What Makes You Happy?

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

happiness-in-intelligent-people-is-the-rarest-think-i-knowFor Ralph Waldo Emerson it was the triumph of principle. Washington found it inexorably linked to virtue, and George Bernard Shaw said it was “health and a course to steer.” Singer Cheryl Crowe said it is whatever doesn’t make you sad, and comedian Johnny Carson said it is “a tiger in your tank and a pussy cat in your backseat.” When  Jefferson wrote defiantly that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, he still only mentioned three:   “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Whatever happiness is, it is a common quest and virtually universally misunderstood in the cacophony of  money, sex, and digital splash that passes for it in the West. When parents are asked about the single most important outcome in their children’s lives the answer is invariably ” to be happy.”  Why then is the human feeling of  happiness so elusive in the modern world with all of our advances in science, technology, nutrition, medicine and standard of living?

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.

~LEO TOLSTOY, War and Peace

The answer may not lie outside the human mind though undoubtedly external factors impact human happiness. The topic has been studied and the conclusions from the experts are surprising  — at least to many of us in the modern world. Let’s start with some basics. People are social animals. We know that isolated people rarely survive psychologically. Hence one of life’s greatest punishments is solitary confinement. We also know that acquisitions of things – money,power, prestige — doesn’t bring happiness. In fact as the Los Angeles Times pointed out (here), the reverse may be true in that happy people tend to attract wealth and all that goes with it. Finally, we know that we all want happiness and that we don’t consciously avoid the feeling.

So what then can get our dopamine going to produce that sense of well-being that we value. It seems three factors play a significant role according to documentary filmmaker Andrew Shapter, who produced the documentary Happiness Is.  Shapter piled his crew into an RV and went around America seeking the answer. After three years, his conclusions seem both simple and elusive in the modern world.

First, we need relationships and social ties. Family, friends, and acquaintances all contribute our well-being. While human conflicts among social groups are well-documented, the presence of strong family interaction still makes people happy.  It’s why we still all gather at grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner though we know Uncle Charlie will invariably make some statement to make us angry. Researcher Nic Marks of the New Economic Foundation cites research that says people in Western democracies who value money are less happy that those who value relationships. In fact, the happiness in valuing relationships extends beyond family ties into a connection with the whole community. Thus simply treating everyone with respect and dignity  — as we ideally would treat family — adds more to your own happiness than anything you could acquire. It’s outflow over inflow.

Second, we all need a sense of purpose. George Bernard Shaw may have crystallized the thought by reminding us that we need a course to navigate. Aimlessly wandering through our lives on some tropical beach may seem a romantic idea by freeing ourselves from responsibilities attendant to any important endeavor, but it seems that won’t make us happy for any length of time. MetLife Insurance Company working in conjunction with Richard J. Leider, author of  The Power of Purpose,  found that having a clear reason to live was the largest factor in “living the good life.”

That sense of purpose is “interrelated with vision — having clarity about the path to the good life and focus — knowing and concentrating on the most important things that will get you to the good life.” Over eight in 10 (82 percent) of those who feel their lives have purpose are living the good life compared to 35 percent for those who are not living the good life. (article here)

It was the master of psychology and the  greatest of Russian authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who explained that, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” (The Brothers Karamazov)

Finally, for happiness’ sake we need to care for others — and not just those with whom we have a relationship. The old adage about it being better to give than to receive may be a statement of selfishness, after all.  In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubormirsky, explains research into giving that benefited the givers more than the recipients.  A group of  women with multiple sclerosis  volunteered as peer supporters to other patients. Each volunteer received training in compassionate listening techniques and called the patients to talk and listen for just 15 minutes at a time. After three years researchers found that they had increased self-esteem, self-acceptance, satisfaction, self-efficacy, social activity, and feelings of mastery in their patients but more strikingly the positive outcomes for the volunteers were even greater than for the patients they were helping.

Aristotle understood the selfish component of giving. For the old Greek philosopher happiness was tied to self-dignity.   He said, “Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.” Thus acquiring honors, money, and fame were of no value unless it was perceived by the recipient that it was honestly won. And winning them meant doing it on  a foundation of good character in service to others.

So what does make you happy? Can we find it  though good works, a sense of purpose, and strong family relationships? What do you think?

And remember, your answer means a lot. There’s a test on it  every day.

(Sourced Throughout)

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

98 thoughts on “What Makes You Happy?

  1. Why then is the human feeling of happiness so elusive in the modern world with all of our advances in science, technology, nutrition, medicine and standard of living?

    Maybe our “science, technology, nutrition, medicine and standard of living” have more myth in them than we want to be aware of?

  2. I am going to go against the status quo wisdom of the day a little here. I know what I need to make me happy; I cannot speak for others. First, I need to know my loved ones are safe and secure as well as myself. Second, I like a lot of solitude with more of that than people. I get as much a sense of purpose helping animals as I do people. I like to plant flowers and herbs and sit on a porch and watch them grow. Ultimately, we are all unique not clones and the recipe for happiness we must figure out all by ourselves. Perhaps, that’s our real purpose for being here.

  3. Happiness is an illusive concept….. Those with or without degrees or formal or informal education can tell you that best….. I think your comments yesterday mark hit the nail on the head…. Some of the richest folks you’ll ever meet have very little material goods….. They in my experience are the richest and happiest people you’ll ever meet…. Good post…

  4. mespo:

    Everyone should have self esteem and happiness. But it takes personal effort, they arent handed to you. You earn them by your own achievements in life.

    A free society is only good if it is comprised of individuals who feel worthy of the blessings of liberty.

  5. I am generally happy most of the time, in that there is always something to do and there are always things to amuse me. In a sense though the times when I am happy are the times I’m not aware that I’m happy, but that I am living in the moment. Introspection of a happy time can kill the spontaneity of it through to much introspection. From experience and with that caveat above I’ll list what things I’ve learned make me happy these days.

    I am happy living in the here and now, unselfconsciously.

    I am happy being with my wife, my children, my grandchildren and my friends, doing anything.

    I am happy when I’m filled with positive emotions to the point of tears.

    I am happy when I’m finished writing my guest blog and publish it, which covers the aspect of having a purpose.

    I am happy when people treat me kindly and I’m happy when I treat others kindly.

    And finally, after all the years of struggle, confusion, hurt and pain I am happy being me and loving the person I am, with all my failings and successes.

  6. Minimize pain and anxiety; maximize mental delight and the companionship of friends and loved ones. Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. Epicurus

  7. What makes me happy? Realizing how good I’ve got it, and taking the time to be thankful for it.

    Sorry to brag, but partly through my own preparation (career choice, investment decisions, choosing which countries I wanted to live in) and mostly by the sheer dumb genetic luck of being born a white male in an educated family in an industrialized Western nation, I’m sitting in the catbird seat. And I know it. I don’t want to forget it, either, or take it for granted.

    I contrast that with my now-ex wife, who had all the same advantages (aside from the being born with one of those unfortunate “Y” chromosomes). She had the lifestyle most people could only dream of — not having to work any more, being able to holiday for a month at a time in Europe staying at hotels that cost €250 a night, a home filled with great food, wine and furnishings… But all she focused on was misery. Peak Oil. Climate Change. The venality of politicians and the corrupt economic system. All of which is true. But if you choose to ONLY look at the shit beneath your feet, and don’t balance it with the sunshine in the blue sky, life looks like crap.

    I believe a lot of our “happiness factor” is genetic. Working with depressed patients in a psychiatric ward — my job gives me that”caring for others” factor the post mentions and I get paid good union wages for it too, hooray! — I can see that some people are just born with a bad balance of brain chemicals. Not enough dopamine, neurons that are too good at gobbling up serotonin, what-have-you, (there’s still so much we don’t know about neurochemistry). They’re just primed to be sad.

    I was born “a happy idiot” (to quote a phrase from an old Jackson Brown song) and I’m pretty sure I’ll stay that way until I pass away. I don’t believe in Fate, or God’s Rewards, or Buddhist Past Lives. But if I did, I’d have to say I musta done something right somewhere along the line to get the roll of the dice I have. The one superstitious factor I have is to be mindful of the happiness I’ve got, because I think that generates more happiness.

  8. I think the article pretty much covers it. The connections with other people make me happy, and so do the events or accomplishments that I feel have made a major positive difference in my world (which includes the world at large); and the more unlikely the accomplishment seems the happier it has made me.

    I do not think the events have to be something I worked to accomplish, some things are just happy accidents or good luck, or reflections of happy outcomes for other people.

  9. What makes me happy? As a guide dog for half blind guy, I like to cut farts in church and act like it was the lady next to us. Some people turn a blind eye to it but most of them hold their noses just as they do for the sermon. If we sit up close to the preacher it makes him speed up the service and then we get to go the coffee and donut scene and I am quiet there. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with a bit of protection from the First Amendment right to free speech and the other prong about freedom of religion. Today is Sunday. Been to church. Ben there, done that. They call it a rank old church and some wonder why.

  10. barkingdog:

    why is it that you dogs have some really smelly farts? Almost unbearable to the human nose. When my dog farts, I usually have to leave the room. He seems healthy and is a golden retriever of 13 but he has always had terrible farts and so have the other dogs I have had.

    Can you please give me an insider’s perspective?

  11. I call BS. There is no one definition of happiness in the human race. What makes one person happy could make another miserable. The idea that socialization, service or sense of purpose would make happiness attainable for all is false. Look at your own children. What makes one happy does not necessarily make the other happy. We are all individuals and need to open our minds and find our own path to happiness.

  12. Bron — one reason dog farts are so noxious us because their diet is heavy in meat. Decomposing meat, whether it’s a squashed possum on the road in the summer heat being broken down by natural bacteria, or kibble being digested by dog-gut intestinal flora, gives off chemicals that are worse on the nose than rotting vegetables. Even worse than Brussels sprouts!

    There might be some evolutionary sense to why we perceive dead meat smells as bad. The same bacteria that decompose dead meat are also good at decomposing living meat, i.e. carnivorous creatures who eat it. So it’s a survival mechanism to perceive rotting flesh as something to avoid. Unless you’re a vulture. In which case you probably work for a TBTF financial institution.

    Dog farts are also bad because of the volume of the gas. Have you ever been around a cat (even more meat-diety than dogs) when it farted? Whooee! But cats are tiny, so they expel fewer cc’s of gas. Plus I think they have enough of a sense of decorum to poot in private most of the time. Not dogs. They’re the frat boys of the animal kingdom.

  13. Bukko,

    As the owner servant to a cat nicknamed “Pooter”, I will testify that they can indeed make your eyes water in a style that would do most dogs proud.

  14. Well I was really stressed out and living only for certain goals. And I am in my late 50s.

    I ended up having lots of sex with someone I’ve known for 40 years and had never even kissed before. That made us both happy.

  15. Anon,

    Good to see you back…. Hey, there are some words you can’t use on here or your posts go into moderation….

  16. I learned that no one but me has the responsibility of making me happy. To put that responsibility on other people is doomed to fail. I have a lot of people in my life who enhance my happiness. I have some who make me sad; but, limit my exposure to those people. I get up every morning and make a conscious decision to be happy all day.

  17. I heard happiness described as “never knowing want”.

    Most people think that only refers to food or shelter, when it also means love and relationships. Note that it can also be interpreted has “having enough”, but not “having an excess”.

    >> Researcher Nic Marks of the New Economic Foundation cites
    >> research that says people in Western democracies who value
    >> money are less happy that those who value relationships.
    >> […] Thus simply treating everyone with respect and
    >> dignity – as we ideally would treat family — adds more to
    >> your own happiness than anything you could acquire. It’s
    >> outflow over inflow.

    Which is why many business people can’t understand why “goodwill” is worth as much as material assets.

    >> The old adage about it being better to give than to
    >> receive may be a statement of selfishness, after all.

    Or as the buddhists say, “The giver should be thankful.” If one has enough to give others when necessary, it’s a sign of good fortune.

  18. One has to wonder about the “happiness” that exists within a bubble of loss of a sense of reality.

    Perhaps it should be called the myth of happiness?

    This scientist was happy for years as he promulgated falsehoods within a bubble, but then the woke up with a different “happiness”:

    they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists like Blaser have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.

    “I love genetics,” Blaser said. “But the model that places our genes at the root of all human development is wrong …”

    (Genes R us). One has to wonder, then, if happiness is like “intelligence” which one premier evolutionist calls “the lethal mutation” (What Kind of Intelligence Is A Lethal Mutation?). If so, then we could be mad to be “happy” under the circumstances of current civilization around us.

    Cave men, still inside the cave of the department of just us.

    Is there a “happy gene” or is “happiness” in today’s world conditions just another “lethal mutation”?

    So “happy” that what is happening around happy gene is irrelevant?

    Just sayin’ …

  19. I guess I am happiest when I am with my family and/or friends. Working in the garden or walking the dog with the love of my life. I do agree with Gene that when an unjust circumstance gets turned around for the better, it makes my day! Of course, until I win the Powerball, I won’t know if money will buy you happiness!
    OS,
    Hang in there!

  20. i think you may be right about money not buying happiness, Gene. all that money mitt has and he just sorta looked constipated.

  21. pete9999 1, January 6, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    i thought about posting the beatles, but given how lennon died i decided not to.
    ===========================================
    One man’s happiness is another man’s warm gun.

  22. Writing without having read preceding comments.
    ======================================

    Don’t take this as praise, just an observation with a picayune of judgement.

    Messrs Messpo727272. Spindell, and Howington,

    You have provided an unforgettable weekend and a start for the New Year
    ===============.

    Mark,

    Examples that speak to me clearly. I would agree with all, except Aristotle, but I do that ofter, both him and Plato. All of us upon receiving praise or honors, know that somewhere we feel we are not due them. Only those with an obsession with honor above all would understand this feeling. For example see the Greek tales where honor comes before family.

    But this feeling of unworthiness is refuted by my gestalt psychologist.
    At every instance you are doing what you can do. Accept that as a fact. You are, that is enough. His words paraphrased.

    Next point:
    “The answer may not lie outside the human mind though undoubtedly external factors impact human happiness.”
    =======

    My take now is that we are a whole as gestalt is founded on, I believe. Ie body and mind.
    As such, we are an integrated organic being subject to the external factors of life as well as internal, from gas to heart failure. It is evaluated by the brain at some level, and who knows by the body directtly or by the autonomous systems themselves, which react do their jobs.
    .
    Autonomous systems control more than we think, far better than we could with our conscious mind with its single channel capacity: from the heart’s response to loading, to the need of mastering the muscle systems in effect on all its movements, not just bicycle riding. How many muscles there are in the body I don’t know, but the face alone has over 200. And muscles are organs operating as pulleys attached to different leverage points to create movement of tension. Try to control that with your conscious mind.

    It all is worthy of study and “we” are thankful for these words leading to happiness, however/whereever we look for it, and as you point out there are altruism which leads to benefit to the giver. Let us practice more. Perhaps it will have a great positive effect on us and our society, each and all parts.

    I don’t think the rich know that.
    =========
    PS There are rat experiments and are allegedly also
    said to be human ones (in fiction) that pressing a lever which delivers the “dopamine” reward, makes the need for food secondary. Food only is eaten if doing so gives a kick to the dopamine injection/shock, for each bite swallowed. Or so it is alleged.

    What results “pressing the lever” gave human subjects as to development is another tale.

  23. idealist707 1, January 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Writing without having read preceding comments.
    ——————————————————

    Don’t take this as praise, just an observation with a picayune of judgement.

    Messrs Messpo727272. Spindell, and Howington,

    You have provided an unforgettable weekend and a start for the New Year
    ———————————————

    Mark,

    Examples that speak to me clearly. I would agree with all, except Aristotle, but I do that ofter, both him and Plato. All of us upon receiving praise or honors, know that somewhere we feel we are not due them. Only those with an obsession with honor above all would understand this feeling. For example see the Greek tales where honor comes before family.

    But this feeling of unworthiness is refuted by my gestalt psychologist.
    At every instance you are doing what you can do. Accept that as a fact. You are, that is enough. His words paraphrased.

    Next point:
    “The answer may not lie outside the human mind though undoubtedly external factors impact human happiness.”
    ——————————————–

    My take now is that we are a whole as gestalt is founded on, I believe. Ie body and mind.
    As such, we are an integrated organic being subject to the external factors of life as well as internal, from gas to heart failure. It is evaluated by the brain at some level, and who knows by the body directtly or by the autonomous systems themselves, which react do their jobs.
    .
    Autonomous systems control more than we think, far better than we could with our conscious mind with its single channel capacity: from the heart’s response to loading, to the need of mastering the muscle systems in effect on all its movements, not just bicycle riding. How many muscles there are in the body I don’t know, but the face alone has over 200. And muscles are organs operating as pulleys attached to different leverage points to create movement of tension. Try to control that with your conscious mind.

    It all is worthy of study and “we” are thankful for these words leading to happiness, however/whereever we look for it, and as you point out there are altruism which leads to benefit to the giver. Let us practice more. Perhaps it will have a great positive effect on us and our society, each and all parts.

    I don’t think the rich know that.
    ————————–
    PS There are rat experiments and are allegedly also
    said to be human ones (in fiction) that pressing a lever which delivers the “dopamine” reward, makes the need for food secondary. Food only is eaten if doing so gives a kick to the dopamine injection/shock, for each bite swallowed. Or so it is alleged.

    What results “pressing the lever” gave human subjects as to development is another tale.
    ======================================================
    You made me happy. ;)

  24. What makes me happy?

    Just now there is required very little to do that.

    Contact with others and hopefully friendships, finally after 76 years of none.
    Awaking to another day, rising to use an impeded body, and a sluggish brain due to hypoxia.
    Use of my mind at interesting tasks and pleasures.
    Perhaps not taking my position too seriously, ie spend excessive time on the world’s problems or my own. (thanks bukko)
    And the joy in my mobility, however limited for now. Always hope for the better.
    Lastly that life has given me a feeling that I can understand so many things almost instinctively and without training. No, I can not play an instrument but I can feel when they are played by a soul talking directly, whether a piano, a voice or an orchestra. When professionalism takes over, the soul disappears and the music is empty
    Same for art, architecture, etc. Life glows when this happens.
    And that which has been mentioned before, when being in the now and not conscious of other matters including myself.

    That’ll do for a start.

    Appreciative feedback not forgotten. Thanks for that too.

    Returning´to reading earlier comments. Thankful for those too.

  25. Bukko

    My stomach hurts from laughing. I love piss and skit allusions, if jokingly said. Gets me everytime. All we three year olds do. You should visít a Swedish kindergarten for a demo of their tastes in jokes. Kiss och bajs get their approval.

    My dogs always rose and left the room slinking, even if it was a quiet fart.
    They noted the smell or the action done and fled the odor and/or my disapproving exclamations.
    Fortunately our later cat went somewhere else when the need arose.

  26. P Smith,

    Could that be why arabs are so glad to take the check? I will give my Morocan tale sometimes on how it is determined who takes it.
    And of course this may apply in other situations too for them.

  27. Bron,

    “this should make any lover of strings happy”

    Sex of course has nothing to do with it.
    Can’t you feel this is an expression of how they want to do it, speaking of enthuhusiam and the rhythm alternatíng almost instinctively. Where does that come from? Silly question.
    Of course you knew this but only I am dumb and take the bait. :-)

    Wish I was 50 years younger. At least the mind comprehends it now.
    I would have been delighted to do any of them. Like the girl, who shyly asked me after the first one after meeting each other 30 minutes earlier, in Provincetown, Cape Cod, “Can we do it again.”

    Will spare you more details.

  28. Bron,

    You did notice the difference. The one in Dallas was a monophonic external mike picking the sound including hall acoustics.
    Either Ms Hotinthepants is ready to orgasm or she knows that there is a big one waiting for her. Nothing like a hard ride in Dallas to get you going.
    Oil does grease things they say. I’ll exclude money for now.
    Hope I’mnot too porno for you. Dirty ol’ man! Usch!

  29. Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
    Buddha

    Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
    Oscar Wilde

  30. Happy is for me:

    2013 Dodge Charger, open road, open throttle.minimum speed 145
    Savagely ravenous appetite, and the best French and Italian Food to offer.
    Two hour back and foot massage
    A politician’s arrest, there is no greater calling or schadenfreude
    Good night’s sleep
    Someone else taking care of things for a while
    Wikipedia
    Colmar, France
    Weihnachts Markt, Basel, Switzerland
    Snorkeling in Kauaii
    American Pop music of the early to mid 1980’s
    The Simpsons
    Making things better for good people.
    Friends and family
    Never asking God for anything, yet beholding the sunsets as His gifts.
    Antique shops
    Middle English books
    Slightly more money in the bank than last month. (even 1 dollar is good)
    Days without tremors or rigidity
    Funny movies and esoteric jokes
    Whatever makes me smile or laugh

  31. Pete
    / Video of Texas Secession Movement /
    ~+~
    Now that would be glorious. Imagine if Texas and Montana’s citizens overwhelmingly voted to break off from the union due to all the criminal incompetence of the federal government and federal elected officials with their abuses. If Washington, Idaho, and Montana held an election to form their own country I would vote for that out of pure reflex alone.

    It surely would make for some interesting times.

    The federal politicians are going to bankrupt the US Government eventually, while taking our liberty away every year the incumbents are in power. Why should we in the states who’s state gov’t have been financially responsible have to suffer economic disaster when we got our act together, unlike the federal gov’t.

    People should have the power to decide their own destiny, not bureaucrats in DC.

  32. Darren,
    You saw my call: “Secession vote is called. All in favor of a union west of the Mississipi say AYE!

    But do we need a clear and not corruped replicas of EPA, FDA, FAA, etc. only under bureaucrat rule in accordance with laws enacted by a replicaa Congress. Rather than a President weed open public viewed discussions by an executive council. Etc Etc Preliminary thoughts only.

  33. Oro Lee,

    Thank you for the music, particularly the ones that tell a tale in a conversational form.
    And for the inspiration.
    Damn good threads. Are they traditional? Wasn’t here over XMAS and NYEARS last time.

  34. mespo, I returned last night from burying my best friend of 30 years in the Twin Cities. I was asked to give the eulogy of a man who was a WW2 vet, and a true gentleman. He had a masters in philosophy from Oberlin and was a Federal Probation Officer, retiring @ age 70. The man was so respected and good @ his job the Federal judge waived mandatory retirement. As we know, Federal judges can do whatever they want. In this case it was a good exercise of power. This gentleman, which was the theme of my eulogy, suffered the indignity of Parkinson’s the last 10 of his 86 years. While we all want to remember Ray before Parkinson’s I believe we can find a unique happiness in seeing what dignity he carried through the last couple laps of his marathon. There is happiness in the stangest places, you simply must have an open mind, but more importantly an open heart.

  35. Nick,
    Condolences on your loss. Sounds like a true gentleman who carried himself with dignity to the end. The numbers of WW-II vets are diminishing by the day. At our local National Cemetery they seem to have two to three services every day. I have heard Taps played way too many times in the past five years. May he have Godspeed on his journey to forever…

  36. OS, Thanks very much. I gave a brief history and description for the young people in attendance. For them, the term gentleman means “Gentleman’s Club” which is the antithesis of the real meaning. Ray had all the attributes but he was a zen master in the quality of making everyone comfortable in his presence, making them feel like the center of attention. Amen to the WW2 generation leaving us. On my dark days I fear we’re f@cked.

  37. Hi-

    Mindfulness and non-duality/non-attachment are keys to my happiness. More here: http://katzjustice.com/underdog/FairfaxDWIlawyerJan6..html

    Your posting was prescient, because tonight at 5:30 pm, local mindfulness/meditation leading teacher Hugh Byrne will show legal professionals (and law students, I surmise, as well) how to benefit from meditation.

    Also, monthly I coordinate the DC Contemplatie Law Group’s mediation and dinner at Skewera at 7pm.

    Be well. Jon

  38. Jon Katz,

    Kin? Student? Jon Kabat-Zinn.

    I went to mindfulness course here in Sweden. Wasn’t ready for it socially. Better understanding of the swedish ways was needed. Very strictly held here among Swedes.

    Meditation was OK, about as good as eartlier home practice.
    I found IMHO that KZ’s book was worthless after the ca 4th chapter.

    Do keep us informed.
    Different folks, different strokes.

    Have you tried TM?

  39. Nick. My condolences for the loss of your friend. Certainly was quite a fighter and did what he wanted despite his limitations.

  40. nick:

    “There is happiness in the stangest places, you simply must have an open mind, but more importantly an open heart.”

    ***************************

    No one could have said it better. My condolences to you.

  41. SWM and mespo, Grazie mille. Minnesota is a great state and the Twin Cities, where he lived is one of my favs. Just too damn cold this time of year, however. Ray hated the cold. We would spend winters in San Diego together the last 5 years. I’m heading out next week. It will be a bit melancholy w/o him. However, life is beautiful, and life goes on.

  42. mike spindell:

    that was an interesting article.

    There is movement to try and erase the concept of free will from human action and base it all on chemistry, materialism if you will. And worse than that to combine it with determanism. It really takes the humanity right out of you.

    Which I think is what would also happen if there was universal empathy, it would suck the humanity out of people.

  43. NickS,

    My condolences.

    Ans irreverent as usual and the iconoclast of etiquette, I contribute this consoling reflection for consideration.

    Not only the good pass away, but all b@asstards do too.
    However, the b@astards have to pay for their eulogies, and pass out the perfume and barf bags before the ceremony. The stench is overwhelming.

    I would have loved to meet the man. Sorrows we all share, at some time or another. The only passing we cannot sorrow is our own, unless we take it out in advance. Should we or not?

  44. Bron,

    Good comment.

    I have contended that lack of empathy was without survival value, ie “good fitness” and should sometime disappear. Unfortunately, the ways of the rich and powerful and their persistence in surviving, speak against that idea/hope.

    But a hundred thousand years is little time at our mutation rate, and the time selectivity needs when working with what might be a dominant single gene.

    Let’s wish it well in its beneficial work, ie searching and sifting the deadly genes.

    Could we give it any assistance? The French Revelution was not sufficient.

  45. ID, Ray was a very liberal first generation Norwegian. I’m sure you would have been sympatico. As you can imagine, I often busted his balls about the depravity of Norwegian food, including but not limited to lutefisk!.

  46. NickS,

    Would you please stop torturing me with references to winter in San Diego.
    I could actually afford it if I ´could find a mobile “trash” home to hire.

    Let’s hope my arythmism can be mastered. Or a miracle happens. The current medicine has as one of its side effects that you can’t stand sunshine. It turns your skin blue as one consequence of sunning. Just when I thought I could run away from the darkness and knee deep in slush climate.

    We will wait and see says my doctor. Next visit on 17th. Walk one hundred steps at a time and be thankful for that. I am.

    But a two weeks vacation might go. Hoping. There are, as always, many things I want to do before croaking. Says the world’s biggest procrastinator.

    Self-deprecation again. So easy to take that way out.

  47. Lutefisk. Hate it.

    Now over TWO AM, Long past my bedtime
    Good night all..

    Find a video to post here to torture the snowbound.
    Or is it spelled snow bound,
    Neither is funny

  48. Bron,

    A couple of weeks ago I was in the process of writing a column on the problem of evil and I ran into the materialism/determinism arguments. I’ll have to agree they are dehumanizing. Worse still, they reduce evil to a physical defect. I killed the column because I decided it was book material and didn’t lend itself to short form in a comprehensive manner, but the materialism/determinism argument left me cold as well. However, in researching that column, there are some in the sciences who are arguing that it is immaterial and that we should act as if we have free will even if in fact it is not totally free and can be traced to specific biology. Their reasoning is based on studies of what happens when you tell people they should behave as if free will is an illusion. Check this bit I found at Scientific American:

    “In a clever new study, psychologists Kathleen Vohs at the University of Minnesota and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California at Santa Barbara tested this question by giving participants passages from The Astonishing Hypothesis, a popular science book by Francis Crick, a biochemist and Nobel laureate (as co-discoverer, with James Watson, of the DNA double helix). Half of the participants got a passage saying that there is no such thing as free will. The passage begins as follows: ‘‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.’

    The passage then goes on to talk about the neural basis of decisions and claims that ‘…although we appear to have free will, in fact, our choices have already been predetermined for us and we cannot change that.’ The other participants got a passage that was similarly scientific-sounding, but it was about the importance of studying consciousness, with no mention of free will.

    After reading the passages, all participants completed a survey on their belief in free will. Then comes the inspired part of the experiment. Participants were told to complete 20 arithmetic problems that would appear on the computer screen. But they were also told that when the question appeared, they needed to press the space bar, otherwise a computer glitch would make the answer appear on the screen, too. The participants were told that no one would know whether they pushed the space bar, but they were asked not to cheat.

    The results were clear: those who read the anti-free will text cheated more often! (That is, they pressed the space bar less often than the other participants.) Moreover, the researchers found that the amount a participant cheated correlated with the extent to which they rejected free will in their survey responses.”

    In other words, treating free will as a valid construct has societal value and as social creatures it must have evolved because of some measurable benefit to society. In the end and after looking at the research on what the scientists (and in all fairness, philosophers dating back to the 18th Century) call the “hard consciousness problem”, it seemed to me to a bit like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Whether or not our free will is totally free or not is kind of immaterial to our evolving to think it is a real and totally free. Not just because of results found in the study cited above but also because of physics. Randomness is built into the fabric of reality. This is a fact of quantum mechanics. Free will may be influenced by biological determinism, possibly heavily so, but it cannot be totally deterministic because of quantum mechanics. Add that to the notion that it has a measurable and beneficial effect on human behavior? And the conclusion seems to be that no matter the degree of freedom in free will, we should continue to treat it as free and the only way we should let it affect our society and how we deal with evil is as a possible mitigation for bad acts in punishing them, but never let it act as an excuse for bad acts.

    Besides, I think the strict biological determinism view, aside from being simplistic and extremist, ignores a simple psychological fact about free will that we know exists without considering biology at all. That is “free will” is and always has been a bit of a misnomer. You are the collection of your experiences combined with your psychological predispositions. Free will has always been impacted by these facts and ergo was never totally free to begin with. Our will has always been free only to varied degrees created by circumstance as framed by the past and possibly influenced by a foretasted future. What we are free to do is make choices. We can go with our subconsciously driven impulses informed by experience (as we often see people do) or we can use reason and forethought (also net positive biological adaptations) to provide a counterbalance for experience and predisposition (which not enough people do).

  49. Bron,

    Part of what I found perplexing is the ides of “universal empathy”, whivh seems ridiculous to me and I am a very empathic person. The two oppsing views leading to the same result seemed to me to be ultimately reaching the absurd. The idea is to create a just world within the framework of human fallibility. Utopia will never exist and humanity would die from boredom if by chance it ever came about.

  50. Gene,

    Quite nicely put about materialism/determinism. While I can understand the need of some to examine and debunk the notion that we are more than automatons, to my mind the end result of that research is futile. As you rightly state the only way we can deal with the environment of our lives is to act as if we had free will, whether we have it or don’t have it. To behave any other way would be self-defeating. It brings to mind a zen tale I’ve read.

    Many years sgo in a Buddhist Monastery the wise Abbot sensed he was dying and needed to name a successor. He had everyone together in the main room. He placed a crudely made clay pot on the floor in front of everyone and said that the person who could best describe its essence would succeed him. Everyone made their attempts creating poetry, waxing eloquent and celebrsting this pot. The Abbot waved each away in turn. Finally the only person left was the lowly and unlettered cook. Though the multitude laughed the cook strode to the clay pot and kicked it shattering it to shards. The Abbot embraced him and made him his successor

  51. Mike,

    Great story. And oh so very Zen.

    pete,

    I’ve had lefse. It’s really good. Then again, I like flat breads. Tortillas, crepes, blintzes, naan, pita . . . it’s all good. Except for chocolate chip pancakes. I like chocolate. I like pancakes. Something about the combo though just turns me off.

  52. burns the chocolate and makes the griddle hard to clean. mashed banana and a bit of cinnamon mixed with the batter. cover with strawberries after cooking. real butter and a good maple syrup. thick cut bacon on the side.

    now i’m hungry

  53. GeneH,

    Can not recommend our flatbread. My Kerstin’s favorite has a reiindeer on the package. Does not taste good. As Americans love odd lattes. The swedes have their peculiar seasonings in their bread. Although the crispy flat bread is good,

  54. GensH again,

    The comment covere many salient points. Just to add a couple of comments.
    Besides, the question of the quantum , we have at least 3 other undetermined factors which are free.
    There is brownian motion of molecules, we have the inonization factors in the cell, we have the plasticity of the child (and adult to a smaller degree) child brains where both pre-natal and post natal external factors play a large roll, thus giviing twins with separate homes different outcome. Genes (!) did not determine, No pun intended.
    Add to that the ridiculous idea that the brain is poured in concrete leaving experience, as recallle at some level, to guide us.
    As any one knows, ten thousand hours of practice is the figure to strive after, to achieve a mastery of some complex area, when it fact the act of practicing produces mesurable changes in the brains form and capacity

    And the idea that my genes deterrmine me is of cours rediculous when we find that activities, being free will, can still be passed on in a fashion not essentially as a genetically steered one. Epigenetics in other words.

    And lastly we have the idea that the random firring of neurons is a fixed process which results in choices steered in a fixed pattern or modified by experience are both wrong which I can offered an explanation if needed in the failings of signals to always go forward giving always the same results.

    Thanks for bringing it up. Look for the gist of my words, Not the logic. :-)

  55. In summary,

    From a base of fundamental indeterminate processes, you can NOT build high order predetermined processes. There are too many internal and external factors beyond our control, that are profound in their effect, to say we are to any degree predeternined. And all of them are essentially random, as is the universe.

    That you meet and marry a certain woman is one of those.
    How predetermineed was that. Cite fate, but don’t think it has any value as a basis for clarification.

    I won’t use cosmological factors as planets don’t have genes. Ask Frick.

    OTOTOTOT

    It is alleged in approved official biographies, that Dubja and Laura hsd never met before the fateful barbeque where they. met. They had in fact lived in the same “screw one and screw all” luxury aparment complex We know that they went to the same grade school. I will support that they were in fact old phuck buddies. Eveything is the Bushes world is carefully planned and executed. We steer our fates, and alwsys not completely.

  56. NickS, the folks in MADISON AND MINNESOTA.

    How innocent the lyrics were then. Guaranteed OK for children’s ears.

    We have been assaulted by a snowstorm from Russia from love.
    So fae mildly. That’s enough thanks.
    Moscow is an amazing cold place some say.

    Meteorological explabations another time.

  57. ID707:

    “It turns your skin blue as one consequence of sunning.”

    you would be a Smirth, do you have a white beard?

    In California, that might be a turn-on for some of the ladies. :)

  58. Gene H:

    I am a big believer in free will. We all have biological limitations and biological advantages. Some people have excellent taste and smell and so make good cooks, some have excellent eye sight and reflexes and so make excellent fighter pilots or race car drivers.

    But biology is not destiny, if it were we would all be fuked.

    I dont know why this topic irks me so much, it just really pisses me off. The idea that an individual cannot control his own mind, to me, seems facile.

    Do athletes not control their bodies? Are not mind and body linked? If we can control our bodies, why then cannot we control our minds?

  59. “was that an Aristotelian Buddhist?”

    Bron,

    A zen Buddhist. I read that tale about 40 years ago and it has resonated with me since affecting my perspective on life. I pared down the descriptive part to its essence and it is a far more effective story in its’ long form. It has shaped my view in general of philosophers and philosophy. Another quote that I heard around the same time I will paraphrase because I don’t know the source and my memory from that time is clouded in a psychedelic haze.

    “All human philosophy and all the preaching on the meaning of life ca be summed up by the thoughts of a person while taking their Saturday night bath”.

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