Dec 11, 2004
Next Sunday's meeting is about happiness, I'm sure we are all looking forward
for some new ideas and suggestions.
In the meantime, I have activated the yahoo group for the philomadrid, however I
have been toooo busy to organise it; i.e. there is nothing there!! Theoretically
this email should be posted to the group. During the last meeting we agree that
the yahoo group will be used for:
> philosophical exchanges between members
> postings of activities organised by members (eg exhibition visits etc)
> help, wanted, offers by members
> the weekly write up.
I will start by vetting the emails at first to see how it goes, and for security
reasons (ie robot viruses) I will approve membership. I also suggest you keep
your email private. These are the details:
www.yahoo.co.uk --> groups (have to register) --> philomadridgroup
Post message: firstname.lastname@example.org
List owner: email@example.com
I'm also new at this!!
Finally, don't forget that there is the offer by the Broadsheet magazine for a
discount subscription. Details from Rachel at TBS Tel: 91 523 7484/Fax: 91 522
7843 firstname.lastname@example.org or me.
Have fun, see you Sunday,
SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, right at the very back of thepub,
then turn left OR down stairs!
email@example.com tel 606081813
Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004
metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147
There is a concept in high street politics known as the 'feel good factor.'
Briefly, the idea is that voters approve of a government or governing party
depending on how happy they are or feel. It does not matter how one's financial
situation is; one can be doing quite well, but what matters is how one feels.
The consequence of the feel good factor is that parties are re-elected not
necessarily on merit, but on the subjective feelings of the voters at the time
of the elections.
The reason why I mention the feel good factor is because it is a very good
illustration of the importance of happiness. Collective happiness can seriously
influence our political and economic life. How important is subjective happiness
or personal happiness?
The first issue we can look at is this: is happiness something we achieve or
something that happens to us?
If happiness is something we achieve then the suggestion is that we can have a
formula that we can apply to be happy. As a secondary consequence, if we can
write a formula for happiness we can generalise it and make it applicable to
everyone. In other words, happiness becomes an objective entity. Moreover, It
can be harvested and wrapped in glossy packaging and sold at a premium price in
department stores. This would, of course, make some people rich and many others
Should happiness turn out to be something that happens to us then a number of
things follow. First of all, there is nothing we can do to be happy. We are
either fated to be happy or randomly chosen to be happy.
This also means that happiness is subjective. Subjective because it is something
specific to each individual and therefore not transferable to others; my
happiness cannot be used in any shape or form to help others become happy. To
use Machiavelli's analogy, it is similar to saying that my suite of armour will
not fit anyone else comfortably.
In issues like happiness we are always tempted to ask: what is happiness? We are
not alone, many scientists, philosophers, universities and even countries
(Bhutan established a Gross National Happiness metric) try to answer this
question. And if we can give an objective answer we can then measure happiness.
In a recent study* it was suggested that our happiness depended on mundane, day
to day things such as sleep or commuting to work.
At the very least we can say that happiness is a personal state of affairs with
two components. The first component is physical. This can range from not being
in pain to experiencing certain physical sensations that make us have happy type
feelings. The second component is maybe more elusive, since we can describe it
as spiritual, emotional or even metaphysical. This is even harder to pin down.
This type of happiness manifests itself as being at peace with one's self to
relishing the lingering taste of beauty. Or a dinner in a two star Michelin
restaurant, which ever comes first.
But we cannot escape an objective view of happiness. One thing about happiness
is that not only do we know when we are happy, but also think we know when
others are happy. And from here we are very close to claiming we are able to say
who ought to be happy. The next port of call is the slippery slope towards value
judgements so beloved by spoil sports, do gooders, busy bodies, elitists
organisations, political parties and religions.
However, there is always the question, happy at what cost? Not only is this a
complex issue, but the implications are enormous. I will not even try to go into
the issue, but I will try to give a context relevant list: money, labour
conditions, legal and moral acts, environment, friends, partners, social
relations, you name it, it appears on the balance sheet.
The quest for happiness, however, continues. Utilitarianism gives us a frame of
mind which tells us to maximise our happiness. Sometimes there seems to be some
misunderstanding here. Maximising one's happiness does not necessarily mean that
one has to be at an all time high 24/7. On the other hand, rejecting all the
pleasures of the flesh, as some would put it, does not seem to be the best way
out to what is already a difficult problem.
Collective happiness, in the form of the feel good factor, might not be the best
form of happiness all round. We need something more manageable. A village fête
is definitely more manageable. Yes, a village fête might be fun, but somehow it
lacks that something special.
A group of close friends is always a good place to start looking for happiness
and for once the idea of intimacy appears on the horizon. But then again the
ultimate intimate experience is with one's self. I mean, why share when one can
have everything, but I'm not going to advocate hedonism nor self gratification.
Especially when it takes two to tango. Maybe the feel good factor can be
re-interpreted as the good feel factor?
* Financial Times 3rd December 2004