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Stumbling On Happiness

Daniel Gilbert

Humans are different because they are only animals which think about the future. (Discounts birds and animals which lay in stores for the winter as they are simply following instinct. Shortened days trigger food-burying programs in squirrel brains, but a squirrel "knows" about the future in the same way as a falling rock "knows" about gravity.)

Patently obvious to all of us that conjoined twins must be very unhappy, and the dangerous operation to separate them is imperative. But if you ask the twins themselves, they will tell you that they wouldn't have it any other way. And not just a few of them feel like that; it is practically universal. But most 'normals' reject their opinion - "They are just saying that to cheer themselves up" or "They don't know what happiness is" (as if the speaker does!). More books on Mind

John Stuart Mill said "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question."

Another philosopher, Robert Nozick, described an imaginary virtual reality pleasure machine that allowed someone to have any experience they wanted, and at same time letting them forget that they were hooked up to a machine. He decided that no-one would want to be hooked up to such a machine for the rest of their life, because the experience would be artificial.

Belief that, to be happy, your life has to be proper, moral and meaningful. For Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and even Epicurus, the only true happiness came from a life well-lived - the virtuous performance of one's duties, with the precise meaning of 'virtuous' being left up to the individual.

And then later the Christian theorists added a twist to that idea. "Happiness' wasn't necessarily the product of a life of virtue, but the reward for it, and the reward was not necessarily to be expected in this lifetime.

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