknowledges, the liberal experiment since 1700 has yielded gigantically better lives in every sense for a constantly increasing number of us. Haybron, and many of the elite critics of how other people spend their time on Earth, is an admitted pastoralist and disdains the sick hurry of modern life. Yet is he himself not living a happy life, which his ancestor around 1800—who in any case died in childhood and childbirth—did not?
It's a major essay. As I have said here many times, "happiness" cannot be defined in an applicable way beyond simple-minded gratification, but unhappiness is easy to recognize. It's everywhere.
Happiness is a key component of economic theory, though it's hardly a quantifiable concept.
I don't care how many people try to quantify it, the reality is your enjoyment of Beethoven is equal to my enjoyment of The Clash or Led Zeppelin. There is no differentiation between the 'happiness' we derive from the experience, though there may be a differentiation in price we pay for listening to an album/CD/MP3.
I'm certainly no fan of Justin Bieber, though he is clearly a favorite among certain age and demographic groups. Is their happiness greater than mine? Maybe it is if they are willing to shell out $100 to see him in concert.
It's this point which is important, the fact that one person's trash is another's treasure. Recently Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine (a band I happen to enjoy, though I despise their politics), slammed Paul Ryan for liking his music. He claimed there is no way Ryan 'got' his 'message' since Ryan is the antithesis of all he sings about.
I tend to enjoy music for music, not a message. I like plenty of bands and songs with a message I disagree with. In fact, I believe it was the Centrally Planned Nations which utilized art as a 'tool' for spreading a 'message', and generally people were unhappy with the art which came out of these nations. I suppose that make Morello a bit of a tool, himself.
It's this very point, the fact that you can find happiness in things, even if the people making those things don't think you should or don't want you to find happiness in them, which creates an economic environment. It's called a marketplace. The marketplace caters to, and provides, happiness. It can provide unhappiness, as well, if you don't manage your affairs properly.
But markets are designed to spread happiness to the largest number of recipients in the most cost-efficient fashion possible. And even if you can't get exactly what you want, there is another economics tool which can help you salvage some happiness even if you can't afford what you really want.
It's called a substitute. When my tea is all gone, I am probably one of the few people who will actually switch to coffee if it's available. It doesn't make me as happy in the morning, but it fills a need, and thus I got part of what I wanted.
I don't need people quantifying my happiness quotient, whatever the hell that is, or providing me with goods and services THEY think will make me 'happy'. There is already something out there doing it for me, and how much I enjoy what I get from it isn't something that can be measured. Because I probably enjoy it a heckuvalot more than people like Obama. Or Tom Morello. But maybe not.
I'm by nature a happy guy. Most of the dogs I've owned over the years can be described as "happy" dogs.
The only time I've ever gotten mad at anybody was the last time I was drunk and that was over 37 years ago.
However when the local convenience store runs out of 1 liter Diet Pepsi - well, words cannot describe the angst, terror and revulsion I feel having to switch to Diet Mountain Dew - the horror, the humanity!!