On Happiness

For me societal happiness is a logical goal for any society we try to create. The question should be how do we achieve a society where everyone is happy? This question has been raised throughout the ages. It is not a new concept. It was talked about during the utilitarian movement in Great Britain in the early 19th century. It’s been talked about in various Buddhist texts as the ultimate goal for all individuals. It’s been talked about by philosophers throughout the ages. I’m not going to go into too much more detail about the history of humanity’s search for global happiness. What I wanted to talk about was consumer happiness versus societal happiness.

When I say consumer happiness I am revering to the current age of consumerism and businesses constant message consume this to be happy. Here’s a TV, you are happy right? Here’s a dishwasher, you can save time, you’re happy right? Here’s a new phone, you’re happy right? etc. There is so much imagery of happiness around us that it creates somewhat of a negative condition in which there is an expectation that you should be happy and that the alternative to happiness is wrong. This consumer happiness is not Utopian happiness, it is not utilitarian happiness, it is not reaching nirvana happiness. In fact it is the opposite to all of those. Yes, we are living in a plastic punk Dystopia.

You may wonder, why do I say it is the opposite. Rather than going into materialism versus minimalism and the achievement of happiness from within rather than external forces I’m going to jump straight into Utilitarianism’s goal of global societal happiness. Utilitarianism asked the question what is the purpose (utility) of the thing. Does it create happiness? On the surface that may seem like it is in line with consumer based happiness. Does a TV create happiness? However the question wasn’t directed at individual objects not the achievement of happiness by the individual. It was aimed at the achievement of global happiness. Of societal happiness in which the entire group is happy. The question was directed at systems and policy. At the governmental level. Does this law create happiness? Does this bill generate happiness? Is the purpose of this system to ensure happiness? Does this utility contribute to our happiness? If the answer came back as no the view was then to dismantle or remove the offending utility.

Why do I say then that consumer happiness is against the idea of utilitarian happiness? While we can argue the creation of consumer products creates happiness it doesn’t ensure it. In many cases it can actually contribute to greater unhappiness. Material based happiness is a shift of the burden. It goes something like this:

I’m unhappy, I’ll buy a TV, when I watch TV I’m happy, why was I unhappy? I don’t know, Probably because I didn’t have a TV. Thus the cause of unhappiness is shrouded, the burden of maintaining your happiness is shifted and your actual ability to create your own happiness has been diminished.

That is not the utilitarian idea of global happiness. To them the question was why are people unhappy in the first place. What can be done on a societal/governmental/community based level that will unsure the initial thing that caused the unhappiness isn’t there whatever that may be. Back to the TV example, it could be that the unhappiness was generate by stress and that a stress relieving activity was required, thus watching TV would have been a good solution. But the question comes up, what is causing the stress? Why is the stress there in the first place? How can we create a society in which the stress that required you to buy a TV in the first place is not there?

While we are talking about the creation and maintenance of happiness on a societal level, I would like to point out the mistake that governments often make when it comes to happiness. Societal happiness is not populism. Populism is a shallow form of happiness at best. At worst it is sadistic happiness. Take anti-abortion laws, presumably governments put these in place because it will make x number of people happy. This group is sufficiently large enough to mean that making them happy allows those in power to maintain power. The trouble with the happiness they are creating here is that it is sadistic happiness. It is the happiness of one group to the detriment of another group. IE that one group that is happy is happy because another group suffers. The happiness created from such a policy is shallow and won’t last. Those who fought for it don’t actually gain any happiness from the existence of the policy. Most likely they will move onto the next moral fight. The policy fails the basic questions of utilitarianism. Was the purpose of the policy to create societal happiness? Perhaps on some kind of moral superiority level but on an actual societal level its purpose is not to create happiness nor to maintain happiness. What’s more it is a policy that would be seen as a great crime by the movement as it creates unhappiness.

Giving the people what they want is different to making society happy. A globally happy society is a far reaching goal that requires meticulous planning and a complete avoidance of superficial happiness. It requires the seeking of a deeper happiness on a communal level not the individual.

Cultural Difference YOLO

For those of you who haven’t heard YOLO it means you only live once. I wouldn’t normally talk about YOLO since in Australia it has come to mean acting like a complete dickhead. I thought about it today though because through YOLO I found a distinct cultural difference between Japan and Australia, as well as the rest of the countries founded by Great Britain.

To set the scene I was teaching a class of grade nine students. I should note that while grade nine in Australia is the most reviled grade, in Japan it is one of the most hard working grades. To answer why in one sentence is nigh impossible. It has a lot to do with responsibility though. In Japan grade nine is the final grade for middle school. They have a great big, extremely important, will decide the rest of your life, test at the end of it. Actually it just determines which high school you can attend but that then determines the quality of your high school education, and ability to get into university. In short it is a pretty important test. That’s just a tangent though. Perhaps one day I’ll write a blog about it.

Back to what this blog is about and setting the scene. The students had to write answers to various English questions. One of the questions in this list was: What is the most important for you? I didn’t write the questions so don’t get up me for not adding thing or in life. While most of the students wrote things like friends and family a couple of them wrote life because YOLO. Well actually they didn’t quite write that. One wrote; if you die than you can’t do anything and the other wrote; you only have one life.

This got me thinking about what the sentence means to the two cultures. In Australia a person who says you only live once is about to skydive, drive at 160 km/hr in a 50 zone or smash a bottle on table and glass someone in the face with it. Basically be a bogan. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with skydiving. There is a percentage of YOLOians in Australia that use it to mean something pretty wholesome like YOLO so I’m going to go live my dream instead of YOLO so i’m going to be a dickhead.

In Japan it means something quite different. It’s nothing about living life to the maxtreme. pursuing your dream or being a dickhead to everyone because fuck those guys, Instead it’s YOLO so don’t fuck it up. A grade nine kid in Japan inspired by YOLO will study harder, Aim for higher grades. Try and get into a the better high school so they can get the best University they can. Look for a good partner have kids and inspire them to travel the same path. A Japanese YOLOian is a paragon of Japanese self discipline and inspirational to all. To me, a fifteen year old kid that decides life is the most important thing so I’m going work hard is a pretty amazing thing to witness.

It’s a pretty big difference. It makes me wonder. If YOLO creates a paragon in Japan, does that mean the same for Australia. Are the YOLOians in Australia paragons of what it means to be Australian? Perhaps so. As mentioned there isn’t just one kind of YOLO in Australia. There is the kind that use it to push themselves to fulfill their dreams. In Japan it may mean to work hard but working hard doesn’t necessarily equal fulfilling your dream. For example, I want to be a famous writer. One thing that pushes me to keep on writing everyday is YOLO. I would hate it if at the end of my life I sit there on my death bed and think I should have worked harder on my writing. Even if I never get anywhere with my writing I want to be able to say I tried. Writing isn’t my day job though. I’m also an English teacher. If I only worked hard at being an English teaching then I would never fulfill that dream. In Japan, someone who YOLOed their whole life. Worked hard, got a good job, made a nice family etc, may at the end of their life look back and think yea but I never did that thing I really wanted to do.

Conclusions? Both are right. Well not those that say YOLO so I’m going to be a dickhead. They’re dickheads. A merging of the two would be ideal. YOLO so work hard at everything you do. Make that perfect life but also fulfill your dream. Be fucking awesome because you only live once. I guess the trouble comes down to defining awesome.