The Pursuit of Happiness

Presentation to the Melbourne Philosophy Forum, August 7th, 2011

1. Typical Definitions of Happiness
1.1 the quality or state of being happy, good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy. (e.g., from Collins English Dictionary)
1.2 Origin (hap + y) 1150–1200; Middle English 1.3 Perspectives of "happiness" can come from religious, philosophical, psychological and economic viewpoints - plus a fairly unique revealed here.

2. Theological and Religious Perspectives
2.1 Religious perspectives generally suggest that happiness must involve adherence to the religious perspective. In many versions this involves a "beatific vision" - how happier could one be, but in receiving direct perception (which visual or other sensual) of God? In some theological perspectives this only occurs to the faithful and after they have entered heaven. Some examples:
2.2 In Vedic religions this concept is called "Dar?ana", a state of union with the omnipresent Brahman. However it is also applied for the worshiper meeting a guru, and can take the form of touching the guru's feet.
2.3 In Sunni Islam, the Qur'an includes a verse that in Paradise the face of believers will be radiant, as they gaze upon Allah. In contrast Shi'ites believe that it's impossible to see Allah because would require a form.
2.4 In Eastern Orthodox theology an equivalent is the Tabor Light, the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, and identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion. In Roman Catholicism Thomas Aquinas the beatific vision as the human being's "final end" in which one attains to a perfect happiness; it is immediate in paradise, and mediated on earth.
2.5 In the Buddhist philosophy-religion, happiness receives a central theme (far more important than obedience, salvation etc). Buddhism recommends following the Eightfold Path to achieve happiness, and enlightenment (Nirvana) is a state of everlasting peace when one overcomes desires and cravings. The philospher Schopenhauer explicitly concurred with this model: "The world for him was a "vale of tears, full of suffering. All happiness is an illusion." The outer world of suffering however also provided the possibility for inner happiness and enlightenment.

3.0 Secular Philosophical Perspectives
3.1 The Hellenic philosophic perspective was "acquisition" (as it were) of eudaimonia, "a good spirit", which has a central place in Hellenic ethics and is often used with "virtue" (arete) - it meant doing the highest possible good. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle described eudaimonia to means "doing and living well" (the good life). Eudaimonia is, however, broader than conscious happiness in Aristotle. For Socrates (in the Meno, Apology, and Crito) eudaimonia is defined as moral virtue in contrast to wealth, reputation and honours (The Stoics took up this point even further). Plato follows this in The Republic, arguing that even if all physical desires were satisfied a soul without virtue will still lack inner harmony. Epicurus identifies the eudaimon life with the life of pleasure with utilitarian calculation. (Compare with Aristippus who claimed happiness was achieved through hedonistic pleasure).
3.2 More modern utilitarian approaches to happiness include Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) and argued, through consideration, "The enjoyment of life requires a deliberate handling with it. I enjoy my life twice as much as the others" and suggested this could be achieved throuph... "Philosophy makes those who are devoted to her, happy and cheerful." Jeremy Benthem, considered the founder of utilitarianism, applied the same principle on a social level combining ethics with subjective 'calculus of felicity' (based on intensity, duration, certainty, temporal distance, fecundity, independence from opposite reactions, number of affected). John Stuart Mill argued cultural, intellectual and spiritual satisfaction could also be included.
3.3 In more contemporary times, the philosophy of happiness - that is, happiness discussed in terms of epistemology and ontology - has moved to discussions of psychology of happiness (equivalent of epistemological approaches) and economic of happiness (equivalent of ontological approaches).

4. Psychological Happiness
4.1 In the twentieth century a number of psychologists too the quest for happiness seriously; Abraham Maslow (hierarchy of needs, culminating in "self-actualisation), Carl Rogers (client-centered therapy leading to "the fully functioning person), Eric Fromm (Frankfurt School psychoanalyst, happiness from love and freedom - and politically, a humanistic and democratic socialism).
4.2 In the twenty-first century, these approaches are found in "positive psychology", which seeks to complement the clinical psychology's interest in mental illness; major advocate is Martin Seligman. Emphasis is on short-term positive effects, supplemented by neuropsychiatry (e.g., Stefan Klein's 'The Science of Happiness') or evolutionary approaches (Bjørn Grinde's 'Darwinian Happiness'). Three general approaches; (a) The Pleasant Life (b) The Good Life and (c) The Meaningful Life (biological, social and self)
4.3 Positive psychology (largely from proir research) has collected a range of empirical data: (a) younger (20s) and older (70s) people tend to be happier; the midlife crisis (40-50) is a period of decline in happiness. Wealth makes a big difference to the poor (c.f., Maslow) but only a small difference from middle-class upwards (the Easterlin paradox). Neither having a good education or an IQ higher than 120 increases happiness. Parenting is weakly correlated with happiness (toddlers and teenagers may decrease it!). Some evidence of seasonal affective disorder - a minimum dose of sunlight per day seems to offset most climatic mood disorders. Partnership and social networks are correlated with happiness. Diet and excersise have a very strong correlation with happiness. The most significant single contributing factor however is genetics.

5. Economic Happiness
5.1 The most obvious and well-known economic measure that should correlated with overall happiness is Gross Domestic Product per capita. This appears to have less difference after a GDP of 15,000 USD per annum or a household income of 75,000 USD per annum (2010 figures). Benjamin Radcliff has provided a series of papers that suggests, alternatively, that a generous welfare system provides "positive liberty" and increased happiness through improving overall quality of life. See also Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett ("The Spirit Level", 2010). Employment in particular provides not just income but also social relationships and the possibible opportunities for self-actualisation.
5.2 The Economist's published a Quality of Life index in 2005, which showed a positive correlation between GDP per capita and quality of life, as expeted. However it also showed ignificant disparities between the two depending on how that wealth was used. The nations were the Quality of Life was significantly higher (10 ranks or more) than their GDP per capita in the larger economies included places like Sweden (+14), Italy (+15), Spain (+14) and New Zealand (+10). Places where the QoL index was significantly lower that their GDP per capita included the United States (-11), the United Kingdom (-16), Saudi Arabia (-23), and almost at the bottom of the list (despite being a mid-range economy according to GDP per capita), was Russia (-50). The best places to live, overall, were Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark and Spain, Singapore and Finland.
5.3 Quality of Life indicies have also been implemented in a number of Asian countries. The former King of Bhutan introduced the Gross National Happiness metric in 1972. Thailand also instituted such an index in 2006 releasing monthly GNH by polling the population surveying various satisfaction levels. North Korea has also announced an international Happiness Index in 2011, claiming that North Korea itself came in second, behind China which was first.

6. An American Dream: Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (The American Declaration of Independence)

6.1. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is presented as natural rights, which are inalienable (cannot be given away). The notion of Happiness in this context is very much tied to the language of the period. Richard Cumberland (1672) referred used the phrase meaning the promotion of well-being in others. A more common tripartite slogan at the time (deriving from John Locke) was "life, liberty and property". Neither Franklin and Jefferson however felt that this was a necessary role of government.
6.2 Instead, according to Hannah Arendt (On Revolution, 1962) the pursuit of Happiness refers to public freedom and the ability to engage in public participation and well as private welfare. Arendt argues that limiting happiness to private freedom is highly limited and the lack of public freedom leads to totalitarianism. As well as the usual varieties (Stalinism and Nazism) Arendt also locates the possibility of a 'totalitarian democracy' based on the instrumentalisation of mass society; she sees the only viable alternative to be the "revolutionary spirit" of public participation as found in federations of councils, similar to the polis of the ancient Hellenes. In 1999 Frey and Stutzer, University of Zurich, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, have empirically correlated this with happiness.
6.3 More recently this debate has shifted to the existence, and formation of opinion, in the public sphere. Following Arendt, Habermas agrees that democracy requires a space of life where private people can come together and engage in enlightened debate. Further Habermas argues for an "ideal speech situation" for the best possible environment for communicative rationality including (i) Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse, (ii) Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever, (iii) Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse (iv) Everyone is allowed to express his attitudes, desires and needs. (v) No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising their rights. This requires certain political and economic freedoms.