in which I solve positive psychology
is a subfield that arose, afaict, when psychologists and philosophers talked to each other a bunch.
Psychologists: so if you have uncontrolled schizophrenia, or bipolar, or depression, or PTSD, these are all bad, so we help people get out of them
Psych: so they can live more of the good life
Phil: what’s that?
And then we got a lot of dumb word-mashing arguments:
A: how do we help people get happier?
B: well there’s more to life than happiness
A: ok, how about helping people live the good life?
B: what’s the good life?
A: where people are happier
B: what’s happier?
A: right, ok, where we help people achieve eudaimonia
B: what is eudaimonia?
A: it’s where they’re living the good life
B: what’s the good life?
A: when people are flourishing
B: what’s flourishing?
A: when people have hedonic well-being
B: what’s hedonic well-being?
A: sigh ok, here’s a 3-part breakdown of flourishing/eudaimonia/well-being/satisfaction/whatever. or 4 parts. or 5 parts. (PERMA!) or 6 parts.
Bhutan: couldn’t help but overhearing; this sounds awesome, we’re going to measure Gross National Happiness
The entire TED conference, in unison: omg you all are enlightened wise mountain sages1
gosh, why bother
This is exhausting. Why was there so much froth about it? Two things jump out to me as still exciting on a personal level2:
- even asking about “how can people make their lives better, whatever that means”
- having some kind of metric to track “how good your life is”, and “is it going in the right direction”
This “how good is my life metric” still interests me. I want to answer questions like these3:
- I was on Prozac for years; did it help?
- If I try a new antidepressant, is it working?
- Is this job making me miserable? Is my life overall better or worse than the last job, when I spend 40 hours a week on it?
is surprisingly easy: ask myself, “Do I want more of my life?”
If I woke up tomorrow and it was Groundhog Day and I just experienced today again (“for the first time”, so I’m not bored), would I be happy about it? What if I experienced it 3 times? 100 times?
(Sci-fi fans could say “would I want to spin up a copy of myself to relive today?")
Or, would I like to fast-forward today? Would I like to blink and it’s nighttime? If a copy of me were just spinning up and waking up this morning, and I knew it was going to re-experience yesterday once, would I prefer to let it run through the day, or would I shut it down?
some possible objections
I keep looking for ways this thought experiment fails, and it keeps not failing.
- “what if you’re wrong about whether you’re happy?” … is this possible? If you love staring at trains and would Groundhog Day a day at the train station 1000 times, I’m prepared to bite that bullet and say that your life is pretty good
- “what if you’re not really happy, you just go on a drug bender and think you’re really happy for a day?” I … don’t think this exists? If you’re hiding from your emotions with drugs or sex or roller coasters or whatever, you don’t really have a great time! Or, if we allow that you can forcibly bliss yourself out, we just have to extend the time window: “would you relive this week/month/year?” or, “for how many of the last N days would you relive this day?”
- “even the hardest struggles become fond memories later” No they don’t. If you think this, you haven’t had hard struggles.4
me rn, and disclaimer
Anyway. I’m in fast forward time right now. I’d love to go to sleep and wake up in 6 months. (not like Rip Van Winkle, but like I’ve lived like my normal self and it just happens to be 6 months later.) It’s not great. But at least I have a sense of how bad it is. Worse than any time since about 2013-14 at least; probably worse than that.
That said (and maybe I don’t need to say this but I’m going to err on the side of caution) fast-forward time is not the same as being sucidal. Just because you’d rather not experience today, that doesn’t mean that you never want to experience again, and it doesn’t mean that you’d accept all the pain (physical/mental, to yourself and others) involved in sucide. Fast-forward time is any day less than 0/neutral; su*cidal is when you’re below -10.
And while I’m personally less than 0, I’m nowhere near -10, and I do have all the support networks where I feel confident I’d get the help I need if I did get that bad.
Bhutan: also all our ethnic Nepalese people are exiled. TED: sorry, we lost interest ↩︎
of course I’m steering clear professionally, I hate doing this kind of work. but I do want my life to be better. ↩︎
I’m also a little bit interested in finer-grained questions: “does taking ashwagandha make my life better?” but I think the answer to these are either a definite yes, or too hard to tell ↩︎
Not claiming I have had very hard struggles. But I’ve had struggles that were bad enough that they’re scars, not pleasant memories. ↩︎
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