20 November 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The way to happiness + News

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are visiting a topic we had the opportunity to discuss
before: The way to happiness.

This title immediately conjures up images of roads and journeys and most
important of all destination. In my few paragraphs on the topic I try to
take a different approach from the standard one of –what can I do to be
happy?- to: what can prevent me from being happy and what do I need to
have to overcome any obstacles?

In the meantime Ruel has sent us details of his essay and Miguel has
sent us news of his maths tertulia:

Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote on the topic for Sunday's PhiloMadrid:
See you on Sunday,
All the best,

Estimado tertuliano,
Te invitamos a asistir a la próxima Tertulia de Matemáticas el próximo
Martes 25 de Noviembre a las 19:00h en El Centro Segoviano de Madrid:
Didoku (https://sites.google.com/site/tertuliadematematicas/25-11-2014)

Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Matemáticas

The way to happiness

Happiness is big business! The tourism industry strives in giving us a
happy time when we spend our money visiting or engaging in travel
activities. Retailers promise to give us a good experience when we spend
our money with them. And then there are the self help books on how to be
happy, the guru we consult to show us the way to be happy, the fashion
and beauty rituals we follow hoping that we feel good and thenceforth,
happy. Happiness is also important, and a happy person is as good as
being a wealthy person.

Religions, and for that matter their modern day substitutes, political
parties, promise us that we can achieve happiness by simply following
their teaching and the reward of happiness is guaranteed even though
happiness is experienced in another world, wherever that maybe. At least
religions have a cheaper model than political parties, they only want
our spiritual allegiance, and the occasional "membership fees." Whereas
political parties want our vote, and then they want us to pay for their
dilettante experiments in social engineering through taxes.

Philosophy and science are not immune from this business. Many grants
have been given to investigate the status of happiness in human beings.
And philosophers have also been writing about the subject since the
ancient Greeks, if not before. Even in our group we have discussed the
topic of happiness many times before. Indeed the business of happiness
is so important that today we have such tools as the Gross National
Happiness Indicator that is supposed to measure the state of happiness
in a country.

However, what we know for sure is that happiness is an emotion and that
we are all subject to experience this emotion by virtue of being human
beings. Not forgetting, in the meantime, that as philosophers we are not
concerned with people who, unfortunately, suffer from some form of
medical disease, but our concern is with the normal rational human
beings and how they feels. In other words, we are concerned with people
we come cross in our lives. This is important because emotions are
clearly a physical manifestation in us and what matters is the cause of
this emotion. If a disease is causing us to feel bad and unhappy then
that is clearly a matter for medicine and medical care to solve. Hence,
the best advice before setting off on the way to happiness, like the
pilgrimage to Santiago, is to make sure that one is healthy, within
reasonable measures. This does not mean that sick people cannot be
happy, but being sick is not the right way to be happy.

What does not belong in the domain of medicine then it would be a
legitimate concern for philosophers to examine and investigate. The
traditional way philosophers have investigated happiness was to examine
meaning and how we can achieve happiness. Indeed, the happiness business
focuses on how we can achieve happiness. But I argue that this approach
is the equivalent of finding the silver bullet pill in medicine that
will cure all diseases and ailments.

The idea of a silver bullet solution in philosophy, and medicine for
that matter, is flawed for the simple reason that we are all individuals
with different physical and psychological needs. Sure we can generalise
and solve some issues, but the further we remove ourselves from
molecules and cells the more we are unique individuals; and it's bad
enough at the molecular and cell level. Thus trying to give instruction
on how to arrive to happiness is like saying: since all roads lead to
Rome, then all roads to Rome are the same. In the Newtonian universe,
the one we inhabit, journeys are not the same because we are all

I would argue that the road or the way to happiness depends on two
approaches: of course, the first approach depends on what we can do, for
example, how lazy are we from visiting the doctor when things are not
functioning properly with our bodies.

This is not a call to become hypochondriacs, but a call to take
responsibility for our health. Being healthy will service us well in our
quest foe happiness, although it is neither a necessary nor sufficient
condition but will certainly be useful. But trying to be healthy when we
can do something about it is also a duty towards society; not only to
meet our commitments to society but more importantly prevention or
solving issues early will be less of a burden on the health system and
the attention of carers. The resources we use needlessly might be well
used on less fortunate people than us.

The second approach to the way to happiness is an analysis of what
prevents us from being happy, and in particular: who is preventing us
from being happy and why? A key issue here is whether some people are
making an effort to stop us from being happy or is our unhappiness a
consequence of the unreasonable acts of others?

People can become unhappy because of their economic and social
circumstances. And without delving into the meaning of happiness there
is a difference between being happy with one's lot and being in a
situation that causes one stress and disharmony.

Of course, others can influence our state of happiness through their
actions and our relationships with them. In a way, social norms and
accepted behaviour function as a way to maintain good relationships with
each other. The value of norms is not so much for what they might
represent, but for their predictive power. When people are courteous to
us, we know more or less in advance how they are going to behave with us
in the future. Having said that, many fraudsters use this strategy of
seeming very nice to exploit law abiding people.

The other pitfall on the way to happiness is that we focus solely on
achieving happiness but we forget about the consequences, especially
unintended consequence, our project might entail. I don't only mean what
will happen to us if our project fails, but rather what will it take to
achieve and sustain our project.

What we don't know about how to achieve happiness could very well be
because we are careless or lazy to obtain the right information or maybe
because we are not equipped with the epistemological mindset to know.
For example, if one does not read the technical reviews about new mobile
phones we might be persuaded to buy a model that is not suitable for us.
But what if the government fails to publish a damning report about a
product that is having harmful effects on people: is this a case of not
having the epistemological means to pursue our life of happiness
intelligently? Is this an intentional act by people to prevent us from
achieving our goals? We mustn't confuse being blissfully ignorant (of
the facts) from being in a state of happiness.

Indeed, one of the most serious challenges we face in achieving
happiness is our state of knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge
plays an import, if not key, role in our quest for happiness. Knowing
that we have won the lottery big time will certainly bring a smile to
our faces despite the tax bill that follows after.

The effect of not being happy is that we might be easier pray for
manipulation and exploitation; just look at the thousands of people who
were promised by human traffickers a better life in Europe only to be
forced into prostitution or work in sweatshops. Thus withholding
information or disseminating false information by people in position of
authority can have a direct effect on how we feel, and more importantly
what we can achieve. Being exploited and cheated is not a happy moment,
as many of will know from experience after a dodgy menu-del-dia.

My basic argument is that knowledge is both a necessary and sufficient
condition for us to achieve happiness. But this requires that, first and
foremost, we know how to distinguish facts from fiction and secondly,
how to deal with the eternal paradox of knowledge: the more we know, the
more we seem to know very little.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The way to
happiness + News

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