Pleasure isn’t everything

I found this on the New York Times website. I love this idea that sometimes, paradoxically, happiness comes from a seeming willingness to put our pleasures on hold (e.g. when we have children!) As it says here, it’s about degrees of happiness though. Pleasure comes second to meaningfulness and relationship.

A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness

Published: May 16, 2011

“In his 2008 book, “Gross National Happiness,” Dr. Brooks argues that what’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” — the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.

“People find meaning in providing unconditional love for children,” writes Dr. Brooks, who is now president of the American Enterprise Institute. “Paradoxically, your happiness is raised by the very fact that you are willing to have your happiness lowered through years of dirty diapers, tantrums and backtalk. Willingness to accept unhappiness from children is a source of happiness.

Some happiness researchers have suggested that parents delude themselves about the joys of children: They focus on the golden moments and forget the more frequent travails. But Dr. Seligman says that parents are wisely looking for more than happy feelings.

“If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago,” he says. “ We have children to pursue other elements of well-being. We want meaning in life. We want relationships.”

In observing people’s need for accomplishment, Dr. Seligman says, he’s reminded of his early experiments that famously identified the concept of “learned helplessness.” He found that when animals or people were given a series of arbitrary punishments or rewards, they stopped trying to do anything constructive.

“We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being,” he said. “It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

To avoid that sort of malaise, Dr. Seligman recommends looking at the basic elements of well-being, identifying which ones matter most to you, setting goals and monitoring progress. Simply keeping track of how much time you spend daily pursuing each goal can make a difference, he says, because it’s easy to see discrepancies between your goals and what you do.”



2 Responses to Pleasure isn’t everything

  1. I was very interested to read this excerpt, T. I’ve not long finished reading Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, which talks about all this and more. It offers lots of simple techniques for moving away from learned helplessness and encouraging optimistic behaviour. It’s not as simplistic as my description makes it sound. I highly recommend it.

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