How to be happy

posted 16 April 2002

What do I want out of life, how best do I get it, and what factors do I need to consider?

What I want out of life is happiness. This is always true, no matter how you look at it or reconsider things - everything boils down to a desire for contentment.

How do I achieve happiness? My first thought is that in the simplest situation, I should be able to become happy by fulfilling all my needs. But "needs" are fictional. What we universally classify as "basic needs" - food, water, shelter, et al - are what are required to stay alive. However, we do not "need" to stay alive, if you think about it. We want to stay alive. Therefore, almost any need we come across has a want at its heart. This is important to remember. It means that any "needs" you find defined by any source are essentially false. So, hereafter, "needs" and "wants" should be taken to mean essentially the same thing.

Now some people fool themselves into thinking that they should be happy once they have all their needs, and if, once they have all that they think that they need and are still not happy then they are greedy or malcontent. This is dumb, because what they think they need has been arbitrarily defined, either by themselves based on certain perceived criteria on their part, or, as is more often the case, by the combined pressures of society, and religion. Essentially, happiness is happiness, and if for some reason you want more than society has defined that you need, then it doesn't mean you're malcontent, it means that the needs you have defined are not complete. You can be happy by fulfilling all your needs, but first you must seek and define your needs, and everybody's needs vary. So to be happy, you have to be honest with yourself.

Now, thinking along these lines, it seems that your needs are defined and limited by how much you know: because, while you may not want everything, the more you know exists, the more things in that there are to want. What you want is a percentage, or in some other way related to, how much you know. Now, morality and to some extent religion define wanting all the desirable things of which you know as "greed" and further says that this is somehow wrong. This would be appear to be illogical in any case - how can wanting be wrong? It's just a thought. Surely it would be the acquisition and the means of acquisition which, if at all, would be "wrong" but my opinion is that this too is false. A basic human characteristic is desire, and in nearly all cases this desire seems to extend endlessly, defined by the level of knowledge for an individual. The only apparent exception occurs in the case of the "good Samaritan," the person who "lives to help others," and those who feel guilt through acquisition. In nearly all cases, again, these would appear to be cases of self-delusion, albeit in some cases admirable self-delusion - while doing good by the abandonment of worldly goods may cause happiness, it seems to me unlikely that this happiness would be greater than that obtained by fulfilling all one's needs. For some people, however, religious and/or social brainwashing will have made these the only ways to achieve happiness.

With analysis, it becomes apparent that knowledge therefore also limits one's happiness through interaction with the real world and by the fact that no knowledge is discrete. If for instance all somebody wants is good-tasting food within easy reach and a dry place to sleep, the knowledge required to remain constantly happy in that state is vast: one must learn farming, and all its inherent skills such as animal husbandry and/or agriculture, and one must have a knowledge of construction to the extent that a dry place to sleep can be maintained indefinitely. This knowledge leads on to other knowledge: how to make a comfortable place to sleep, how to get more food, how to store food so it doesn't have to be killed every day - these are all things that the previously-happy person will now become unhappy desiring. This same knowledge, in certain cases, will produce unhappiness another way, through interaction with the real world: if one lives in a swamp, or the animals you were farming die, one's knowledge of a dry place to sleep and easy-to-reach food makes one unhappy.

Think of a graph of happiness with increasing knowledge. At no knowledge, you want nothing and get nothing, so your happiness is total, or infinite, depending upon whether you think there is a limit to happiness. Ignorance is supreme happiness. Then, as knowledge increases, happiness decreases exponentially to some limit. Now, factor in the happiness obtained for a level of knowledge, assuming this arbitrarily to be a straight-line function of the amount of knowledge. Thus, although there is infinite happiness at no knowledge, there is also infinite happiness at infinite knowledge, and since no one has no knowledge, this is the only approachable point of happiness. It also suggests that there is a low point of happiness at one stage, when one's unhappiness due to knowledge of what one does not have is least balanced by happiness at what one does have. Experience shows that this happens frequently on a personal and even on a social level.

Thus, the way to be happy is to get as much knowledge as possible.
But what form of knowledge? And what about:

  • Power?
  • Money?
  • Acceptance?
  • Love?
How do they factor in? Are they all knowledge?

This clearly requires a lot more thinking about. Maybe one day I'll do it.

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