Friday, October 31, 2014

Happiness Is ...

I’ve made the point often enough, but still, why not make it again. This time with the imprimatur of Scientific American.

The point is that the standard Western concept of happiness differs markedly from the standard Asian or Eastern concept.

We in the West associate happiness with personal fulfillment and especially with the experience of pleasure. In the East, people believe that social harmony is more important than individual fulfillment and thus we maintain a different concept of happiness.

One suspects that what passes for the standard Western mode of happiness-seeking owes much to the therapy culture.

Writing in Scientific American, Jennifer Aaker and Emily Esfahani Smith explain:

Everyone wants to be happy. It's a fundamental human right. It's associated with all sorts of benefits. We, as a society, spend millions trying to figure out what the key to personal happiness is. There are now even apps to help us turn our frowns upside down. So everyone wants to be happy—right?

In Eastern cultures, the emphasis is on attainment of social harmony, where community and belonging are held in high regard. In Western cultures, the emphasis is on attainment of happiness, where the individualistic self tends to be celebrated.

Researchers have also studied the way happiness is defined in different dictionaries from different nations:

These values translate to different weights placed on personal happiness. In one paper, Oishi and his colleagues examined the definition of happiness in dictionaries from 30 nations, and found that internal inner feelings of pleasure defined happiness in Western cultures, more so than East Asian cultures. Instead, East Asians cultures define happiness more in line with social harmony, and it is associated with good luck and fortune. Indeed, when researchers measure feelings of positive affect or pleasure, they go hand in hand with enhanced feelings of happiness by North America individuals but not by East Asian individuals. Instead, social factors - such as adapting to social norms or fulfilling relational obligations – were associated with enhanced feelings of happiness in East Asia.

Aaker and Smith believe, as I do, that we would do well to take a lesson from the Eastern approach. Perhaps we should not see happiness solely in individual terms. Perhaps we should act as though we have a greater awareness of our social being, that is, of other people. Perhaps we should seek out another form of happiness.

In their words:

But prioritizing personal happiness leads to a number of problems, like focusing too much on the self. Perhaps we need a more balanced approach to happiness in American culture. Personal happiness is beneficial in some contexts, a limitation in others—good in moderation, but harmful in excess. In some moments, we may need and benefit from feeling good, but in other moments, we might be better served anchoring on balanced, meaningful life focused on others. Happiness, in this light, is not the proverbial goal to chase, but a (happy) outcome of a life well lived.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. said...

If you are being schooled in the Jesuit tradition, as our Pope was, you are to be a man of courage, compassion, conscience and "a man for others. " The self, in my humble opinion, is a dead end!

Anonymous said...

Mortimer J Adler, American philosopher, define "In its ethical or moral meaning, the word "happiness" refers to a life well lived, a whole life that is morally good because it is the product of virtue (or the habit of right desire) accompanied by the blessing of good fortune."

Ares Olympus said...

I saw this article yesterday, questioning materialism, consumerism versus citizenship.

It would be nice to know East Asian social values can protect its citizens from the excesses of consumerism. People used to think the protestant virtues would protect us, but not enough apparently.

Elections are coming up next weeks, and perhaps only 50% of eligible voters will particiate. Even if we do participate its hard to even know what issues are worth fighting for. Probably local elections are where you have the most influence, and who takes time to see what local issues are?

Meanwhile I'll continue my long boycott of the consumerization of Christmas, but how do we make gifts meaningful again? Viewpoint: How the consumer dream went wrong
This word Consumer represents the idea that all we can do is consume, choosing between the options offered us, and that the morally right thing for us to do is to pick the best of these for ourselves, measured in material standards of living, as narrowly defined individuals, and in the short term.

As such, what we do when we use this language is prime ourselves to think in this way, cuing this moral idea. And when we do that, we become more selfish and more short term.
Perhaps the most significant effect of the dominance of the Consumer has been on politics. Here, the idea of the Citizen has arguably become meaningless in the face of the Consumer. Policies are researched in market research focus groups, just another Consumer product. Parties target key audiences with specific messages, trying to win votes like Consumer market share. Voting, the act of consumption which used to be considered a minimum for participation, has become instead the maximum.

Sam L. said...

I am not confident in trusting SA.