As a humanist I am concerned with the quality of life on earth in the here, now and future. I judge the state of my life by the amount and quality of happiness I feel in the present and to a certain extent the happiness I anticipate in the future. This judgement includes the happiness of those closest to me and then in ever widening concentric circles the rest of humanity and other sentient beings.
what is happiness?
The Happiness Myth as well as the Psychology Today article referred to below prompted me to think about exactly what I mean by the word 'happiness'. Is happiness "an objective condition of life rather than a hedonic mental state" is one way to get at a definition. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-fair-society/201108/what-good-is-happiness-part-two I believe there are certainly objective conditions which must be met in order to achieve a "hedonic state of mind". The most basic and obvious are enough to eat, a safe environment and access to the resources to acquire the basic needs. Or is a more clear definition found in Hecht's book, simply put as "Happiness is feeling good."? She does offer a more concrete suggestion, breaking the concept into 3 distinct categories: a good day, euphoria and a happy life. A good day might consist in getting something to eat or buying a new ipad. Euphoria could be gotten through sex, drugs or some mystical experience, etc.. A happy life is a bit more complicated. As Hecht points out the pursuit of the happy life may involve us in difficult or unpleasant tasks such as labor, delaying or even forgoing gratification in order to create the conditions for achieving a happy life. Sometimes the various types of happiness are in sync sometimes not so much.
In the Psychology Today article cited above Peter Corning suggests that real happiness is about satisfying our basic biological needs including our innate sense of fairness. As Corning puts it "The bottom line is simply this: Happiness is a worthy goal (I wish it Godspeed), but as a nation we would do much better to be guided by a biological perspective and to give the highest priority to meeting the basic needs of all of our people, with full employment being only a starting point. This is the very foundation of social justice, and it is an essential prerequisite for "the pursuit of happiness.". "
Is happiness a matter of satisfying certain basic everyday biological needs spiced with a dash of euphoria and pursuit of a common value based goal? Most of the things that induce my personal happiness would fit into one or more of these categories. I wouldn't argue with the baseline for happiness being the satisfaction of basic biological needs especially since as a hardcore materialist I believe the whole of human experience is defined by our biological nature. As for euphoria, can there ever be enough? I don't think so. Hecht says otherwise, "Euphoria is the spice of life: you don't need much but most of us really need some." I would amend that statement to "most of us really need some more." While I agree with her that true euphoria is not a commonplace experience I believe the investment of time and energy in its pursuit is worthwhile in and of itself. As for sharing value based common goals, well we are all in this together. Sharing the rewards and risks inherent in life is just an ethic I believe in deeply. Does anyone reading this really believe it's every man for himself? I agree with Hecht when she says "We are not individuals, not really. We are each a node in a mesh of relationships." And for me the wider and deeper the mesh the happier I am.
That is all I have for now. If you happen to read this let me know what you think about happiness and what makes you happy.