Fallen State of America

The Language of Pain, from Virginia Woolf to William Stanley Jevons
by Corey Robin
(from comment section)

Glenn wrote:

Americans account for 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone (Vicodin) consumption, 80 percent of the world’s oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin) consumption and 65 percent of the world’s hydromorphone (Dilaudid) consumption, according to the New York Times.

The federal government’s health statisticians figure that about one in every 10 Americans takes an antidepressant. And by their reckoning, antidepressants were the third most common prescription medication taken by Americans in 2005–2008, the latest period during which the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected data on prescription drug use.

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better was published in 2009. Written by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, the book highlights the “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption”. It shows that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries.

Donald Pruden, Jr. wrote:

Let me introduce the “World Happiness Report 2017”.

Yes, this is a thing. The Report, published under the auspices of the United Nations, states boldly that (in its words) that “Happiness Has Fallen in America”.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 7, titled “Restoring American Happiness”, it is written by Jeffrey D. Sachs and it focusses on the United States:

“The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach. The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis—rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust—rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth, especially since the concrete proposals along these lines would exacerbate rather than ameliorate the deepening social crisis.”

And this from a footnote at the end of the Chapter in question:

“5. It is sometimes suggested that the degree of ethnic diversity is the single most powerful explanation of high or low social trust. It is widely believed that Scandinavia’s high social trust and happiness are a direct reflection of their high ethnic homogeneity, while America’s low and declining social trust is a reflection of America’s high and rising ethnic diversity. The evidence suggests that such “ethnic determinism” is misplaced. As Bo Rothstein has cogently written about Scandinavia, the high social trust was far from automatically linked with ethnic homogeneity. It was achieved through a century of active social democratic policies that broke down class barriers and distrust (see Rothstein and Stolle, 2003). Social democracy was buttressed by a long tradition and faith in the quality of government even before the arrival of democracy itself in Scandinavia. Moreover, highly diverse societies, such as Canada, have been able to achieve relatively high levels of social trust through programs aimed at promoting multiculturalism and inter-ethnic understanding.”

[I especially like this last as some have tried to suggest that social strife in the U.S. is, bluntly, to be blamed on the (disruptive) presence of Blacks in the United States — Michael Moore’s “Bowling For Columbine” made a point of exposing this belief that Americans seem to hold by displaying it in a montage of person-on-the-street interviews. That film goes on to challenge that view. D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of A Nation” was probably the very first broadly distributed cultural product in the U.S. to issue such blame at Blacks.]

* * *

See my previous post:

What kind of trust? And to what end?

There is one book that seriously challenges the tribal argument: Segregation and Mistrust by Eric M. Uslaner. Looking at the data, he determined that (Kindle Locations 72-73), “It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust.”

Pursuit of Happiness and Consent of the Governed

Conservatives prefer to see the American Revolution and Founding as part of a Lockean lineage. This would be true for some of the Founders, but not true for all. One Founder conservatives take as an example of a Lockean founder is Thomas Jefferson.

Many scholars have assumed a connection of Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and Locke’s “life, liberty and estate”:

“Locke argued in his Two Treatises of Government that political society existed for the sake of protecting “property”, which he defined as a person’s “life, liberty, and estate”. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, he wrote that the magistrate’s power was limited to preserving a person’s “civil interest”, which he described as “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things”. He declared in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”.”

Even if that were the case:

“According to those scholars who saw the root of Jefferson’s thought in Locke’s doctrine, Jefferson replaced “estate” with “the pursuit of happiness”, although this does not mean that Jefferson meant the “pursuit of happiness” to refer primarily or exclusively to property. Under such an assumption, the Declaration of Independence would declare that government existed primarily for the reasons Locke gave, and some have extended that line of thinking to support a conception of limited government.”

Besides, Jefferson wasn’t alone in his views:

“Benjamin Franklin was in agreement with Thomas Jefferson in downplaying protection of “property” as a goal of government. It is noted that Franklin found property to be a “creature of society” and thus, he believed that it should be taxed as a way to finance civil society.”

Furthermore, other scholars have offered and alternative interpretation:

“Garry Wills has argued that Jefferson did not take the phrase from Locke and that it was indeed meant to be a standard by which governments should be judged. Wills suggests Adam Ferguson as a good guide to what Jefferson had in mind:

“If, in reality, courage and a heart devoted to the good of mankind are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellow creatures is a participation of this happy character. If this be the good of the individual, it is likewise that of mankind; and virtue no longer imposes a task by which we are obliged to bestow upon others that good from which we ourselves refrain; but supposes, in the highest degree, as possessed by ourselves, that state of felicity which we are required to promote in the world.”
—Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society

“The 17th-century cleric and philosopher Richard Cumberland wrote that promoting the well-being of our fellow humans is essential to the “pursuit of our own happiness”. Locke never associated natural rights with happiness, but his philosophical opponent Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made such an association in the introduction to his Codex Iuris Gentium. William Wollaston’s The Religion of Nature Delineated describes the “truest definition” of “natural religion” as being “The pursuit of happiness by the practice of reason and truth”. An English translation of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui’s Principles of Natural and Politic Law prepared in 1763 extolled the “noble pursuit” of “true and solid happiness” in the opening chapter discussing natural rights. Historian Jack Rakove posits Burlamaqui as the inspiration for Jefferson’s phrase.”

A more nuanced view is offered by Howard Schwartz in Liberty In America’s Founding Moment (Kindle Locations 485-506):

“I offer a different approach to the question of the Declaration’s position on rights, arguing that a key aspect of the Declaration’s meaning and function has been missed. Instead of asking whether the Declaration is Lockean or what literary documents are the source of its ideas, I will suggest that the Declaration’s position on natural rights and independence is much more equivocal than has been typically realized. The question about the source of Jefferson’s ideas is less relevant and interesting than the question of what position on rights was getting articulated. The answer to that question is more ambiguous than typically thought. And the equivocation is one part of the Declaration’s meaning and function. Indeed, one central purpose of the Declaration was to unite the colonies behind the decision to declare independence. As such, the Declaration had to evade and sidestep any disagreements about rights that might still have lingered. In this sense, the Declaration had to speak as if “debate had ended,” to use the words of Thomas Paine in Common Sense, when in fact on the matter of American rights, the debate had not completely ended and there remained some significant disagreements about the foundations of and nature of natural and American rights. Jefferson himself did not agree with the view endorsed by the First Continental Congress in 1774, though that constituted the official view endorsed by the Congress on behalf of the colonies. When Jefferson sat down to write the Declaration, he had to find words to unite those who otherwise had diverging views. On this interpretation of the situation, Jefferson’s brilliance was not only in his powerful rhetorical performance, but in finding an articulation of rights that would seemingly be amenable to as many parties as possible, including himself. In this sense, “all its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day,” to use Jefferson’s own words, is a more profound and ironic interpretation than anyone has fully appreciated.21 If Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence captures the American Mind, then it does so in all the complexity and disagreement that characterized the “American Mind” at the time. There was arguably no single American Mind on the question of rights.22 And the Declaration was harmonizing a tradition that did in fact have divergent views and loose ends. This statement on rights would have to speak not just to those who endorsed the position of the First Congress, but also those who did not, including its author. This interpretation of the Declaration thus takes a position that both affirms and criticizes all of the various the positions in the debate. The Declaration does endorse natural rights language and a Lockean-like view but at the same time it exhibits some of ambivalence about natural rights and the way natural rights are linked up to American rights. It thus affirms that Locke’s ideas were in the air but also argues that these ideas were contested and doubted. The American foundation of rights was not a settled matter.”

As for Jefferson’s personal view, a fundamental right related to happiness had to do with consent. A government earned consent by ensuring the happiness of citizens. When that happiness abated, so did the requirement of consent. This puts “pursuit of Happiness” in a whole other context.

Abstinence = Happiness?

Here is a video I watched recently:

Here is the comment I posted on YouTube:

I love how the abstinence guy brings up ‘statistics’. If he really cared about statistics, he’d look at the scientific research showing the failure rate of abstinence. Despite Christian theology, humans are still animals who have natural sexual urges. Research shows abstinence-only programs fail in actually stopping young adults from having sex until they’re married.  A tiny fraction of a percent might manage to abstain, but they are rare exceptions.

Here is the first response to my comment made by girloffaith16:

“Where is your evidence?”

I’ve already posted the evidence in my blog:

Here is the second response to my comment made by noclip14:

“I don’t think you understood the argument. He was saying that people who abstain from sex until marriage tend to be happier. He used statistics from surveys that showed this. Christianity isn’t the only religion that preaches abstinence until marriage. Also, there are many non-religious people that abstain from sex until marriage.”

I haven’t responded to this specific point in the past and so let me take that opportunity now.

I did understand the argument. I just didn’t think it mattered that people who claim to be abstinent also claim to be happy.

First, I’ve seen enough data to know that teens define abstinence in ways that fundamentalists wouldn’t necessarily accept. When asked in studies, some teens consider handjobs or blowjobs as being included within the label of ‘abstinence’.

Second, being happy doesn’t prove one is correct or moral. Research does show that religious people claim to be happier (whether or not they objectively are happier). But I’m suspicious of anything religious people say, especially fundamentalists. Bob Altemeyer’s research shows social conservatives and fundamentalists have a stronger tendency toward Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). The relevant facts about RWAs is that they are more likely than the average person to lie and be hypocritical.

Even so, I wanted to look at the data for myself. Are abstinent people more happy? Here is what I found:

http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/03/25/study-shows-happy-girls-have-sex-too/

What it found is that teen girls aren’t always driven to have sex out of depression or rebellion. In fact, of the girls who resumed sexual activity after a period of abstinence, one of the main factors was being happy and having a secure relationship.

As the authors say,

“A number of studies demonstrate associations between depressed mood and sexual risk behaviors. However, studies using daily diaries and momentary sampling have demonstrated close temporal associations between improved mood and sexual thoughts and behaviors…Adolescent sexual intercourse is frequently presented as an entirely opportunity-driven risk behavior. Our data present a more nuanced picture, in which sexual intercourse is associated with important relationship attributes, such as partner support and perceptions of relationship quality.”

I don’t know how much research there is on the issue of the correlation (or lack thereof) between happiness and abstinence. And, if this correlation does exist, I don’t know that any simple causal relationship exists. The above research seems to show the situation is complex.

My thoughts are that anyone who is considered normal and accepted by others will be happier. The US is a fairly religious country and so the average person will probably be happier if they conform with the social norms. In our society, if a teen girl has sex and her peers find out, she might be called a slut, might be entirely ostracized or might get unwanted attention. And if a teen boy has sex and adults find out, his parents might punish him or a pastor/preacher might tell him that he is going to hell. Any teen who is willing to be independent of social norms (whether having sex, doing drugs, or simply acting atypical: a boy taking ballerina classes or a nerd who reads all the time) will have a more difficult life and will probably be less happy, but that isn’t to blame the teen for being treated negatively by peers and adults.

There are many possible counfounding factors and I don’t claim to know what they all might be. However, I can speak to human nature. Humans evolved as social animals and we are happiest when we are accepted as part of a group. This is why I think religious people profess happiness. It’s simply feels good to be accepted. Even being accepted by a gang feels better than being excluded, but in our society being accepted by a church is even better because being religious gives you automatic respect in our religious society. However, in a secular society such as China, religious people are probably less happy than the non-religious. So, it all depends on the social context. In terms of abstinence, research would show very different results in countries that have cultures of more openness towards sexuality. If you had sex and everyone around accepted that as normal, then you probably wouldn’t be unhappy.

Still, even in the US religious culture, there is no simple or consistent correlation between abstinence and happiness.

Old, Male, White, Religious, Rich Republicans Are Happy! Surprise, Surprise!

It’s interesting which demographics state being the happiest in the US: old, male, white, religious, rich, Republican. It makes sense. In the US, the people who fit this description have had the most privilege, power, and wealth.

Consider the comparison between Republicans and Democrats.

Why would Republicans be happier? I’m sure it partly relates to Republicans being religious. The religious demographic tends to be happy. In particular, fundamentalist and right-wing authoritarians tend to perceive themselves as happier. However, I wonder if religious conservatives are happier in the US simply because religious conservatism has been a central element of mainstream US culture. I wonder if liberal secularists would be happier if they were living in a liberal secularist society.

Why would Democrats be less happy? I’d suspect it might have to do with poor minorities and immigrants voting in higher numbers for Democrats. Those without power and wealth tend to vote Democrat and tend to live less happy lives. It sucks being a poor minority or immigrant in the US.

What is also interesting is that many more socialist countries rate higher than the US on happiness. I think this relates to wealth disparity. The lower the wealth disparity means the less social problems. The US, however, has a high wealth disparity and high rates of social problems. So, I’d suspect that the US also has a high happiness disparity.

Another interesting angle is age. Old people grew up during a time when the US had increasing wealth and there was much upward mobility. The older generation, through a few decades of Silent presidents, shifted the wealth from the young toward the older. This meant that Boomers and GenXers grew up in a time when all the programs for the youth had their funding taken away. In particular, GenX has seen the worst employment rates that any generation has seen since the Great Depression and GenX was experiencing this in the decades prior to our present economic troubles. GenXers got a bum deal. Even Millennials who were treated much better as youth are coming of age during a tough time. It sucks to be young.

It really suck to be a young minority. GenX blacks have seen prison rates worse than any demographic in all of US history. When the Silents decided to get tough on crime, they sent massive number of GenX minorities to prison.

Our country wouldn’t be the way it is if it weren’t for the policies of the white male Silents who had more presidential representation than any other group in US history. I understand that they’re happy for having had so much power and for having made the world better for themselves, but couldn’t they at least be a little bit unhappy for making the world worse off for everyone else? Oh, to be happy and oblivious to everyone else’s unhappiness. It must be nice.

As usual, it’s hard to come to any absolutely clear conclusions. I can see some complex factors.

For example, the Democrat party is much more diverse than the Republican party and so includes a wider spectrum of demographics. There are rich Democrats who are probably fairly happy, but there are also a lot of poor Democrats. Apparently, the two average out so that the Democrats overall are less happy than Republicans. Even so, I’m not sure that rich Republicans are necessarily happier than rich Democrats. Along these lines, the Democrat party includes both the highest IQ Americans and the lowest IQ Americans, but overall Democrats still have a higher average IQ than Republicans. There might not be a direct correlation between having a high IQ and being happy. It would seem, though, that there would at least be an indirect correlation in that rich people are happier and tend to have higher IQs. I’d like to know whether high IQ Republicans or high IQ Democrats are happier.

Another confusing factor is that Liberals are the high IQ demographic within the Democratic party, but 40% of liberals (as of 2005) identify as Independent rather than Democrat. Liberals are only about a third of the Democratic party. So, ignoring party affiliation, are liberals or conservatives happier? It’s possible that liberals are happier than conservatives despite the fact that Republicans are happier than Democrats. Maybe the unhappiest demographic within both parties would be the poor minorities (especially those of the younger generations) who tend to be social conservatives.

Response to ‘Why are zealots so happy?’

Response to ‘Why are zealots so happy?’

Posted on May 29th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I came across a recent blog post by C4Chaos titled Why are zealots so happy?

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.

C4Chaos touches upon how happiness fits into religion.  Here is the statistics(from the link in C4Chaos‘ blog) that relate to happy zealots(ie extremists):

SurveySource: 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:
http://www.ksharpe.com/Word/EP20.htm
The Sense of Happiness:
Biological Explanations and Ultimate Reality and Meaning
Kevin Sharpe

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.
http://www.slate.com/?id=2072079&entry=2072402

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:
http://www.psych.umn.edu/psylabs/happness/happy.htm
Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon
David Lykken and Auke Tellegen
University of Minnesota
Psychological Science Vol.7, No. 3, May 1996

Abstract
“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%.”

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Nicole : wakingdreamer 

about 10 hours later

Nicole said

wow. very interesting. i wonder why people think zealots are happy? the ones i know are a pretty miserable lot actually…

 

Marmalade : Gaia Child 

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Good question.  There is a lot of research out there, but I’m not a scientist.  Here is one paper that looked particularly interesting.

Religious orientation, religious Coping and happiness among UK adults

Christopher Alan Lewis, John Maltby and Liz Day
“In general, no significant associations were found between religiosity scores and happiness scores. However, both higher intrinsic orientation scores and positive religious coping were significantly associated with higher scores on the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire Short-Form. It is proposed that these differential findings are consistent with the theoretical distinction between subjective and psychological well-being. It is suggested that when religiosity is related to happiness, it is related to psychological well-being, which is thought to reflect human development, positive functioning and existential life challenges.”

Here is from the link in C4Chaos’ blog:
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/the-politics-of-happiness-part-4/

“In the 2004 General Social Survey, 35 percent of people who said they were extremely liberal were very happy (versus 22 percent of people who were just liberal). At the same time, a whopping 48 percent of people who were “extremely conservative” gave this response (compared with 43 percent of non-extreme conservatives). Twenty-eight percent of people squarely in the middle – “slightly liberal” to “slightly conservative” – were very happy.”

“A happiness edge enjoyed by the extremes persists even if we control for the other relevant forces like income, education, race, religion, and so on.”

The conclusion of this author is based on 3 factors: evidence showing extremists as more happy than moderates, evidence showing conservatives as more happy than liberals, and evidence showing the religious as more happy than the non-religious.  He notes that conservative extremists are the happiest of any political sector and implies the connection with how vocally religious this group of people are.  Hence, religious zealots are happier.

The conclusion is fairly straightforward.  Any disagreements would be with the research he uses as evidence.  Is it accurate?

 

Marmalade : Gaia Child 

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Here are some comments from this section in the series that C4Chaos was linking to:
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/the-politics-of-happiness-part-4/

1. May 14th,
2008
11:43 am

I haven’t read all 4 parts completely but I wonder if this is true all the time. In other words, could the extreme be happy right now because of current conditions in our country? Extreme left: “Change is coming, yoo-hoo!” Extreme right: “We have beaten off terrorists and liberals for 7 years, who would have thought?!”

– Posted by Marcus Lynn
4. May 14th,
2008
11:55 am

Interesting… but isn’t it likely that anyone who rates themselves as “extremely” anything is likely to have strong views in general, and therefore more likely to put “very happy” rather than just “happy”. It would be interesting to see the above graph with numbers of people who are “very UNhappy”

– Posted by Charles
17. May 14th,
2008
2:15 pm

To follow on what frankenduf(14) said:
Psychological studies have shown that when people believe they have control over their lives and actions, they are happier; whether or not they ever exercise that control. Could it be that extremists, because they are more likely to be “acting out”, feel that they are in greater control? Moderates, on the other hand, “moderate” their views to accomodate multiple other points-of-view; in essence, ceding control, and increasing their discomfort.

A second, not necessarily contradictory, explanation would be that cognitive dissonance causes most frustration. Other psychological studies have shown that the more extreme our beliefs, the more likely we are to attribute facts that belie our worldview to chicanery, and the more likely we are to become emotional rather than analytical in response to statements that contradict our ideas. Byt this theory, extremists will become angry, per frankenduf, release anger, and thus avoid unpleasant cognitive dissonance by avoiding considering inconvenient truths.

– Posted by misterb
33. May 16th,
2008
7:04 am

This analysis misses one significant point.

Combined with those in the “moderate” camps, left and right, are those who can’t bother to have strong political opinions. Among these are those who are depressed, clinically or otherwise.

This subset of depressed people can completely skew the numbers when it comes to associating happiness with political fervor.

– Posted by Greta
36. May 18th,
2008
11:47 am

2 comments:
#1: Depressed people tend to have a more accurate self-assessment of their abilities and performance. (I really hate to say “studies show…”, but they do. It’s a simply psychological experiment: give people a task to do, then ask them to rate their own performance.)
It’s certainly been my experience as well….

#2: Well, duh! The message of the study is not that conservatives are happier, it is that IN THE USA, conservatives are happier. It’s an easy bet that in a liberal society, the happiness distribution would be reversed. Anyway you cut it, compared to other nations, the US is politically & religiously conservative society.

So, yeah, you analyze the data controlling for income, education, race, religion, etc, so that you can conclude that conservatives are happier folks, but the results are only valid in the USA!

– Posted by Dennis

 

Nicole : wakingdreamer 

2 days later

Nicole said

interesting… i think there is some amount of truth in each comment… so who can say really what it all means?

 

Marmalade : Gaia Child 

2 days later

Marmalade said

Yes, interesting… but what to make of it?!  I find research about this very intriguing, but I don’t have the capacity to really understand it.  Statistics are so easily interpreted with one’s bias.  Seligman interprets it one way but there is no objective reason for him to interpret it that way.  He gives it an optimistic slant and he is probably the happier for it whether or not he is correct.  🙂

 

Nicole : wakingdreamer 

3 days later

Nicole said

i have similar reservations to you about this whole optimism thing…

and yes, like archaeology where “rocks are plastic” or in other words, diggings can “reveal” many things depending on the assumptions of the scientist or interpreter, statistics can mean pretty much anything. So, IMO are often meaningless

PKD’s Love of the Disordered & Puzzling

PKD’s Love of the Disordered & Puzzling

Posted on May 21st, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences: i.e., real contradicitons, with something being both true & not true.

The enigma is alive, aware of us, & changing.  It is partly created by our own minds: we alter it by perceiving it, since we are not outside it.  As our views shift, it shifts in a sense it is not there at all (acosmism).  In another sense it is a vast intelligence; in another sense it is total harmonia and structure (how logically can it be all three?  Well, it is).

Page 91 (1979)
In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis
by Philip K. Dick, edited by Lawrence Sutin

———

This deeply touches upon my experience.  I also had to develop a love of the disorderd & puzzling… for I never felt capable of denying these or distracting myself from their effect upon me.  If I didn’t learn to love the puzzles that thwarted my understanding, then seemingly the only other choice would be to fear them.

I was just thinking about the several years after my highschool graduation.  For most people, this time of life is filled with a sense of bright opportunity and youthful fun.  But, for me, it was the darkest time of my life.  I felt utterly lost with no good choice available to me.  I questioned deeply because my life was on the line… quite literally… because it was during these years that I attempted suicide.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered PKD, but it was around that period of my life.  PKD’s questioning mind resonated with my experience.  The questions I asked only exacerbated my depression, but I did not know how to stop asking them.  So, to read someone who had learned to love the unanswerable questions was refreshing.  Plus, I was inspired by the infinite playfulness of his imagination.

Imagination was what I sorely needed during that time of feeling stuck in harsh reality.  To imagine ‘what if’ was a way of surviving day by day, and the play of possibilities brought a kind of light into my personal darkness.  I won’t say that PKD saved my life, but he did help me to see something good in it all.

Then, I became interested in other writers for quite a while.  I had even given away most of my PKD books.  I’d forgotten why I had liked him so much until A Scanner Darkly came out.  I watched it twice in the theater and was very happy to be reacquainted with PKD.  That movie really captured his writing like none other.

Those years spent away from PKD’s work, I had been seeking out various answers(such as those provided by the great Ken Wilber).  But now I feel like I’m in a mood again to simply enjoy the questions.

———-

I’ve been taking notes on another book and came across some lines that resonate with my sense of what PKD was about:

“Mercury is the trickster, happiest when he is at play.  Playing he is able to achieve the double consciousness of the comic mode: the world is serious and not serious at the same time, a meaningful pattern of etenrity and a filmy veil blocking the beyond.”

Page 77
The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines
Eric G. Wilson

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

i used to think when people talked about the teenage and university years as being the best part of our lives that i might as well kill myself then too. it wasn’t that i was as depressed as you, because my depression was only mild, but i was confused and searching. getting married and having kids was very challenging at times and i really only feel that i am beginning to enjoy my life as fully as i always wanted. i know what i want, i have some idea about how to be fulfilled and happy, i have a satisfying career and many friends, i am pursuing depth with God and meaning… everything is falling into place.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 5 hours later

Marmalade said

I hear ya.  I do enjoy my life now even though my depression probably isn’t any less than back then.  I have perspective now and I know what I like.  I focus on what I like and I do my best to ignore the rest.  I can now enjoy the questions but without as much angsty desperation.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 11 hours later

Nicole said

that’s really positive! though i do hope that somehow the depression can lift. That must be challenging always to come back to that. Reminds me of a book I enjoyed years ago called Father Melancholy’s Daughter
about a priest who couldn’t shake his tendency to deep depression no matter how hard he tried. very moving…
here is something else by the author about it

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

Thanks for the mention of that book.  I liked this last part from the first link:

One of the answers lies in the words of Margaret’s father to a fellow priest: “The Resurrection as it applies to each of us means coming up through what you were born into, then understanding objectively the people your parents were and how they influenced you. Then finding out who you yourself are, in terms of how you carry forward what they put in you, and how your circumstances have shaped you. And then … and then … now here’s the hard part! You have to go on to find out what you are in the human drama, or body of God. The what beyond the who, so to speak.”

“And then … and then … now here’s the hard part!”  lol

There is a movie about depression that I watched back then: Ordinary People.  I haven’t come across another movie that captures better my sense of my depression, but my situation was and is a bit different from the character. 

The story is similar to the Stephen King story The Body(made into the movie Stand By Me).  A younger son has to live with the memory of his dead older brother who had been the perfect son.  The mother is entirely into image and the son tries his best to fit in. 

The most insightful part of the film is where a depressed girl he had befriended in the psych ward had killed herself after convincing everyone(including herself) that everything was normal.  It shakes the boy to the core because if even someone who deals with their depression so ‘positively’ falls prey to hopelessness, then what hope is there for him.  However, the point is that he is less likely to try to kill himself again because he doesn’t repress his valid feelings. 

The message of the movie is that we all are just ordinary people, no one is perfect.  The movie presents the mother as less together than the son despte her trying to put up a positive front.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

yes, Ben. Yes!

another book I have found important in terms of many of these themes – finding yourself, working out who you are in your family, understanding your mission in God, dealing with the death of a sibling – is mystical_paths_by_susan_howatch
Actually, it’s part of a long series about this psychic but though it speaks casually of paranormal abilities it is very real and goes deep into our day to day lives.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

5 days later

Marmalade said

I checked out your review of Mystical Paths and sounds like a strange story.
Have you read the whole series?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

6 days later

Nicole said

it’s a very strange story! i’ve only read a couple of the books, and while i’m mildly interested in the rest, you know the mantra! so many books… 🙂

Science of Happiness

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, the best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness, argues that people who try to imagine how much they will like or dislike a future event (a blind date, say) are usually wildly off the mark, and that the most reliable measure of their future response seems to be that of someone who has already experienced the event — rather than any actual information about the event itself — even if that person is a stranger.

Indeed, Gilbert and his co-authors cite previous research showing people’s scant ability to predict their future feelings about most things: “people have been shown to overestimate how unhappy they will be after receiving bad test results, becoming disabled or being denied a promotion, and to overestimate how happy they will be after winning a prize, initiating a romantic relationship or taking revenge against those who have harmed them.”

But such is the resistance to this proposition — people like to think of themselves as unique, self-aware individuals who can predict their own responses — that even after being shown how muddleheaded their own predictions tend to be, people still prefer to rely on them rather than seeking advice from others, Gilbert’s study found.

Can You Predict Happiness?
By Tiffany Sharples
 
If you think you can predict what you will like, think again. When people try to estimate how much they will enjoy a future experience, they are dependably wrong, according to research by Harvard psychologists — and the reason is something they call “attentional collapse.” When we imagine future experiences, we tend to compare them with alternative experiences — experiences we’ve had in the past, or other experiences we might have before or after. But the fact is that none of those alternatives come into play once we’re actually in the moment. That’s what Daniel Gilbert, author and Harvard psychology professor, means by “attentional collapse”: it’s the idea that when we are actually having an engaging, encompassing experience, it acts like a black hole of imagination, sucking in all of our attention and making our preconceptions irrelevant.

[…]  In his latest research, conducted in collaboration with social psychologist Carey Morewedge of Carnegie Mellon University and presented last weekend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Gilbert bolsters the theory that our inability to predict enjoyment of our future experiences keeps us from accurately predicting what will make us happiest in the future overall.

[…]  Envisioning what life would have been like with an alternate spouse becomes difficult and increasingly irrelevant as you settle into the life you’ve selected. “Once you make a choice in life, the unchosen alternatives evaporate,” he says. According to Gilbert’s earlier research, which he featured in his 2006 book, Stumbling on Happiness, when faced with an irrevocable decision, people are happier with the outcome than when they have the opportunity to change their minds. “It’s a very powerful phenomenon,” he says. “This is really the difference between dating and marriage.”

 

In one study, researchers at the University of Edinburgh suggest that genes account for about 50% of the variation in people’s levels of happiness — the underlying determinant being genetically determined personality traits, like “being sociable, active, stable, hardworking and conscientious,” says co-author Timothy Bates. What’s more, says Bates, these happiness traits generally come as a package, so that if you have one you’re likely to have them all.

Bates and his Edinburgh colleagues drew their conclusions after looking at survey data of 973 pairs of adult twins. They found that, on average, a pair of identical twins shared more personality traits than a pair of non-identical twins. And when asked how happy they were, the identical twin pairs responded much more similarly than other twins, suggesting that both happiness and personality have a strong genetic component. The study, published in Psychological Science, went one step further: it suggested that personality and happiness do not merely coexist, but that in fact innate personality traits cause happiness. Twins who had similar scores in key traits — extroversion, calmness and conscientiousness, for example — had similar happiness scores; once those traits were accounted for, however, the similarity in twins’ happiness scores disappeared.

One of the biggest issues in happiness research is the question of how much our happiness is under our control. In 1996 University of Minnesota researcher David Lykken published a paper looking at the role of genes in determining one’s sense of satisfaction in life. Lykken, now 76, gathered information on 4,000 sets of twins born in Minnesota from 1936 through 1955. After comparing happiness data on identical vs. fraternal twins, he came to the conclusion that about 50% of one’s satisfaction with life comes from genetic programming. (Genes influence such traits as having a sunny, easygoing personality; dealing well with stress; and feeling low levels of anxiety and depression.) Lykken found that circumstantial factors like income, marital status, religion and education contribute only about 8% to one’s overall well-being. He attributes the remaining percentage to “life’s slings and arrows.”

Because of the large influence of our genes, Lykken proposed the idea that each of us has a happiness set point much like our set point for body weight. No matter what happens in our life–good, bad, spectacular, horrific–we tend to return in short order to our set range. Some post-tsunami images last week of smiling Asian children returning to school underscored this amazing capacity to right ourselves. And a substantial body of research documents our tendency to return to the norm. A study of lottery winners done in 1978 found, for instance, that they did not wind up significantly happier than a control group. Even people who lose the use of their limbs to a devastating accident tend to bounce back, though perhaps not all the way to their base line. One study found that a week after the accident, the injured were severely angry and anxious, but after eight weeks “happiness was their strongest emotion,” says Diener. Psychologists call this adjustment to new circumstances adaptation. “Everyone is surprised by how happy paraplegics can be,” says Kahneman. “The reason is that they are not paraplegic full time. They do other things. They enjoy their meals, their friends. They read the news. It has to do with the allocation of attention.”

In his extensive work on adaptation, Edward Diener has found two life events that seem to knock people lastingly below their happiness set point: loss of a spouse and loss of a job. It takes five to eight years for a widow to regain her previous sense of well-being. Similarly, the effects of a job loss linger long after the individual has returned to the work force.

When he proposed his set-point theory eight years ago, Lykken came to a drastic conclusion. “It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller,” he wrote. He has since come to regret that sentence. “I made a dumb statement in the original article,” he tells TIME. “It’s clear that we can change our happiness levels widely–up or down.”

[…]  But other psychologists are more skeptical. Some simply doubt that personality is that flexible or that individuals can or should change their habitual coping styles. “If you’re a pessimist who really thinks through in detail what might go wrong, that’s a strategy that’s likely to work very well for you,” says Julie Norem, a psychology professor at Wellesley College and the author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. “In fact, you may be messed up if you try to substitute a positive attitude.” She is worried that the messages of positive psychology reinforce “a lot of American biases” about how individual initiative and a positive attitude can solve complex problems.