How to Be Happy / What Happiness Is

  • "If you had no money yourself, but a fairy godmother gave you exactly what you needed whenever you requested it, you would never make the Sunday Times Rich List, but you would be the richest person in the world, even if you gave everything away each night."
    • This would suggest the following definition of happiness: a state in which a person is having their biologically/socially-determined needs met. (Or something along those lines.)


  • Quora - Why are so many brilliant and talented people so brutally unhappy and dissatisfied?
  • Have people spend different amounts of time sleeping vs being awake and then see what balance between consciousness and happiness they choose. For example, I slept ten hours one day and felt much happier than if I had only slept seven hours. So I would rather be happier but have few hours awake.
  • Managing your attention seems like it's a major component.
    • Examples:
      • Jacqui Saburido became more unhappy when she had her vision improved:
          Ironically, her better vision contributed to her depression. "I have more independence, but in a way it caused more emotional pain," she said. "When I see better, I see how my body is. I see how other people can do many things I cannot."
        • Other things to file:
            "Accepting that I was 30 was very hard," Saburido said. "I knew I had no career, no family of my own except my father, that I hadn't lived, that I hadn't enjoyed. I don't feel like a responsible, mature person of 30. Emotionally, I haven't been able to go forward."
            After her mother died, things got worse. "Because of my mom's death, it affects me, how I am," she said. "I get depressed.
          • For three years, Saburido said, she rarely left her apartment. She had given occasional talks about the dangers of drunken driving in Caracas, including one at her old high school, but she stopped her public speaking. She grew distant from friends.

            "Every day was worse," she said. "I didn't want to get out of bed. I argued with my dad, with other people. It wasn't life."

  • “What makes most people’s lives unhappy is some disappointed romanticism,” James Joyce once said to his friend Arthur Power, “some unrealizable or misconceived ideal. In fact you may say that idealism is the ruin of man, and if we lived down to fact, as primitive man had to do, we would be better off." (Source: typicalprog)

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."

- Einstein

2014.10.11 - The Australian - Silicon Valley guru Peter Thiel is on a mission to change the world

When I ask Peter Thiel whether he would describe himself as a happy person, he ponders the question as if it were a complicated mathematical equation.

“Um … let me think about that. Um … I always find it difficult answering that sort of question because it’s hard to precisely compare with other people. It’s such an interior type of thing…” – before finally concluding, “I think so.”

  • One thing I've noticed is that if I spend time thinking about or fantasizing about some imagined great life, I'll end up yearning for it.
    • For example, I had no interest in fraternities in college, but I was recently researching fraternities / sororities and watching recruitment videos and found myself having feelings of wishing I had been in a fraternity. I remember college well enough to know that's a ridiculous feeling to have, but I can imagine someone else who hasn't been exposed to fraternities as much being tortured by that yearning.
    • Another example: I think I've gotten this feeling while watching sports dramas or sports contests; I get swept up in the "reality" and start to yearn for being the best at that sport. I'll need to write down a more-specific example when I think of one, but I vaguely remember having this happen to me for random sports that I never had cared about before (like tennis or car racing or soccer).
      • Upon more reflection, I think I had this happen to me when I was watching YT videos about Lionel Messi. I got sucked into a "different reality" (not sure how to put it) in which soccer was very important for some reason.
      • It reminds me of M's stressing the importance of controlling the frame of a conversation: if you can control the "reality" / "frame" / "context" of a conversation, you have a lot of control.


BRAVE NEW WORLD? A Defence Of Paradise-Engineering

LessWrong articles

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Happiness

 Click here to expand...

5.2 Mistakes in the pursuit of happiness

A different question is what means of pursuing happiness are most effective. This is fundamentally an empirical question, but there are some in-principle issues that philosophical reflection might inform. One oft-heard claim, commonly called the “paradox of hedonism,” is that the pursuit of happiness is self-defeating; to be happy, don't pursue happiness. It is not clear how to interpret this dictum, however, so that it is both interesting and true. It is plainly imprudent to make happiness one's focus at every moment, but doubtful that this has often been denied. Yet never considering happiness also seems an improbable strategy for becoming happier. If you are choosing among several equally worthwhile occupations, and have good evidence that some of them will make you miserable, while one of them is likely to be highly fulfilling, it would not seem imprudent to take that information into account. Yet to do so just is to pursue happiness. The so-called paradox of hedonism is perhaps best seen as a vague caution against focusing too much on making oneself happy, not a blanket dismissal of the prospects for expressly seeking happiness—and for this modest point there is good empirical evidence (Schooler, Ariely et al. 2003, Lyubomirsky 2007).

That happiness is sometimes worth seeking does not mean we will always do a good job of it. In recent decades a massive body of empirical evidence has gathered on various ways in which people seem systematically prone to make mistakes in the pursuit of their interests, including happiness. Such tendencies have been suggested in several domains relating to the pursuit of happiness, including (with recent surveys cited):

  1. Assessing how happy we are, or were in the past (Haybron 2007a, 2008c)
  2. Predicting (“forecasting”) what will make us happy (Gilbert 2006)
  3. Choosing rationally (Kahneman and Tversky 2000, Gilovitch, Griffin et al. 2002, Hsee and Hastie 2006)

A related body of literature explores the costs and benefits of (ostensibly) making it easier to pursue happiness by increasing people's options; it turns out that having more choices might often make people less happy, for instance by increasing the burdens of deliberation or the likelihood of regret (Schwartz 2004). Less discussed in this context, but highly relevant, is the large body of research indicating that human psychology and behavior are remarkably prone to unconscious social and other situational influences, most infamously reported in the Milgram obedience experiments (Doris 2002). Human functioning, and the pursuit of happiness, may be more profoundly social than many commentators have assumed.

  • maslow's hierarchy of needs is one of the things i learned from my psychology classes that has really stuck with me. i'm not sure about self-actualization, but the basic idea of a hierarchy makes a lot of sense to me.
  • at the moment it seems that a huge part of keeping happy is taking care of basic things like going to the bathroom when you need to, eating when you need food, drinking water when you need it, sleeping/napping when you need to, getting exercise, talking to people, getting sunlight, etc. It may be a bad idea to chase happiness in the form of a mansion when you're not being diligent about these basic things.
  • i had an experience while backpacking around europe which really highlighted just how bad i was at figuring out why i was unhappy: i would be tired but not pay attention to that fact, and then start to think very depressed thoughts about the direction of my life (i.e. thinking that I was unhappy because of perceived big-picture problems), but then as soon as I got some sleep I felt great. ditto with food, water, and needing to use the bathroom. after a week or two of having daily wild mood swings that very closely correlated with my getting basic needs taken care of (or not), all the while being convinced while in the middle of a bad mood that the cause was some big-picture problem with my life, I had a sudden epiphany in which I noticed the correlation and was left astounded at how inaccurate my introspection had been.
  • I've since frequently noticed that I will often not feel very hungry or thirsty when I am hungry or thirsty but instead just get more and more depressed or sluggish.
  • it's important to feel important. the fact that people celebrate birthdays seemed completely arbitrary to me until i realized that it gives everybody a day out of the year in which they're supposed to be the center of attention.
  • try to deal with problems intelligently while also distracting yourself to minimize the stress you feel. analogy: get your vaccine shots, but don't spend all your spare time ruminating about how painful it will be to get the shots, and when you actually do get the shots try to look somewhere else and slap yourself to minimize the attention you give to the shots. good things to distract you in the real world include: movies, listening to friends' problems, hobbies, ...
  • try to spend your time in such a way that the profits of your effort compound. for example, if you're constantly moving around then your efforts at socializing will not compound as much: you'll always be the new guy. if you settle down in one area, though, over time you'll get to know everyone around you and feel more comfortable where you are. this is actually the reason that i chose not to study abroad for a semester in college, and in hindsight i'm very happy with my decision.
  • Copying this from my page on work: "I think a major reason people get so stressed out about the idea of having to work is that our society has gotten to a point where younger people get used to having a lot of free time and having things provided for them without the need to earn those things. It ends up distorting people's view of reality. I think people need to adjust their thinking so that when they think about having a job they don't go "Darn, this is much worse than hanging out playing basketball with my friends for the rest of my life!"; instead they should go "Wow, this is so much better than fending for myself in a forest for the rest of my life!". I think one way to do this would by having people read a book that described the history of work, like the book "Marriage: A History" does with marriage. Another way would be to have kids working from a very young age."
  • one of the big questions I've tried to answer is, "How much money should I try to get?" Or to put it another way, "How much of my free time should I be willing to give up to get more money?" I had an epiphany about this question, but now I'm having trouble remember it...I think it's the observation that if you accept that what you're REALLY trying to do is minimize mental anxiety, then it actually doesn't matter if you have more time or less time to live than another person, AS LONG AS you are not feeling any anxiety. So in other words, younger people are not "richer" than Felix Dennis because they have more time (which is what Dennis says), but because they feel less anxiety about their time left than Dennis does. And so if there was a way to get rid of that anxiety, Dennis wouldn't have any trouble. But this doesn't seem like much new information...I think the essential epiphany was that I need to separate the objective reality of having more or less time to live from the subjective reality of anxiety felt about that objective reality. I think that in the past I had been thinking that I needed to figure out how much _time_ I need, and now I realize that that may not necessarily be the right question to be asking.
  • The amount of time you spend thinking about problems / sad things vs. the amount of time you spend thinking about fun things seems to make a big difference. I've noticed that I often feel happy when I'm talking to people, and I feel sad when I'm alone and thinking to myself, even if I'm surrounded by people. And when I've been really happy (like when I returned to DC after visiting John in CA, or when I reconnected with YO), I was spending my time thinking about something I felt grateful for, as opposed to spending my time thinking about problems.
  • I read an article today about how ecstasy was being used to treat ptsd, and this one guy said he only needed to have three sessions to feel totally different, and didn't need any further sessions. That reminds me a lot of my experience with w, and how it almost totally removed the anxiety I'd been feeling about g. I wonder how many other things there are like this, where having some kind of particular experience can cure you of some thoughts that are bothering you.

Q: If people adjust to their circumstances, and for every bad day we have a good day, and vice versa, should we bother striving to improve our situation?

- If we assume happiness is a one-dimensional thing, where it can be totally captured by a scale from 0 to 100 (or something like that), and if we assume that all good days are totally balanced by corresponding bad days, and that all bad days are totally balanced by corresponding good days, then I think that would be a situation where it might be pointless to strive to improve our situation.

- But it may not be the case that happiness is a one-dimensional thing; there may be different aspects to happiness. And so that "balancing-out" that we notice (where we have a good day for every bad day, and vice versa) may only apply to one dimension of happiness, and may not apply to another dimension of happiness.

Misc Links



Hedonic treadmill

Philosophy of happiness

Warren Buffett talking about how rich people's lives really aren't that different from middle-class people's lives
- This got me thinking again about how being "rich" isn't what it used to be. In the past being "rich" meant having a lot of needs met that regular-people didn't have met. It was more like the difference between a middle-class existence in the US vs. a subsistence farmer in Vietnam.

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science ... e.html?m=1

Quora - If you could time travel and meet your 28-year-old self, what would you say? ... ld-you-say

I would say (speaking as an 83 year old)

You only have about 70 years left, so don't waste them on:

Earning more money than you need
Learning more things than you need or are interested in
Buying more items than you need
Getting more friends than you need
Eating more food than you need
Trying to impress people out of vanity
Spending money on conspicuous consumption
Wasting other people's time
Pursuing goals that have no purpose
Getting involved in projects that you have doubts about
Getting involved with people you are not serious about
Trying to be smart for the sake of it
Other people's opinions if you have no intention of accepting them
Imposing your beliefs and opinions on others
Trying to find meaning and purpose in life other than your instincts

I would also say:

Keep a diary
Organise your life
Don't get into debt
Don't assume you will ever have time to do anything you can't do now
Don't involve yourself with people who intend to use you
Don't use other people
Learn to trust those who accept your trust
Value people for their true worth
Learn to talk to your parents
Learn to talk to women (and learn to listen)
Learn to talk to yourself
Learn to believe in yourself
Learn to be tolerant of others
Learn to think before you speak
Learn to think before you answer
Learn to appreciate the moment
Learn to share your thoughts
Learn to respond according to the situation

I know that 70 years sounds like a long time when looking forward. It is yesterday when looking backward. Learn that before it happens.

Tears of the Amazon
- I like watching stuff like this b/c it helps me think about which of our social habits are built-in and which might be amenable to change (like being embarrassed about being seen naked)

General Advice

Get enough sleep

2014.08.27 - A few weeks ago I began cutting back slightly on sleep to try to copy the behavior of people like Bill Gates. I ended up just feeling bad. For the past two days I've made a point of not using a computer after 10-11pm and I've been going to sleep earlier as a result, and I've been feeling more productive during the day. I find it easier to concentrate.

Spend time talking with people you like

    • I've done a lot of testing and analysis of when I got this weird mental state and when I didn't.
      It comes down that our minds seem to use our environment (location, what you see around you, people around you etc.) to identify ourselves. 
      I was born in the Netherlands and I grew up there. As much as I don't associate myself to most people there, if I move across the world (eg Japan), I am excited by the novelty of the environment there (neon lights, crazy adventures) but I can associate even less with the people there.
      Not like I don't enjoy being there or like them. But I'll never on a deep level understand what it is to be Japanese. I do what is to be Dutch. I mean I spent 27+ years there including when my mental frameworks were shaped (my youth).
      I stepped into this movement thinking as a distinct anti nationalist. I still am. But I never thought how strong the biological programming of my own culture would be. It's engrained. As much as I don't enjoy so many parts of my culture (it's boring, predictable, structured, unimaginative, kinda similar to German culture), I'm part of it.
      And here comes the point. Every time I felt lost, I wasn't part of Dutch culture, but I also really wasn't part of the culture of the place I was visiting. Even if I connected with locals.
      This is highly personal though. And it differs from person to person. What I see in many people that grew up traveling (like third culture kids or the children of expats), that their minds are intrinsically international. My mind WANTS to be that, but it's not as well trained at it because it never grew up like that.
      So when don't I feel lost?
      When I'm with my Dutch friends having beers and talking shit. When I'm with my parents watching horrible Dutch TV. It's my identity.
      Does that mean I can't or won't travel for extended periods of time? No! I love travel. But I'm aware that I need to be a large part of the time in my own country, with my own friends, to feed my brain and not feel lost.
      I've always been scared to type this stuff because it seems slightly hypocritical to be someone who promotes travel and nomads as the future. And I do believe in that. I never said it wouldn't be challenging mentally though. It is for me.



Consider having children

When people in their 30s, 40s, and older look back on their life, what are some common regrets they have? ... -they-have

I think the mothering instinct is so strong in some women that the knowledge that one will never get a chance to give birth and raise their own child goes beyond regret. One that a bar chart cannot capture. I can deal with most of my other regrets in life but am having a hard time dealing with this one.

- Felix Dennis also said that his greatest regret was not having had a child.