Basically, I do believe such presently uncontrollable factors as genetics do have a disproportionate influence on human experience and behavior, but I’m not sure how disproportionate it is. This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the years and I did enjoy Seligman’s book even though I’m uncertain about his optimistic conclusions. I want to look further into the happiness research to see what the latest evidence is showing.
Source: 2004 General Social Survey
I would add the morality angle. What has troubled me over the years is how the ideal of The Good is inextricably tangled with feeling good. And, yet, I sense they aren’t identical even though there may be an influence. If there is an influence, does the influence go both ways? I can imagine how feeling out The Good may help one to feel good. But by seeking to feel good can we feel out The Good?
Here is an insightful paper that relates:
The Sense of Happiness:
Biological Explanations and Ultimate Reality and Meaning
Here is my response to C4Chaos:
I do think there is a connection between discontentment and questioning, and also between discontentment and creatively seeing possibilities. This translates as unhappy people are more motivated to ask new questions and to seek new answers. Of course, there is a point of too much discontentment and unhappiness that shuts the mind down.
Here is a nice dialogue between Steven Pinker and Martin Seligman.
I’ve read one of Seligman’s books. His view is that human choice is greater than genetics. The limitation of his writing is that its basically pop psychology and its only moderately backed up by research. One thing I remember is that pessimists have a more realistic perception of reality, but optimists have more ability to create a different future. Its funny that the optimists delusion is what makes them effective, but you don’t want to ask them for objective understanding. On the other hand, the pessimist knows precisely what is going on, but doesn’t know how or feel capable of changing it. (Interestingly, I’m a depressed person and I value the straight truth more than anything including happiness… which conforms to this view.)
However, despite the pessimist’s useful ability to see reality clearly, Seligman believes that everyone should strive to be optimistic. He does concede that society needs a few pessimists to ground the optimists’ vision. But, as I remember, he seems to optimistically think that the strengths of pessimism can be carried over into a more optimistic attitude.
Steven Pinker comes at it from a pure scientific perspective. He limits himself to what the research says. And his book isn’t meant as inspirational writing. I haven’t read his book, but I have recently come across some of the research done on happiness. Here is an interesting one:
Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon
David Lykken and Auke Tellegen
University of Minnesota
Psychological Science Vol.7, No. 3, May 1996
“Happiness or subjective wellbeing was measured on a birth-record based sample of several thousand middle-aged twins using the Well Being (WB) scale of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ). Neither socioeconomic status (SES), educational attainment, family income, marital status, nor an indicant of religious commitment could account for more than about 3% of the variance in WB. From 44% to 53% of the variance in WB, however, is associated with genetic variation. Based on the retest of smaller samples of twins after intervals of 4.5 and 10 years, we estimate that the heritability of the stable component of subjective wellbeing approaches 80%.”