comment by sarahconstantin ·
2017-12-23T16:57:58.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Something I think is true but rarely hear stated (except, oddly, by Plato):
The kind of happiness you describe in your post:
Let's say you had been doing some really good work, and took a day off to go on a hike. At some point on the mountain path your mind clears, and you feel calm, content and energetic. There's a warm sensation spreading inside your chest as you look around and find out that you can take in extremely fine details of the landscape, and that its colors seem more vivid than ever. You feel proud of the life you'll come back to, and overall like you are in the right place in the world doing the right things. That's happiness.
That is a mild feeling.
It is a positive feeling -- it is pure and untainted and feels deeply good -- but it is not a loud or intense feeling.
It is not as intensely pleasurable as pain is painful.
It is not as intensely euphoric as a lot of other experiences that are less profound, like recreational drugs or falling in love.
It's no wonder that people aren't willing to put in work to be happy. Happiness is a mild feeling. It isn't the kind of thing you naturally crave really hard. It is a positive feeling -- this isn't some bait-and-switch where an authority tells you "the true happiness consists of obeying my strictures". Pretty much anybody will honestly point at happiness and say "yep, that feels good." Living virtuously really does feel good. The problem is that it feels subtly good.
A character in Eve Tushnet's novel about addiction, Amends, says:
Anyway you do almost get a high from it, from being good to people, making amends, being of service. I mean it's kind of a shitty high, like Robotripping without the headache if you've done that -- no? okay -- but you get a little warm feeling and it takes you out of yourself for a while. Kind of neat.
I think that might be literally true. Living well is a kind of high, but it's a shitty high, measured by intensity of euphoria. It's a hell of a lot more sustainable over time than most other "highs", and less damaging, and has a subtler texture, and it leaves actual tangible progress in its wake -- but as moods go, happiness is really easy to overlook and underrate. Especially if you're used to pain, you expect happiness to be as loud as pain is but in the opposite direction -- and that's just not what it is.
Why does the happiness research point to kind of boring and benign things as making people happy? Practicing gratitude, going to church, tidying up? Wouldn't you expect something a little more sybaritic? But then again, the Epicureans were big on simple living too, instrumentally, as a way to be as happy as possible. I think this might be because happiness is actually kind of low-key by its nature.
Plato compares it to a pleasant scent wafting through the air. The smell of a rose is really beautiful -- but it's delicate. You could miss it. It's not like stuffing yourself with AS MUCH FOOD AS POSSIBLE, which is a very intense feeling but can also give you a bellyache. The rose will definitely not give you a bellyache; it's just beautiful. Subtly, delicately beautiful. Which is why nobody has ever said "god, I would kill for a rose right now."Replies from: SquirrelInHell
↑ comment by SquirrelInHell ·
2017-12-25T04:21:01.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The quoted example is, in all fairness, an example of a mild feeling. However, I only chose that example because that's what I knew the readers could understand, not because it was a great example of what I was talking about.
Your comment seems to me like it implies between the lines, though never quite says, a claim that all happiness that people can realistically hope to achieve is this or other kind of a mild, subtle feeling. This kind of sneaky not-quite-argumentation is perhaps expecially jarring to me in this case because I directly know the unsaid claim to be false.
On a meta level, I find it alarming that you can produce this kind of well-rounded up comment full of clever rhetorics and references and whatever, while covertly reinforcing/excusing a set of beliefs that is not just false but false and harmful. I need to say here that I respect your intellect and ethics based on what I read on your blog, and find it hard to believe you'd do the thing you just did if you had full awareness of what you were actually doing.Replies from: sarahconstantin, kulya-botaniki
↑ comment by sarahconstantin ·
2017-12-25T22:43:52.041Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I believed -- but could be wrong -- that the thing you're pointing at as happiness is mild. Intense euphoria totally exists and I've experienced it many times, but through situations very different than hiking or working. (Usually social or artistic.) I have also gotten euphoria from meditation -- but what I've done to get there is pretty different from what Buddhists usually say is advisable, and it's definitely a transient state. Are you saying that it's possible to get lots of long-term euphoria? Because my model was that brains just aren't set up to do that.Replies from: SquirrelInHell, romeostevensit
↑ comment by SquirrelInHell ·
2017-12-27T15:59:00.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I don't want to mislead you by using my own operationalization of your terms, so I'll just try to give some raw data. This is limited because the only data I'm comfortable quoting is my private experience and there's high ambiguity due to nature of said data.
My concept of euphoria points at a slightly different thing than extreme levels of happiness. I use euphoria to refer to those very enjoyable mental states which also result in reduced clarity of thought and/or ability to act efficiently. This corresponds roughly to having certain mental dials being out of balance with others. Having some dials at extreme levels makes it harder to maintain balance. I am not sure if by "euphoria" you mean anything specific, or just putting more emphasis on feeling very good.
My usual way to roughly quantify overall happiness is by the initial peak and the half-decay time. (Note that putting all of "happiness" on one axis makes me cringe and loses a lot of data, but I grudgingly do it anyway in the interest of communication.) Define Y3B (year's third best) as the peak subjective intensity of positive exprerience of the third highest separate "happiness trip" in one year. Half of Y3B still feels pretty damn intense, and I think it easily meets the criteria of "euphoria" (in the non-specific "super intense feeling good" sense of the word).
Using the concepts above, my personal data:
Typical consistently achievable half-decay times: 12-24h (synthesized from a large number of data points); outliers as high as 2-3 days. (2 data points)
Typical consistently achievable saturation: 90-100% of one day above 0.5 Y3B (on the order of 10 data points) and ~50-70% of one week above 0.5 Y3B (~3 data points). Longer time periods not sufficiently tested.Replies from: sarahconstantin
↑ comment by romeostevensit ·
2017-12-26T08:40:46.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I believe that it is possible for some people to get significant amounts of sustainable euphoria. My school's position is that no one has actually figured out why some people are able to do this and others aren't, and thus only poor predictive models of who meditation is especially worth it for.