Need to Refine Our Collective Definition for Happiness

Watch for this film this year: http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/  What makes for happiness is not simple.  On the one hand, our material culture is supposed to make us happy but we know that it is bringing ecological downfall.  The first pary of the film, Century of the Self, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self (you can also watch it on You Tube) is called “Happiness Machines.”  It tells how mass consumerism was influenced directly by Freudian ideas for how the human psyche works.  We need a new definition of “happiness.”

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7 Responses to Need to Refine Our Collective Definition for Happiness

  1. How Happy Is Your State?

    The newest installment of the Happiness Index has arrived and residents of the Midwest will be happy to learn that their strangle-hold on the top spots remains intact. There have been some big moves however. Vermont made a big leap, and New Jersey and Lousiana took serious tumbles. There’s also been some movement at the bottom and residents of the Sunshine State may be unhappy to learn that, well, they’re the least happy state in the nation, when it comes to money matters.
    http://www.mainstreet.com/slideshow/moneyinvesting/news/happiness-index-nj-mass-have-blues

  2. John Bilorusky says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I have lots of questions and thoughts. For now, one question to share: I wonder to what extent people’s happiness is promoted by being surrounded by others who are happy, and to what extent being surrounded by unhappy people makes it more difficult to”feel happy”? I’m sure there are many complexities to this. This is one thought, anyway.

  3. I think that point is assumed when we are talking about having a society where there is a social services safety net combined with easy access to education but not just education for a career but cultural and civic education that builds a democratic society as with the folk school movement. If there are people who are depressed and mentally ill like Jared Loughner, who recently shot Congresswoman Gifford in Arizona, and we don’t catch their problems beforehand, we are going to have much more unhappiness of this kind. There has been a strong movement in Scandinava, with the kind of social safety net they have, to watch for these kinds of problems before they become manifest. If we offer the poorer citizens a chance to be educated so they can participate in society and put their life together, everyone will be happier. We live in a society where we fear being assaulted by society’s outcasts. How do you put a price on the sense of improved well being we would have if we could minimalize this factor by following the path I’m suggesting? Our society labels this kind of function of government to be akin to a type of communism where just a few rule the masses or the socialism of Hitler when it is really a type of democracy that has made for happier societies in Scandinavia and other places in the world. You have to struggle of course through education and dialogue, to find the right balance. There is another important angle, the concern for operating a community using local goods and services which I think is an important point made in the upcoming film project, referenced above, The Economics of Happiness. Indigenous peoples have always lived this way and struggle with corporated takeover of their lives. So there are really many dimensions to address when it comes to happiness.

  4. Another thought:
    I wonder if happiness is the right measuring stick?
    My sense is that life is fundamentally a struggle between ups and downs and right and wrong. I, for one, find myself much more grateful for the ups after fighting my way back from a downer. And I am not happy as long as there is injustice, ignorance and pain in the world.
    I will confess, however, that Denmark’s reputation for happiness does ocassionally sound the siren’s song tempting me to just lighten up and try it for a while–as does Vermont! The Midwest somehow falls short.

  5. I don’t know why you focus on right or wrong. Are you implying perhaps that happiness is a luxury when there are so many problems? I think happiness is a motivator and we have to get beyond money as a motivator. For those who have a very religious background as you and me, happiness comes from looking for how to make things better. However, sometimes I think we try to hard, using the same ways that aren’t working.

    Here’s another article about this study that ranked Denmark at the top, http://www.bmj.com/content/333/7582/1289.full . They come up with all kinds of criteria for happiness, including low expectations. They compare demographics with other European countries that are also high on this scale. Here’s one where they list the top ten, including Sweden and Finland: http://www.financialjesus.com/how-to-get-rich/top-10-happiest-countries/. The headline says, “Some people are rich before they have money.” At this site they say Norway is number 19 on the scale and that happiness is most closely associated with health, followed by wealth and then education: http://www.peterhorn.dk/ExecutiveMagazine/Stoppress/061031_world_map_of_happiness_denmark_on_top.asp.

    Here’s another one, http://webspawner.com/users/donquijote50/ , where they list areas where Scandinavian countries are at the top. It just goes on and one. A strong happiness factor in these countries seems well established, with some minor exceptions, in my view.

    What’s missing here is the understanding of how education can lead to a better quality of life and fewer problems like poor people begging and dying on the street and crime. Why not think about happiness and one’s sense of well being as an individual and for society as a whole?

    We do need to sharpen our view of social democracy and see that we are not talking about socialism run by a few but by all. In the US, because our history, including the McCarthy era, we are afraid to use the “S” word and also because Hitler had a socialist party. However, we are talking about “democratic” socialism, run by educated people who get together to work things out. Education is the crux, but not top down education, education developed first in a setting where people can learn to get along so they can communicate freely and solve problems together. I think the folk school is an important model for this.

    As we discussed earlier, http://folkschool.wisrville.org/2010/08/20/background-information-on-the-folk-school-movement-grundtvig-and-the-happiness-factor/#comments, “Hygge,” is a Danish value to create a social space where everyone is engaged positively. Another value I read about in the book by Steven Borish, The Land of the Living, The Danish Folk High Schools and Denmark’s Non-Violent Path to Modernization http://www.bluedolphinpublishing.com/landlivg.htm ,
    is the lack of rigidity or willingness to bend the rules. We aren’t saying that Denmark is perfect, but that this unique attitude for having an educational environment is the secret ingredient to better living for all.

    Things are different in different cultures and geographic regions of the world. But for instance, look at the story, Three Cups of Tea, how education is a positive influence on Afghanistan. Learning to use education for social change rather than warfare, are perhaps the extremes we are comparing here. I’m not telling you anything new here of course.

    I’m also concerned about indigenous people and how they usually get left out of the equation and are expected to conform, where development should be a give and take process. Those in more developed societies have a ways to go in learning to appreciate different values including environmental/ecological awareness.

    • Richard, I’m looking more closely at the happiness index for the U.S. I don’t think the midwest is all that unhappy… it depends on which states you mean. I’m looking for the whole list in one place. If you find it, let me know. South Dakota and North Dakota are near the top, close to Hawaii and all three of the latter are above Minnesota. Michigan seems pretty low. This is worth looking at further.

  6. Thanks for sharing such a nice idea, article is pleasant, thats why i have
    read it fully

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