I think that the most likely final aim of life is happiness. I cannot reduce happiness to a means for another end, other than happiness. Perhaps you can? I would be interested to hear it if you could.
All means lead to happiness. You seek love for happiness. You eat a nice meal for happiness. You want success for the happiness it brings. Happiness is why you buy a nice car, watch your favorite show, or read an interesting book. It isn’t the tv show or the car you are after, it is the happiness. Even a collector that wants some rare collectors item doesn’t want it just for the sake of having it, as having it brings happiness, it brings satisfaction.
Then I think of someone who might believe that the ultimate aim of life is knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge. But here, the acquisition of knowledge brings satisfaction and enjoyment, and these are types of happiness.
When I think of someone who may want to do good and bring love to the world, even at the expense of their own happiness, they too do so for the ultimate aim of happiness. They do this not out of selfishness, but because they believe it will bring happiness both to the people they help, the world as a whole, and both directly and indirectly to themselves. One finds satisfaction, warmth and happiness when one does good. Can someone not be satisfied upon making another person happy, especially if that was their original intention?
Then I thought I really found a hole in the proposition. I thought of ascetics. Renunciates. I think of Hindu ascetics and Buddhist monks. I think of people who renounce all attachment to the physical world. They want no attachment; not to sensual pleasures (that is, pleasures of the senses, not just sexy time), not to human relationships, not to desire, not to anything. But even they do such things and live such a way for a purpose, and to have a purpose is to have reason and desire. For them, it is, mostly, to achieve moksha, the release from the endless cycle of birth, death and reincarnation, and to become united with their true self, Brahman.
But surely, even this would be for happiness, or a type of happiness. As being in samsara, this birth, death and reincarnation cycle, is seen as being ‘stuck’, and not your true self. Thus, being released from this cycle and achieving your souls purpose, must surely bring happiness, or something that comes under the realm of happiness.
So, if happiness is truly the ultimate aim (there can be others, but each still ends at happiness) of existence, then what does that mean for how we should live our lives?
If the ultimate aim is happiness, then perhaps the quickest route to it is best? Why take a long, convoluted and difficult route to the same place? Perhaps indulging in your senses, seeking cheap thrills while leaving behind the things that bring happiness through time and effort or that require a disciplined mindset may be the best way to live life. It is quite attractive, that is for sure. But then we should think that in doing some things that bring happiness, there could be things that bring unhappiness too, and this would take us further away from our ultimate aim.
An example would be eating cheesecake all day and night. It brings me happiness with every bite, this is true. But at some point, when my mind isn’t in bliss with the cheesecake in my mouth, those moments between the bites, I will eventually start to feel gross and like a big fat fatty that hates himself. So at that point I will have mixed feelings of happiness and non-happiness. It is not sustainable, as if this was my sole source of happiness, I would eat myself until being sick.
Thus enters the idea of a “net-happiness”. The amount of happiness averaged out from all the good and the bad that something brings to us.
If having $1000 makes me happy, but I have to rob someone to get it, this means that my feelings of guilt and shame will be mixed with my feeling of happiness. Depending on the amount of guilt and shame that exists, my ‘net-happiness’ might increase or decrease relative to before the robbery.
Now we have to take into account morals and ethics. If my net-happiness from that mugging is to be maximized, I must not care about the other person, the victim. I must not think of the consequences. I must be ignorant. If my ultimate aim in life is happiness, why should I care about others if it gets in my way? Why should I care about the happiness of other people?
This is an interesting thing to think about. As dangerous, sad or immoral it may appear, it is worth thinking over as it still may be a sound argument.
Quickly, I can think of at least two reasons why it might be in ones best interest to be moral. The first being, being good can pay off. Imagine a web of possibilities. The size of the web represents the possible ways to bring happiness. At each node of the web is a decision, which can be either moral or immoral. If you are immoral and live a cold and ruthless life, surely your web must shrink in some areas (but grow in the areas where selfishness pays off), as others will be less likely to willingly bring happiness to you. Surely, the more moral and loving and outwardly good one is, the more their web grows, as others around you are more likely to return the happiness that you brought them. So for the individual who cares only of happiness and wants it in the easiest way possible, this person will have to recognize that perhaps there will be instances where their net-happiness will increase when being moral/ethical as opposed to looking out for #1.
Another reason that stands out is something that I came to terms with in the fall, that happiness isn’t some power bar at the top of our screen like in a video game that measures your characters life or health. It isn’t simply a matter of more or less. Essentially, it isn’t purely quantitative. It is qualitative as well. The happiness you get from having a great conversation is different than the happiness you get when you learn to make an organic cheesecake (and cheap too!). It isn’t necessarily that one brings ‘more’ or ‘less’ happiness, but rather that each brings a different feeling of happiness (perhaps one that you prefer over the other, or not). It is for that reason that despite having experienced incredible amounts of happiness throughout my life, I can’t possibly imagine the happiness that fathering a child would bring. Because it is a different type of happiness. And so in this respect, an argument for being moral and ethical makes sense. I say this because if happiness was purely quantitative, then I don’t think that you would need many sources of happiness. You could just have a few, and increase the volume of them. Eventually you could reach your 100% happiness, whatever that even means. But if there is a qualitative aspect to happiness, then the idea of having a maximum (ie. 100%) happiness becomes nonsensical, and the path to more happiness would be to experience as many types of happiness as possible. Since being moral and ethical surely can bring happiness, joy and satisfaction, it becomes advantageous in your pursuit of happiness to consider moral and ethical actions (at least to a certain degree).
Yes, taking the $1000 from that person would bring you a quantity, x, of a certain type of happiness, y. But knowing that you don’t need that money, and would never rob another person in order to get that money brings with it a quantity, a, of a certain type of happiness, b. Perhaps xy is preferred over ab, perhaps not. I suppose that is for each person to decide.
And yet another tangent, I would like to invoke the idea of ‘use it or lose it’. Or simply, the mere exposure effect: that the more you are exposed to something, the more you accept it (and enjoy it). Perhaps much like taste, happiness is acquired. I mean this in the sense that, if you only eat sugary foods, you only identify tasty yumminess with sugary foods. However, if you ate veggies and only veggies for a finite amount of time, your tongue/brain/mind would acquire enjoyment and thus happiness from eating those things. You acquire the taste and will begin to like it. With this being said, perhaps someone who has lived a life of only seeking cheap thrills, only knows that cheap thrills bring happiness. At first glance and first attempt, doing something of substance seems devoid of happiness. I think the opposite is true as well. I truly believe that someone who solely does the opposite, let’s say, only ever gets happiness from doing good, could not possibly imagine achieving happiness through doing something immoral, even if it brought them $1000 as in the mugging scenario.
So where am I? Happiness is the ultimate aim of life. There can be different amounts and types of happiness. Happiness can be ‘acquired’, in the sense that what your perception and experience of happiness is can be affected by what you have previously associated happiness with. It is possible that happiness can be acquired through both immoral and moral actions, though I should give thought as to what the consequences of each are, and how these consequences in turn affect happiness.
Ok, now to actually get to the part that I wanted to talk about which popped into my head now over an hour ago. Philosophy.
We each have a life philosophy. Whether you acquired one from someone else, or just kind of fell into one, whether consciously thought of one or not, etc etc… we all have one, or at least live by one, that is, unless you live your life completely randomly, but even that could be a philosophy. And so, if one were to arrive at the idea that the ultimate aim of life is happiness, and if one were to subscribe to a specific philosophy or world view, and such a philosophy or world view was negative, or acted as a reducer or limiting factor on that persons happiness, then whether this philosophy is logical to that person or not, that person should forgo their original views/philosophy, abandoning them for something that is more conducive to happiness, as that is their ultimate aim.
Imagine a person who views the world as gloomy. There is much injustice and evil. Everywhere you turn there exists wrongness. Now perhaps all of those things are true. (That is not to say that the world isn’t also beautiful and home to goodness and morals, both views are simply parts of a greater truth) They are factual. They do exist. Having this field of view can limit happiness. Does having this field of view increase or decrease the happiness web? It is a good question.
Imagine a person who holds a negative philosophy. It could be that man is inherently evil, or that there is no meaning to life, there is no purpose, existence is simply an accident and the result of random, meaningless collisions between balls of energy; that pain and suffering is the baseline for human existence. Whatever, just think of a really shitty and depressing philosophy. There may or may not be truth in these philosophies. I don’t agree that man is inherently evil, but one can imagine a truthful and negative philosophy. No matter how logical that philosophy is, no matter how truthful it is, if it limits your happiness, does it make sense to continue subscribing to it?
I suppose what I am asking is, is it logical to be logical if it limits your happiness? Is it better to be ignorant if being ignorant can bring more/a better type of happiness than not being ignorant?
It seems contradictory. I suppose it depends on what your ultimate aim is. I suppose it depends also on if you care more about the aim (the end) than the means of acquiring the aim/end/happiness. I may or may not come back to this later.
I’d like to come back to the issue of morality and ethics. Previously I had come to the idea that there are going to be some instances when being moral will bring more happiness than being immoral. That whole xy vs ab scenario. It is a subjective measurement and decision, based on how a person interprets and evaluates the happiness from xy vs. the happiness from ab. There is something I would like to explore. I have a belief, based both on simply theory and both real life experience, that the more positive (good/moral/etc) energy you put out into the world, the more that will come back. The same is true for the opposite (evil/immorality/etc).
If I smile a lot, am polite and treat others with respect, then the people I interact with will be more likely to return that to me. That is to say, nothing guarantees that those positive/moral attitudes will be reciprocated, no, it is not definite or assured by any means, but the probability of it being reciprocated is raised. Perhaps by 50%, perhaps by 5%, perhaps by 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%. In any case, I believe there must be an increase in the probability that the good that you put out, will come back.
So, if this is true, then the more moral you become, the more good you do, the more happiness you bring to others, you are in effect raising the possibility of happiness, and all those positive things, coming back to you. Likewise, the complete opposite is also true, with regards to being evil, unjust, immoral.
Taking this with concepts of quantum theory, or even 7 degrees of Kevin Bacon, that everything in this universe is a web of connectivity, would it not be best to be good and moral, if your ultimate aim is happiness? From person to person, country to country, atom to atom; everything is connected to everything. Ok… and if doing good and being moral can bring happiness, and doing this good/moral action increases the net levels of goodness/morals/happiness in the universe aka your web of connectivity aka your life, and this increase in goodness/morals/happiness in turn increases the chances/probability that it will come back to you and be reciprocated, then is it possible that as the net level of goodness/morals/happiness increases (due to your action and the resulting reaction of every other thing in the universe that you are connected to), the probability of it being reciprocated back to you increases non-linearly, as it is compounded over and over, throughout the web of connectivity?
Ok, I know I have lost people. It is hard sometimes for me to get what is in my mind out in actual words. Take this example- imagine a universe where there is only 1 person. You. Being moral/immoral is absurd, it simply doesn’t exist. Ok, now imagine the universe now has 2 people, yourself and one other person. That’s it, that’s all. Your web of connectivity involves you and that other person. Well, if you do good to that person, the likeliness of it coming back to you is whatever that percentage(probability) of returning it is. Like we said before, it might be 50%, it might be 5%, or it might be 0.0000000000000000lotsof000000000000000001%. Ok. Now imagine if there was one more person in that universe, 3 people. Yourself, and two others. That is it, that is all. Now, let’s say you do some good/moral towards person 1. This brings them happiness. Now, with that same probability (whatever it is), they are now more likely to return that happiness back to you AND they are more likely to bring that happiness (pay it forward) to the other person, person 2. NOW, that person in turn is more likely (whatever that probability is) to both return it back to person 1, or to send it back to yourself. So now that probability of receiving happiness has increased, despite the fact that all you have done was 1 good/moral deed. The net result is more happiness could be produced from the same action that you did when the universe only had one other person.
Again, I am not saying that doing good WILL result in happiness coming back to you, but the probability of it does exist.
And so, by extension, one can see that as you had a 4th, 5th, 10th, 10000th, billionth, etc etc person into this web of connectivity, you see that a single good/moral action that brings happiness to someone increases the chances of your happiness (and the happiness of others), and thus potentially increases the net happiness that you will experience downstream in your life, both in terms of quantity and quality. Quantity, I believe is straightforward to understand, quality, because the ways that happiness will be brought to you in return will be varied, and thus, the quality associated will be varied.
Continuing with this thought, it becomes quite clear that it functions almost like an investment. If you had $100,000 today, you could enjoy it right away, use it all up, or invest it and with the interest, collect a larger sum in the future. (Now I have to wonder if there is such a thing as inflation of the currency of happiness, that the more happiness that enters circulation, the less it is valued- I’ll leave that for another day) In the same sense, if one puts him/herself first and seeks instant happiness at the expense of others (immoral actions), then one isn’t making a deposit into the happiness connectivity network, and thus can’t reap the compounded interest on their happiness, and actually makes a deposit into the unhappiness connectivity network, which has the exact opposite effects.
So, I think there is a case for being moral and being a ‘good person’, whatever that means. It doesn’t mean that you can’t experience happiness in the moment. Unlike the monetary example, the money has to be either invested or not. But happiness and being good/moral/ethical isn’t like that. You can find happiness in being moral, if you have the right mindset. That would be like spending $12 on shawarma and somehow that $12 also goes into your investment portfolio. Likewise, you can find happiness in the moment outside of being moral or immoral. Things like little h’s, like when I am alone and notice that from the time that I started writing this, to now, that a tulip has gone from completely closed to almost completely open, I get a sense of interest, perhaps wonder, and maybe a hint of joy (happiness). It is a little h. That happiness is for me. It was outside the realm of morality. I’m not sure if there is anything to compare it to with the monetary analogy. I guess it would be like if the universe gave you physical gift, like a shawarma that just popped into your kitchen. I dunno.
So where am I now? Happiness is the ultimate aim of life. There can be different amounts and types of happiness. Happiness can be ‘acquired’, in the sense that what your perception and experience of happiness can be affected by what you have previously associated happiness with. It is possible that happiness can be acquired through both immoral and moral actions, however with every good/moral action you do, you raise the probability of bringing to yourself happiness (as the size of your web of connectivity increases), and with every negative/harmful/immoral action you do,as you increase the the probability of bringing yourself unhappiness (again, as the size of your web of connectivity increases).
So I think I will stop here. I will give the idea of happiness inflation some thought. At first glance I will state that unhappiness implies happiness, and one can’t exist without the other. They are two sides of the same experience. So it is a natural part of existence, and is required in order to maximize happiness (as odd as that sounds) – but I will give it more thought later.
I suppose the practicality of what I have just examined could be stated as such:
If you want to experience as much and as many types of happiness as possible, one should try to do as many different experiences as possible, but more than just once. As happiness is acquired, and there are different qualities of happiness, each new experience brings with it a possibility of a new type of happiness, and these experiences should be repeated as, like the first time you drink a glass of wine, or the first 28 years of your life you don’t enjoy onions, if you try it enough times, you will start to enjoy it and thus, extract the happiness from that given experience.
Additionally, being of moral character (and thus implies moral action) is one of the strongest ways to ensure happiness comes your way from factors that are seemingly out of your control. This should be noted under the caveat that the larger your web of connectivity is, the more your good/moral actions will compound themselves and thus dramatically increase your chances of being happy. In terms of practicality, this means that if you only have one friend in the world, you will be less likely to reap the benefits of the web of connectivity. The more nodes you connect yourself to (the more people you interact with, the more friends you make), the more probable it is that the benefits (and I suppose negatives) of pay it forward will come back to you and bring you happiness. In order to offset the negatives of this web, it is important to increase the benefits, and this means being a good, moral and just person.