Tag Archives: happiness

Bruckner on the good life, money, and the unequal world of work

Consumer Society by Barry SmartOnce more, from Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy. This time on our relation to wealth.

Why is it American conservatives deplore European social democracy? Could it be that it doesn’t stimulate consumerism enough to satisfy a free market economy? (emphasis added in the following quotations)

[T]he power of the great upheavals of the preceding century in France, including those of 1936 and 1945, consisted not only in redistributing the social pie, but also in creating new kinds of opulence for the majority of the people: free time, poetry, love, the liberation of desire, the sense of everyday transfiguration. Not being content to manage penury, but discovering everywhere new goods that are unquantifiable and escape the rule of profit, prolonging the old revolutionary dream of luxury for everyone, of beauty made available to the most humble. Today, luxury resides in everything that is becoming rare: communion with nature, silence, meditation, slowness rediscovered, the pleasure of living out of step with others, studious idleness, the enjoyment of the major works of the mind – these are all privileges that cannot be bought because they are literally priceless. Then we can oppose to an involuntary poverty a voluntary poverty (or rather a voluntary self-restriction) that is in no way a choice to be indigent but rather a redefinition of our personal priorities. This may involve giving up things, preferring freedom to comfort, to an arbitrary social status, but for a larger life, for a return to the essential instead of accumulating money and objects like a ludicrous barrier set up against fear and death. In the end, true luxury is the invention of one’s own life, master over one’s destiny; “but everything that is precious is as difficult as it is rare” (Spinoza).

This is not to say that Bruckner fails to appreciate the situation of the poor. Written in 2000, way before the financial crisis, this comment is even more relevant today:

[P]overty in developed countries may never be overcome, simply because the rich no longer … need the poor to get rich. … The misfortune of being exploited has been succeeded by the still worse misfortune of no longer being exploitable.

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It’s better not to have children

A research article in the journal Think enumerates the reasons it’s better not to have children.

Most people assume that having children is a rewarding exercise, even a necessary ingredient of a complete and happy life. But a cold hard look at the facts suggests otherwise.

Children rarely make a net contribution to a parent’s (self-assessed) levels of happiness (and remember, people tend to overestimate their happiness levels). In anonymous surveys, most parents report regretting having children. Seventy percent of people would not have had children if they knew what it would be like …. Only five percent of men and a third of women said having children improved their happiness levels ….

Studies have shown that while people’s happiness goes up when they are expecting a baby it sharply declines once the child is born. And the evidence is, the more children you have the more unhappy you are likely to be …. Happiness levels only start going back up after the last child leaves home ….

Some might think that after a lifetime of offspring-induced unhappiness you can at least look forward to an old age where your children care for you. But in the West the number who care full-time for their elderly parents is comparatively small. Not having children is probably a much better pension plan. When they reach old age ‘[t]he childless are more financially secure and in better health [than parents]’ ….

None of this makes child creation and rearing sound like a recipe for flourishing. It sounds like a major obstacle to a happy life, at least in the majority of cases.

Happy mother and child Read more


Links: Vampire facelifts/Happiness/Neuroenhancers/Climate change/…

Vampire facelifts‘Vampire Face-Lifts’: Smooth at First Bite (NYT)
Plumping out nasiolabial folds with your own blood platelets. Not tested. Not FDA approved. “This is another gimmick that people are using to make themselves stand out on the Internet in a real dog-eat-dog part of medicine.”

The Corporate Pursuit of Happiness (Fast Company)
Stanford business school teaches students the virtues of marketing by promising happiness. Happiness is just “another commodity deployed to sell something.” See The duty to be happy.

A Ban on Brain-Boosting Drugs Is Not the Answer (Chronicle)
A large number of undergrads use neuroenhancers. Is this unfair competition? The way to stop their use is to change the culture of competition in college and engage students in learning for learning’s sake.

Can a group of scientists in California end the war on climate change? (Guardian)
The Berkeley Earth project says it is about to reveal the definitive truth about global warming. Data will be public and offer a “more precise number” on global warming. Read more


The duty to be happy

Pascal Bbruckner Perpetual EuphoriaThe French intellectual Pascal Bruckner casts a critical eye on happiness in his newly translated book, Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy. Much of what he has to say about happiness applies equally to health.

In the first post on this blog I asked: How did health, which used to be something we were born with, become something we believe we can personally control. Today most people in developed countries assume they can avoid certain diseases and prolong their lives by practicing a “healthy lifestyle.” How did this happen? When did the change occur? What does it mean that – unlike earlier generations — we’re so preoccupied with our health?

Attitudes towards both health and happiness changed in the sixties. In an interview in The Guardian, Bruckner comments: (emphasis added)

After the 60s, there is no more distance between one’s happiness and oneself. … One becomes one’s own main obstacle. To overcome this obstacle a huge market opened: medicine to modify your mood, surgery to modify your body, and it also includes the spread of therapy and new or reformed religions. So Jesus is no longer this transcendent God, but a life coach who helps you overcome addiction and so on. …

We should wonder why depression has become a disease. It is a disease of a society that is looking desperately for happiness, which we cannot catch. And so people collapse into themselves. …

[P]eople are very unhappy when they try hard and fail. We have a lot of power in our lives but not the power to be happy. Happiness is more like a moment of grace.

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The unavoidable and burdensome responsibility to be happy

Victoria Huggins American IdolI came across this photo of Victoria Huggins, of American Idol fame, while searching for an image of an annoyingly cheerful person. It was on a relatively new blog called Media Studies, written by Andover media student (I presume) Kristina.

Kristina describes Victoria as “Possibly the most annoyingly loud, optimistic, cheerful person you will ever encounter. With an incredibly high-pitched, overly exaggerated Southern accent and a specialty in church music, she is the poster child for America.”

Fortunately, I missed the episode of American Idol when Victoria appeared and was promptly eliminated.

Another post on Kristina’s blog caught my attention, as the subject is close to my heart: How media/advertising images of the ideal body have … how shall I put this … messed us up. She comments on how her college-age contemporaries found the cast of MTV’s Skins so ugly they couldn’t watch it, when these young people are in fact – Kristina says — uniquely attractive. I agree. (Click here for image.) Kristina’s comment:

What is beauty anymore, anyway? What have you done to our standards? You have raised them to an impossible high that will never be met without a computer unless eating disorders and cancer-causing beauty products become common practice.


Anyway, all this by way of introducing the following video. It’s been around for a year, but I just discovered it (thanks to Psychiatric Times). It comes from The Onion and has had a million and a half viewers on YouTube. Production level is high, as is the humor level. Read more


Misc Links 1/19/11

Blood test for cancer -- breakthrough or nightmareCancer breakthrough — or nightmare? (CNN)
A simple blood test that detects minute quantities of cancer cells in the blood “could just as easily start a cancer epidemic. … The conventional wisdom is people either have a disease or they do not. But, in fact, there are a lot of people somewhere in between.” H. Gilbert Welch on overdiagnosis.

Intelligence and physical attractiveness (Science Direct)
If women prefer intelligent men because they have higher incomes and status, and if men prefer physically attractive females, eventually the two traits merge. Study finds physically attractive people are more intelligent.

Programmed for Love (Chronicle)
New Sherry Turkle book “Alone Together.” The growing trend in robotics to create machines that act as if they’re alive could lead us to place machines in roles that only humans should fill. Plus effects of social media on young people. “Although always connected, they feel deprived of attention.”

BMJ Blasts Lancet Role in MMR-Autism Scare (MedPage Today)
Brian Deer and the Lancet have at each other, tabloid style. Takeaway: There should be new procedures for enforcing ethical standards of medical research. Read more


Misc Links 12/29/10

Palin on death panels‘Death panels’ alive — and that’s good news for all of us (MSNBC)
“If Terri Schiavo taught us anything … “ By noted bioethicist Arthur Caplan (12/29)

Health care economics and the relationship between doctor and patient (KevinMD)
What’s wrong with the way medicine is practiced? By a pediatrician who decided to quit her practice (12/29)

Placebos Work Even if You Know They’re Fake: But How? (Time)
Placebos may activate parts of brain that produce dopamine, pain-killers. Found effective for pain, depression, Parkinsons (12/29)

Social whirl of a life? Thank your amygdala (Guardian)
Larger size of this clump of nerves in the brain correlated with being more gregarious (12/29) Read more


Are married people happier? Are parents?

Happy Family Hugging Each OtherResearch tells us that married people are happier than the unmarried, that is, they’re happier than those who are single, separated, divorced, widowed, or simply living together. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a cause and effect relationship going on here: Get married, be happy. It could be that happy people are more inclined to marry in the first place and that we enjoy staying married to a happy spouse.

While studies (PDF) find that marriage increases a sense of “well-being” (another term for happiness), that state of mind may be only temporary. After a few years, bride and groom seem to return to the level of happiness they enjoyed before the big day.

As Derek Bok points out in The Politics of Happiness, conflicting answers to questions about marriage and happiness may result from observing two different groups: Those who become happier with the years and those whose marriages go sour. When you combine the two, the results may very well cancel each other out.

The end of a marriage. The health benefits of marriage.

So we don’t have a definitive answer to the question “Are married people happier?” What is certain, however, is that the end of a marriage – whether through separation, divorce, or death – is followed by a sharp decline in happiness. On a scale of 100, the average drop in happiness following divorce is 5 points and, following separation, the drop is 8 points. Why the greater unhappiness with separation? Perhaps, as Bok suggests, those who divorce were unhappier with their marriage to begin with, so they now feel some relief. Or perhaps the separated are still adjusting to the change, whereas the divorced have had more time to adapt.

We do know that married people live longer. One study (PDF), for example, found that the impact of marriage on how long we live was much greater than the impact of how much we earn. The longevity benefit for men can be quantified as equivalent to a lifetime of not smoking. The longevity benefits for married women are only half as much as for men. Hmmm.

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This mess we’re in – Part 2

dollar-sign-shadowPart one of this post noted Paul Krugman’s take on the health care legislative process and the political practice of soliciting money in exchange for votes. Beneath these surface issues, however, there’s a deeper sense of disillusion with 20th century progress and with a lack of purpose to modern life.
We may tinker with a dysfunctional political process – whether it’s the filibuster or corporate lobbying – but our efforts may amount to little more than putting a finger in the dyke. Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the inability of their government to be effective. The problem is not simply a matter of two political parties with opposing ideologies and the influential economic interests that politicians represent.

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