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Despite the historical search for a definition of happiness, psychology today talks, at most, about happy people within the frame of the concept of mental health. The connection between happiness and mental health is quite strong, but happiness – and the ways of reaching it – has not become a part of the mainstream research and has been discussed only by positive psychology (e.g. Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi etc.). This is due to many reasons:
Despite these reasons, it seems clear that it would profit mankind if science provided some guidance on how to attain happiness, which would also state something of the meaning of human life.
In Psychology 2.0's one main article? we presented a model called Fodormik's Integrated Paradigm for Psychology, that makes us understand the joy and happiness from a cognitive point of view. We have seen that FIPP describes thinking processes in problem solving. It can also say something about sexual life and gender differences. Since FIPP? is rooted in system theory, it is worth examining further, whether the described patterns works also on other systems.
As an example, a society is a system, but so are the human brain, groups, companies and the family. It is, therefore, not illogical that, if we look for the same pattern in these systems, that how we perceive things is simply a matter of organization and viewpoint. It is about the same people, just that at one time we consider them as elements that assist a company, another time as units of race-preservation (family), and yet another time as parts of a community bordered by geographical borders. “Reality” is the same, the only difference being the viewpoint, the way we model reality, and at what level we observe. (Just as a tree is part of a forest, and the forest as a mass of trees is the same thing on a different level, so applying FIPP on different levels sheds light upon different things.)
When we examined the topics of smoking and sex, we observed certain isolated parts of human life. Now we are trying to apply FIPP to all of human life, and make no secret of our aim, which is to define happiness and compare ways that lead to it.
Initially, we must learn something what is for sure unhappy: the end of our lives.
We tested FIPP with problem-solving first. But happiness is connected with life, not problems. Or would life then be a problem as well? If it was, how can we be so different and still have common problems? Is there also a turning point in life, when something new emerges, such as a new cognitive schema emerging during the process of problem-solving?
My answer is yes. Everybody’s common problem is that we are going to die. Since we were born, we will also die. It is an axiom based on the biological nature of human existence that we need to do something about our own (physical) dissolution.
If the problem is "how do I deal with my death", then how is happiness connected to it? To answer this question, we have to divide the concept of happiness for a while into short-term happiness (we can call it joy; for example when seeing a person for the first time in ages) and permanent happiness. In our previous discussion of permanent happiness, we touched upon solving the problem of “what can I do about my death?”; that is about accepting death as the natural order of life, and that our physical presence is a temporary condition, which goes against the normal flow of the universe. What is meant by ‘going against the normal flow of the universe’ will now be discussed.
Perhaps one of the most general physical laws (besides the concept of time and space in the relativity theory) is the so-called principle of growing entropy; the alternative name is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The concept of entropy shows how inordinate a system is: how evenly the elements and energy of a system are distributed. In other words, how the distribution of the elements of the system is very similar to random distribution.
The principle of growing entropy says that a system strives to be entropic, and that order is an unnatural condition of nature. So maintaining order (e.g. keeping two things separated from each other) requires effort. Based on the concept used in the aggression article, we can say that repulsive connection is against the laws of nature. We have also seen that boundaries are nothing but repulsive connections. If borders are against the laws of nature, then the splitting up of borders accords with the laws of nature.
The human body is an entity that has borders. Moreover, the Self has borders too, and people want to strengthen these borders. Nature inevitably handles this by using the principle of growing entropy as a temporary state: atoms manage to congregate against the principle of growing entropy for a while (cf. body) then nature wins and atoms begin to depart from each other (cf. decomposing body).
What people need to realize to accept their unavoidable death is that all their boundaries are temporary. They can only be maintained by force, and that it is normal that they will end. We do not have to separate ourselves from nature and society and their laws; we do not have to strengthen our separation from them; but we have to obey them. The meaning of obedience to these laws and flow, and whether we impersonate them, is discussed in our study of the ways to happiness.
For someone trying to apply the description of FIPP and its examples to himself whilst reading them, it will not be of any surprise if I say that the experience of Self-expansion is closely related to the everyday use of the concept of happiness. Perhaps even more than closely related, as there is the matter of pride being a part of it, due to the enhanced Self and new competencies. This is the small difference (amongst other things) why I think it is important to enter the new concept within the formulation of FIPP, and is also the reason why I did not use the word happiness.
However, with the help of FIPP, we can define happiness as experiencing Self-expansion.
I previously noted that, when examining happiness, we have to keep the aspect of time within view: happiness is either manifested for a short time (so to say, as an impulse) or is manifested as an elongated period (as a mental state). This division does not invalidate the previous definition (happiness = experiencing Self-Expansion) as the fact that we can apply the model of FIPP on different levels and different complexities of phenomena also means that it describes things of different temporal courses. For example, when someone learns how to furnish his room (or his office, his workbench, his computer’s file system) then the new concept (a collection of ordering principles) is, in itself, the solving of a problem. However, during the execution, new partial problems occur (I cannot connect two cables, a cabinet does not fit, etc.). On the level of schemata, these partial problems are the ‘children’ schemata of the conception established by deduction from higher-level schemata. But these partial problems can include other problems as well (the two cables can finally be connected, but the socket of one of them is slightly deformed; finally there is space for the cabinet, but is it not level). The solving of these partial-partial-problems' solution are also showing the FIPP-pattern, just like the discovery of the conception. So, it causes Self-expansion as well, which is equal to little pleasures (pleasure as short-term happiness).
As we have seen before, schemata do not only have constituent parts (children-schemata)), but they themselves are parts of something. Together with other schemata, they make a higher-level schema. In our case, the room we furnished with our conception serves our comfort, improves our efficiency and altogether serves to achieve our goals. Thus, they contribute to a happiness that manifests itself over the longer term. If we continue the list, we can find what is common in the nature of pleasure and happiness: since achieving our goals, being better at our jobs eventually helps us to reach the final goal of lives and contributes to whether, overall, we live a happy life or not.
The only question remaining is: what possibilities do we have in determining the final goal of our lives? Before answering this question, we have to examine whether there has to be a final goal of our lives at all. Do we overcomplicate things, or place an unnecessary load on ourselves by setting up goals? Because it can also be – and this leads us to the question of freedom – that the goal hinders us. (As an example of the hindering nature of goals, if my goal is to lose weight, then I cannot eat whatever and however much I want.).
Western cultures have been determined over the ages by the question (for example, existentialism, and the work of Camus, Sartre et al): which one is more important; freedom or happiness? From the moment we commit to something we are no longer free (if we ever were). And this something can be the final goal as well. So, if we have a goal, we cannot do anything and everything we want to any more; we are no longer free. The inverse of this logic follows: we should not have goals so that we can preserve our freedom.
From another viewpoint, people who lack the competency of controlling the Environment are not free. Since the Environment controls him, he cannot do what he wants, and so he is not free.
Let us translate the above two thoughts into the language of FIPP:
From all of this (if Self-Narrowed state is due to the missing freedom) we can draw the conclusion that the Self-expanded state is nothing other than freedom. This is supported by a visual example as well: birds are the symbol of freedom in many cultures, as living in the air enables movement in all three dimensions. If we imagine the Self of a bird in the air, it is without boundaries, just like the air, since wherever there is air it can fly there. (Please note, that a bird by knowing how to fly, can control the air around him)
Is it not contradictory to say that Self-expansion is happiness first and then saying it is freedom? Moreover, we have also stated that these two are incompatible…
The free person loses his freedom and becomes happy when he finds the goal that suits him. While he works on achieving his goal, he advances the Self-expansion which will come to him, and which can make him happy. Although it is possible that he endures a deal of frustration on the way to the goal, knowing he is on the right way makes him happy. That is, if he knows. As approaching the goal also has a pattern described in FIPP, when we meet difficulties, we become uncertain whether we are really on the right path, and whether we really want that goal. (For example, when sportsmen train daily to win the Olympics, which occur just once every four years, and have to daily persuade themselves that it is a goal worth working hard for.)
If we do not commit to anything, in order to selfishly preserve our freedom, paradoxically our freedom loses its value. In other words, the value of freedom manifests itself when we give it up; until that point, it is seemingly worthless. Let us again look at birds. Try not to imagine an average bird, but rather one which strives for absolute freedom that it wants to preserve forever; its ability to fly in all directions. If it starts flying to a direction (e.g. horizontally in a valley) a hillside will eventually be in its way. At this point, it might turn back to where it still has space; that may be the exact place where it came from. The more it fears its freedom the faster it will turn back, until it will go around in circles. Sooner or later, it will starve in the air. However, despite freedom being important to the bird, it will not discover an exit from the valley through which he could have flown out and over an ocean (in psychological terms: he is afraid of exploration).
To summarize: if we do not commit and do not choose an aim, although freedom remains, the lack of a goal will also result in never reaching anything new or attaining new competencies. Not having a goal and not struggling to reach a goal keeps us away exactly from that thing why we did not want to lose our freedom. If you do not choose a goal simply to stay Self-expanded – to be free – you miss the opportunity to expand your Self by choosing a goal and reaching it. (This Self-expansion is greater even than that which comes from freedom.)
According to FIPP, enlightenment is the condition in which we reach the final and maximum extent of our Selves. In the Enlightenment article we described in detail that it is not attainable by everybody, since our innate abilities play an important rôle in whether it is it possible that a schema emerges which integrates everything.
Therefore, although in many cultures it appears black-and-white as a final goal, dangling Enlightenment before the masses is futile. On the other hand, enlightenment is not something that can be forced: it is possible to develop in certain fields, which may establish a one-level-higher schema and connect the well-known fields with others, but we cannot really want it. My belief in this is supported by wanting (the act of wanting something), which is a Self-narrowing procedure: it is the concentration upon something. Also, enlightenment requires giving up the boundaries of the Self or, as previously mentioned, it requires admitting that we are controlled by laws and cannot counteract them. Perhaps enlightenment requires a combination of knowledge and humility: here, humility is taken to mean not wishing to increase the size of our selves any more, nor to think that the boundaries of our Selves are important, nor that differentiating us from the Environment is important.
The last argument that is against choosing enlightenment as an absolute goal, is that even FIPP can provide a limited explanation for the phenomenon, primarily focusing on cognitive processes and the relationship of Self and Environment. However, the phenomenon has an emotional level that we have not touched upon so far, one that I cannot estimate the importance of, or determine exactly what happens in it. As emotions are also extremely important, it might require a totally different approach.
After this speculation on freedom, we can exclude freedom as a purpose of our life, as we have to choose a goal for ourselves. Furthermore, we have seen instances of enlightenment as, initially, an overly aspirational goal. So, let us now review what other truly satisfying objects of life are available to people which can bring us closer to enlightenment and a happy conclusion of our lives.
There is a commonplace answer to the question in the title: “So many people, so many ways”; but that is only partly true! (As we have seen in the Enlightenment article). Just as a mountain can be climbed from different directions, there are different ways of obtaining happiness. Though we can draw an endless number of paths on the mountain, the mountain has sides. Similarly, the pathways to happiness belong together according to their nature: we can distinguish religion, science, art and society as the main areas which help us prosper in life.
It has been known since Freud that people’s thinking is saturated with sex. It is also not a new discovery that the main goal of sex is pleasure. This is, therefore, the first topic we shall examine closely.
If people were animals, the sole object of their lives (so the condition of happiness at the same time) would be to give their genetic material to as many successors as possible. If it is a male, he should spread his seed indiscriminately and fertilize as many females as possible. In females, they should choose the healthiest male and give birth to a successor every year.
So far, that is the oversimplified, lay interpretation of evolution. A little more complicated, but still a particularly biological definition of the purpose of life, is that both genders strive to ensure that their successors survive and pass their genes on with the highest probability (cf. selfish gene theory). Since resources are limited, people would have to hinder the spreading of competing genes, and give preference to relatives. So aggression towards others (and the successors of others) would appear.
That evolutionary fact, that the chance of survival of certain genes is greater if the individual stays within the group makes the issue more complicated: beyond simple sex and reproductive activity the man has to deal with a more a complex issue: his relation to other people, the society, and co-operation within it. So, no path leads to happiness from mere generational and nurturing effects.
A distorted version – unsuccessfully implemented in society – of the aim inherent in biological drives, is the sex-centered lifestyle propagated by Mr. Heffner (founder of Playboy magazine) and the hippies. Orgasm is Self-expansion, and it would be logical to make it permanent by promiscuity, thus reaching a state of happiness. Even if we disregard the ethics of thousands of years, we can see that people do not get “stuck” in permanent sex, even without ethics, as orgasm is a Self-expansion that runs down quite quickly. As we experience the larger and longer Self-expansion of e.g. creation, a permanent state of orgasm will not seem to be particularly attractive as an object of life.
In activities which society respects at different levels, the height of those levels is in direct proportion to the strength and longevity of Self-expansion. And, fortunately, everything is in its place: the higher the level the activity is, the more social value it carries e.g. any form of science is incomparably more valuable to mankind than any sexual act. Perhaps there is just one position that does not support the notion that the higher the level the act is, the greater its value and the Self-expansion it causes, and that is Buddhism. From a European perspective, the pursuit of Buddhism seems more selfish than socially valuable, despite it being seen as, notionally, a religion of a higher level. This is because Buddhism only focuses on the individual by making the increase of Self-expansion the goal, not just a by-product. And this Self-expansion occurs by – in one way or another – disregarding social activities as by-products.
Another socially more valuable but still sex related topic: the question of successors. Those who are childless perhaps did not experience yet: children can be the source of enormous Self-expansion, but can also cause many Self-narrowings. Watching our children causes Self-expansion. But the road to it is not self-evidently a series of Self-expansions. Childbirth is the transcendent event for many people; it causes huge Self-expansion (without this women would face serious difficulties when enduring the pain of birth). But it is temporary, not a permanent, condition.
Let us not pass on without a summary: hopefully the foregoing was sufficient to see that sex and creating children do not of themselves lead to happiness. We can ascertain that these basic connections (according to which sex leads to Self-expansion as does having a child) are deeply encoded in people, and provide an intense drive for them. We can also state that, the smaller the chance someone has of reaching a higher-level Self-expansion, the more he focuses on those Self-expansions that are biologically available to everyone.
Let us move on to the “mountainside”, the closest relation to Self-expansion itself: religion.
Not having been at the birth of the great religions, we cannot state the reason why they were established. If we think in a very material way (and accept the model of FIPP), we can imagine the situation the following way: people lived their lives and had Self-expansions as and when they realized certain successes, they started to name these phenomena that were in connection with Self-expansion, talked about them to each other, until finally they had to attribute these strange feelings to something. Probably that was the time when they established the concept of transcendence or gods as the source of Self-expansion. They could then explain the event of Self-expansion only by assuming that there is something, beyond the physical realm, with which they were connected.
According to Jewish-Christian religiosity, man consists of two parts: the divine part (the soul) and the physical part (the body). If it is the physical part that shows change during life, we can see it. If it is the mental part, then we experience the phenomena what we call Self-expansion resp. Self-narrowing. We can look on all of this from an inverted, cause-and-effect viewpoint, as religion teaches it: the Lord gave us the ability of Self-expansion (e.g. we can pray), so that we can experience our divine part and do not forget about or ignore it. One way or another, Self-expansion connects with the transcendent, which parallels the process during Self-expansion when our Selves merge with the Environment, which is the world itself.
A teacher once told me that religions were born only in places where there were mountains. His explanation for this was that there is something in mountains that urges people to engage in transcendence.
I believe it is something else. If someone climbs a mountain, the scene in front of his eyes is a vast Environment, which he can also experience as a whole (nature) of which he is a part. For example, if he climbs to a familiar place, the valley he looks down on is on harmony, and he is safe: when he looks down on his village or recognizes the island in front of him he will have Self-expansion. Of course, if he is hanging on by his fingernails to the edge of a rock, that will more likely cause Self-narrowing.
So, where there is a mountain that can be climbed and by looking around a Self-expansion can be experienced. In addition, the new perspective can provide us with realizations of new connections so enhancing this Self-expansion. With the help of this rare perspective, which puts things into a different context, and provides a better visual representation of the proportions of man and nature, it is then easier to imagine a god who sees everything from above (it is the characteristic of god in almost every culture that he is somewhere above us).
My teacher could be right about a mountain-religion connection, but with the help of FIPP we can explain the same connection on a deeper and more intuitive level.
Although I do not have a deep knowledge of Buddhism, I shall begin with this religion as its declared aim is to reach a condition in which the soul achieves Nirvana, a state of permanent happiness. The road to that is Enlightenment, which can be reached with meditation, prayer, yoga &c. It wastes no time on gods and afterlife, but purposefully seeks to establish the top cognitive schema that can both explain the whole world and answer all questions.
Correct, straight speaking. I do not know the minutiae of the religion, but imagine that they ‘attack’ from the physical side of the “mountain”: so Self-expansion can be exerted by auto-hypnosis and relaxation; followers of this religion become adept at these techniques. The body is complex, so its mysteries have to be revealed before we can control it. That requires huge energies and a lot of time (cf. how much time is required to be able to perform yoga techniques at a ‘professional’ level).
Buddhism emphasizes the importance of getting rid of desires (and thus borders -- see Aggression article). It seems to me that Nirvana is the place where people can rid themselves of desire, and so have nothing bonding them to earthly things. How does this enter our picture? Why would reaching Nirvana, and ridding ourselves of desires, be good for us? Because every physical thing we desire can cause Self-narrowing, and that causes discomfort: we work for it until we attain it, we narrow our Selves to achieve it and to make it a part of our Selves. Then, when it is actually ours, we begin to worry that we will lose it, and that leads to new Self-narrowing. Only at the moment of obtaining do we obtain pleasure, even if ‘it’ is repeatedly obtained (for example, seeing our children day-by-day or receiving our salary regularly each month). There is no Self-expansion without Self-narrowing except when we rid ourselves of all desires and unify with the Universe; we reach Nirvana. (Although it is a big joy to have a wife, children, a house, we can never be calm, as we always have to be afraid of something in connection with them: our wife leaves us, children get sick or become lost, our house burns down… Moreover we need new, more, better: bigger house, more expensive car &c. It is conceivable that this hinders achieving a Self-expanded state.)
Let us detour to the issue of economics as a variation of the route to happiness.
Children know that wealth is relative: according to our needs, we can feel we are immensely rich with just marbles in our hands in childhood, or in adulthood even the twentieth million dollar may not be enough to assuage or quest for wealth. I translate this as: our Environment is determined by our Selves, the question is…what is important to us at a given moment: marbles or money? Environment tries to manipulate the Self (this happens in advertisements, when items appear of which we have never thought before, or when an unnecessary ‘essential’ breaks into our field of vision), and the Self does not have perfect control over what it considers to be the Environment.
There are then two extremes of feeling rich:
Buddhism tends to the latter. I also tend to a decrease in our needs, to be happy about everything we obtain as bonuses for using our abilities.
The principal concept of Judaism is that of one God, and this God gave the Torah letter by letter (its Christian equivalent is the Old Testament), and if we read it attentively and thoroughly we can answer every question (in connection with society and behavior). Since these answers come from God, they have absolute validity, and can be considered as laws. (For example, “you shall not murder” is one of these absolute commands).
The function of the laws and an everyday relationship with the Torah can be imagined as branches that are points of decision in a person’s life (beginning from what to do when I wake up, to how to behave towards my enemies). Torah and unwritten tradition is nothing else than a system of connections hidden in a limited amount of information that helps us at these branches, from which we can obtain the right answer at every decision point.
Jewish people who are religious live well if they make the right decisions. Of course, the Torah cannot be there at every single move they make, that is why there are superior commands (laws), which more or less successfully give the right answer to a particular situation.
Religious Jewish people believe that, if someone acts according to the laws, that he then acts according to the will of God, by which he, so to speak, unites with God. A way exaggerated we can say, believing in the laws make people behave rather like hypnotized people who blindly trust the hypnotist and follow his commands. Pleasure comes from the ability of following his orders and thus merging with him. In this case, the hypnotist is the most perfect thing: God. We do not have to think about what we want to do in a situation, but we have to understand what God told us precisely in order to be able to execute it. Knowing that someone who keeps to the laws of God is on the right track causes Self-expansion, as the Self merges with the Environment, which is nothing other than God. The more successfully someone keeps the laws, as he becomes more used to them and understands their common essence, the more he begins to understand the “will” of God, and so unifies with him.
The methods of merging the individual and God are greatly emphasized in religion: this goal is supported by short prayers, which people are obliged to relate virtually at every repeated event (waking, eating, traveling etc.). The rôle of prayer is to constantly remind people that everything is due to God. It is a type of auto-conditioning: people expand their Selves with a force voluntarily chosen every time to connect to the Jewish Environment that symbolizes God.
In Judaism, the power of the community plays an important rôle: while the laws and prayers regulate the relation to transcendence, this is real. The community plays the rôle of the social Environment, the place where people live their lives. Nursing the relationship with the religious Jewish community (on Sabbath dinners, feasts, in the synagogue etc.) establishes a connection that helps the merger of the Self and the social Environment. The interest in the connection is that it does not only have an effect on the present. By remembering, with the help of feasts and rituals, it provides the people with the feeling of being a part of a family/community with a glorious and long past, that many other people feel the same way, and that this connection is unconditional and exists regardless of our will (on a quasi-genetic basis). This dissolution in the past (in time) and in the world (in space) causes Self-expansion and, at the same time, it satisfies the need of defining our selves (our identity).
Another important element of Judaism is continual learning: the deepest possible knowledge and interpretation of the Torah. Discovering the connection hidden in the text causes (like problem-solving in general) Self-expansion. Moreover, it also means – since it is a divine text – that the connections of absolute laws about the relationship of God and people are revealed.
Jesus (who himself had been raised according to Jewish laws) brought something new – compared with Judaism – in the sense that he directed the attention from the outer level (discernible, phenomenological) to the inner (so to say, cognitive) processes. The change was that the priority of the acts were replaced by the equality of acts, thoughts and intentions. In tandem with this he made a new law (a high level schema): Matthew 19:19 – “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.
Jesus did not want to change the basic teaching of Judaism, only he thought that caring too much about the laws focuses our attention on appearance too much, since the laws cannot do anything with the invisible, inner processes. The regulation of the act granted the harmonic functioning of the society and the unity of the nation for the Jewish people, so it fitted the aim perfectly. However, the regulation on the level of thought directly affects the Self, so co-ordination of larger masses became possible (cf. the spreading of Christianity, evangelization). The acts and the inner world are independent of each other, because action does not influence the size of the Self. The religious Jews act for the mental representation of their acts, not necessarily for the representations of the consequences: (for example, we can practice charity without feeling anything in common with the person we help, but we can experience the pleasure of fulfilling our obligation to practice charity).
Based on this, we can consider the teaching of Christ as if Jesus had commanded: be Self-expanded in decision-making situations. If you do so, you will unite with God (the Environment), or, as your Self expands, it can reach the condition of uniting with the Environment (go to heaven cf. Enlightenment).
Let us understand this sequence of ideas through an example: the person walking in front of you drops some money on the ground. What do you do?
This ‘giving-harmony-to-the-environment’ phenomenon was mentioned in the introduction as laws e.g. helping the growth of entropy. The money was not distributed evenly (the rich had more, the hungry had less), and this was against the growth of entropy. In that the money reached the poor, the entropy of the money increased, thus events took place in unison with the laws of nature. Of course, this parallel between entropy and the distribution of money is a bit too optimistic, but we can illustrate with such visual examples that there are laws of society and nature, which we can only oppose temporarily. Going against them (or more precisely wanting-to-go-against-them) hinders reaching happiness. In Judaism, it is declared, even more evidently, that the laws of God which had to be kept are, at the same time, the laws of nature. As in Buddhism, it is the disintegration of the desires, the dissolution of borders, that results in the final calming and unifing with nature.
A friend gave the following reason for withdrawing from the world at the age of 30 and to begin living an ascetic, religious life, despite his successes in everyday life: “Let’s assume that I work to make enough money to be able to marry the kind of woman I want. So far so good. I buy a house and a car. I marry a beautiful woman and we have children. Then we will need a bigger house because the kids grow up, and a bigger car. I work to be able to buy those. I bought them. So what? My wife loses her youthful attraction after a few years, and the children leave the house…”
That is how a person without religion thinks. For him, only the results of the physical world are conceivable, as only those ‘exist’. Since he is a man, giving birth to successors does not excite his curiosity that much. Fortunately, despite the many mistakes of this friend, there is something essential about his realization: life has to have a purpose, because performance in itself (e.g. making money) does not lead to a constant happiness. Take the example of first-class sportsmen: if a single outstanding performance caused satisfaction or happiness in the long run, then every Olympic champion and world champion would retire the day following that performance. And in everyday, economic life, anyone who earned their first 10 million euros would retire from their job.
So people have to have a purpose to their lives. Moreover, a purpose of itself is not enough: we have to make a story around it so that we can explain how we chose that exact aim and provide a more precise framework for that aim. (“I work until I am rich” is the aim. But when do I achieve ‘wealth’? When I have a 1 million euro fortune, or when my income – without working – is 4000 euros a month? Why do I pass as rich from that point?) As an analogy of the expression “narrative” in philosophy, I call this personal-narrative. These personal narratives might have the same structure as the religions, but we can discover one of these on our own.
Different types of self-narrative are known by everyone. If we look at a newspaper kiosk we can read celebrity news about people that are envied. Some of these people have nothing else to do than trying to figure out how to make their life happier. The emphasis in choosing the right way is on their talent and abilities. Common to every solution is their aim of merging with the Environment
Altruism would assuredly win any vote on the nicest human characteristic, at least according to our present value system. Its definition: doing something which serves the interests of an individual or a group even if it is against our own interest. Its archetype is Mother Teresa, who helped so many of those in need that she was awarded a Nobel prize. At first sight it seems inexplicable why would someone give anything to strangers, or dispense the money he or she has gained with hard work, but it is evolutionarily reasonable. The function of the mechanism is discussed in detail in the Altruism article, where we explain the function as well. For those who have not read it, a brief summary.
When we give money to a beggar or otherwise help someone, we feel good about that. Psychology describes the phenomenon, but the explanation of the underlying process is not easy, as so far it can only be explained by empathy. According to this, we reward ourselves through seeing and experiencing the other person’s pleasure (relieved situation). According to FIPP, it is about dissolving the border of the Self, and so letting the Environment in and merging with it. We therefore act by looking at the common profile of the Self and the Environment. The merging of the Environment with the Self can be seen as Self-expansion. And it is known that Self-expansion provides a positive experience. The fact that this also happens according to the pattern of FIPP is supported by the dead point before it, when we hesitate and consider before doing something against ourselves. (The archetypal story of this hesitation is when Jesus decided to die for the good of mankind, and the dead point before that was his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he had his last chance to escape. Instead, he waited for the soldiers to find him, despite knowing the suffering awaiting him.)
Helping others (supplying food to the hungry in Africa, caring for the sick etc.) is a pro-social activity, but the efficiency of the execution is often questionable. Although the goal is pure, the way it is realized often takes matters in the wrong direction (e.g. the leader of a tribe takes all of the supplies; or unsuccessful surgery caused by malpractice) or cancels the efforts. That is why help does not have a top-form that is the most valuable, but instead has many variations according with what is considered to be the most effective and by whom. Who and how we can help also depends upon our Environment: the doctor who heals neighbors helps in one way, UN employees or charity people help another, while voluntary helpers, dedicated politicians or government advisors help in others. There are people who teach in African villages, because that is what they can do, and there are people who are cavers or first-aiders who help at disaster areas.
It is common that the saved person, the healed patient and the hungry give an enormous experience to the people who help. However, it takes great naiveté not to notice that, besides this Self-expansion, there are a lot of irritating circumstances (stealing, mistakes, bad organization) which cause Self-narrowing to the helpers. Unfortunately, there will always be suffering in the world; the realization of this leads to mental exhaustion in many altruistic people. Since the fight against problems never stops, altruism in itself does not give us the complete happiness, as it is like a drug: the more we help, the more we want to help, and the more trouble we see and experience.
We mentioned previously that mankind can be helped on many levels dependent upon the abilities of its people. A special case is of discoveries, inventions, arts and sciences. I consider these matters special as, particularly if they are pursued by people of talent, they are all self-rewarding. The Self-expansion accompanying the establishment of a new cognitive schema can maintain creativity independently of any physical circumstances: for example, money; how many starving poets/painters/inventors, such as Van Gogh, have there been?
Constant creation and sharing the new cognitive schemata would theoretically be a good solution for finding a happy life, as discoveries and works of art help people to realize and understand the laws of the world. This helps us all to live in harmony with the world. However, this path is not given to everyone as a possibility, because some lack the required abilities. Individual differences play an important rôle in the fields of personality, ability and self-estimation. It does not matter if someone has wonderful images or thoughts in his head if they cannot be realized as his skills are all manual, or cannot think rationally, or is too impatient, to work out the details properly. Individual differences play an even bigger rôle in sharing the cognitive schemata, when personality can determine how much others accept his intellectual products (think of the strange personality of Dali or Warhol, or those inventors with poor communicational skills or introverted personalities), or how he deals with the (often negative) reflection of the social Environment.
Moreover, doubt always accompanies creation, and doubt is Self-narrowing. Is what I have done nice? True? Correct? If it is, is it something new (have I given mankind anything new by this)? Could I have done the same thing better? These questions are the great enemies of artists and scientists. If someone is talented, and the age in which he lives understands him, his personality remains healthy and he reaches happiness on this path. That is why I believe it probable that Picasso or Einstein were happy.
Mental health and creation is not a simple issue. In particular art – and science – heals, if someone connects to reality through these, if for nothing other than the frequent Self-expansion, which dissolve the tensions and contradictions between the cognitive schemata within the Self. However, the brains of very talented people are rarely coupled with competencies that enable living with ‘average’ people to be smooth. Even if it were, the growth of the Self, which subsists on research/creation, makes living together difficult. (If half of the scientific or artistic community considers someone as a unique talent, there is a chance that after a while he believes that helping his wife with the housework is a waste of time and beneath him). It is not only a question of will and situation which might generate serious friction between the researcher/artist and his environment: he often pays for his talent with disadvantages in other fields. How could he assure harmonic, balanced development in all fields if there is a favorite field (that in which he is talented) as the strong attractive force, the pursuit of which rewards him more than anything else does. (It is hard to imagine that Einstein would have been happy to go to cookery classes if he had had the possibility to solve physics exercises instead).
Women have a great advantage in achieving happiness: their ability to give birth, and what comes of that, their instinctive attraction to children. Moreover, society supports them in this activity, since there is no other group of people that would value investing so much in their successors. The fact that they are already halfway along the route designated by biology guarantees them 50% happiness. Of course, personality plays a rôle here as well: are they capable of loving their child, do they build good relationships with them, do they practice good educational techniques?
However, guaranteed Self-expansion is still there for them, which they feel when they look on the children playing, and later their grandchildren. They feel that their blood flows in their veins, and they experience the identical existence of them and the family and it makes them happy. Of course, this is not eternal either, since children and grandchildren grow up, there are conflicts etc. Still, for many women, the path to happiness is nothing but the greatest possible number of children with the best possible upbringing and the connection with them, in other words the unity of family.
There is only one thing against the automatic happiness of women who are capable of giving birth and bringing up their children: there is, unfortunately for them, there is also an animus within them which desires other kinds of pleasures as well.
America culture, but also Anglo-Saxon in general, does not allow slacking: there is an underlying feeling that those who stop are lost. So what often happens is going to the extreme: forcing competition and constant fighting.
Multi-billionaire oil moguls were asked how they can still be motivated to increase their wealth? We should understand that getting rich from oil did not require a special talent in 20th-century America, unlike e.g. the creation, building up and management of a multi-national corporation. Some fortunate people were in the right place at the right time and fighting others for control of oil fields (similar to gold mining). So, oil moguls knew each other, and fought for their millions competing with each other. It is not about the money in the long term: money is only a measure of their skill and success, like centimeters in long jumping.
Of course, this way of measuring somebody’s skills by counting how much he is earning is a tendency at most of who cannot stop making money after a point.
I believe that very rich people are:
The problem with money and constant competition is that society supports this attitude, thus spawning very specialist people who are blinkered to other areas. Many societies demand altruism and contribution as opposites in a healthy way. Both direct the attention of rich people to others and compensate society for the supposed loss that the rich obtain unjustly on a social level (e.g. money from avoiding paying taxes, profits from arms manufacturing or gambling etc.). Obeying this pressure takes our ‘poor’ billionaire out of the treadmill of everyday life. An alternative contribution is when people who become rich engage in politics: this is theoretically another form of altruism (or should be) as it is a form of acting for the common good.
In many biographies we can find travel as a hobby, and we can find many people who have had once-in-a-lifetime experiences which took place on a journey. What was so unique about those journeys is a different issue: the quality of the accommodation and food, the adventures or the landscape, perhaps something to do with the people or culture. If someone wanted to learn about landscapes and the shape of nature, theoretically he would not even have to leave his home. He could simply switch on the Travel Channel, or surf Google Earth. I can think of two reasons for travel which cannot be easily substituted for with a surrogate:
If someone travels to the same country e.g. the Seychelles, and regularly, or obsessively looks for a place where he feels good, that is most often due to the structure of his brain not fitting in with the culture he lives in (exceptions are when someone travels because of sport or business). If we believed in reincarnation, we could say, for example, that the soul of a person from the Seychelles is reborn in the body of that regular visitor, and that is why he returns again and again to the islands.
If we consider the time and energy spent on travel, we can see that people make serious efforts to obtain something in return. What is the pleasure or satisfaction provided by a journey? Every culture has a particular logic and a particular value system, similar to that we mentioned in connection with the brain: life is organized differently in an Arabic country (time, space, human relationships etc.) as compared with, say, German culture. However, the way we look at the world, genetically or family-wise, and the order in which we feel good, is a faculty that does not necessarily fit the geological territory he was born in. For example, if somebody is slow because of his hormonal function and nervous system, but he was born in Manhattan, he feels much more at home in a slow, sleepy Mediterranean town, where nobody is in a hurry. The same applies to human relationships: if a direct, sociable person is born in a cold, Northern country, he will have a series of Self-expansions if he moves amongst people (e.g. in Greece) who are happy with strangers and trust them without question. The opposite can be true as well: if a Greek person has more vulnerable self-boundaries, perhaps he would rather live in a place where nobody wants to interfere in his life, and people, in general, keep a greater distance (e.g. Sweden).
In these cases, things naturally happen in a way convenient for the person who sees again and again that life can be lived differently (exactly the way he wants) from what he is used to; this will lead to unspoken and unconscious Self-Expansions. All he feels is that everything is in its place. Which is of course untrue, as there is no culture that would fit someone perfectly, but things will on the surface, work smoothly (what a tourist sees). When someone returns to a place regularly, it means that the matching of the person and the culture goes deeper than the surface.
The opposite of Self-expansion provided by engaging with the culture are the Self-narrowings we feel before the journey: packing things, planning the route, the inconvenience which comes with travel itself (e.g. waiting at the airport, long journeys etc.). Arriving and acclimatizing to a new place are signs of long-lasting Self-expansion. During these occasions we expand our minds almost compulsively at the beginning (e.g. when we have to adapt to the local customs; in Italy, shops close during the afternoon), then after awhile we expand our minds purposefully to embrace the new Environment (and we begin to adapt), for that is why we go there. The new stimuli inundate us, new cognitive schemata are established, people begin to understand the local culture at their own level, thus they are enlightened. We recognize items, styles, scenery we have seen on photographs, and they fall into their places (e.g. Santorini in blue-and-white, Arabic calligraphy, Arabs in dressed in robes etc.) and all of these things cause Self-expansion. Tourism from this point of view is a journey with Self-expansion: we jump from obviousness to obviousness, then we return home. That is why it is so horrible when something bad happens (e.g. someone is robbed or kidnapped etc.), as that deters us from permanent Self-expansion.
Based on the above, it can be seen that it is a little artificial Self-expansion which we bought, which immediately raises a question: why do we spend money on travel? Staying at home means confronting our real lives that we might live without goals. Moreover, and more frightening, is that we realize that our lives are meaningless. Collecting experiences endlessly during a journey is like collecting money: having more experiences or money does not enrich our personality. What is worse (although the photographic and video industries are built upon it) is that the experiences (cognitive schemata established during the journey) are very difficult to share. It does not matter that I see a thousand different cultures, besides a couple of colorful stories and some well-taken photographs it is all mine. Still, Self-expansion is complete if we can share the new cognitive schemata (cf. accounts of experiences, travel films). So what remains is getting home, a Self-narrowing period at home again, and the hope that we can hold on until the trip.
One last argument for the illusory nature of this solution: I wonder whether Einstein traveled using the money he earned from his work and awards? Whether Mother Teresa was excited when she traveled? Did Picasso need to spend holidays in exotic places? There are people who develop their world – and enrich themselves – inside by giving to others. Others try to steal the beauty of the world using their sight or camera, but it does not actually penetrate them. They will not be wiser or more open and, above all, they cannot give to others. I wonder whether we would be happier if we gave the price of a holiday on the Seychelles to a poor family?
This is not to say that I dislike travel: I enjoy it. The difference that I want to emphasize is that there is travel which enriches our personalities, and travel that provides short-term experiences that you quickly forget.
Following the downbeat conclusion of the section on travel...
Firstly, we have to differentiate the types of endless acquisition of knowledge:
After having read my critics, there is seemingly an ethical aspect anticipating that only the first (autotelic) of the above list does not lead to true happiness, due to it not giving anything to anyone. Since we examined ‘seemingly autotelic’ in the section on Judaism, let us examine the other two.
Due to its distinctly intellectual nature, it is universally respected. Someone who constantly reads has a certain standing in European society (perhaps this originates in its positive judgement in Judaism, where lifelong learning is the most valuable activity) and it means a general moral appreciation. We could say that until somebody reads he does – perhaps cannot – hurt others. Of course, we usually consider reading as a neutral activity, since people who only read take that time away from something perhaps more useful. He could use the same time with helping others, or engaging in other pro-social activities. The positive judgement also comes from the fact that these people can, while socializing, flaunt both their education and being well-informed.
It may be a harsh judgment, but one who reads a great deal seems to do so only because nothing assembles to him: he is engaged in acquiring information, rather than engaging in actual understanding, which he could do so by being selective with, and limiting the number of, his choice of books on a particular subject. Another motivation for chronic reading can be a strongly introverted nature: reading accompanies loneliness; there are no rules for propriety and dress, as only the person and the book are together. This gives great freedom, but also a good reason, or excuse, for avoiding people.
Many people, upon finishing a book or article, immediately forget what they have just read. Others are incapable of integrating what they read. Even more people read newspapers and books of poor or questionable quality; tabloid newspapers come to mind. Now the internet provides many alternatives to reading. Accordingly, it is understandable that the number of chronic readers is gradually reducing. This does not mean that we do not have to read, rather, that we should read in optimal quantities. We should more carefully select what we read, as integrating badly constructed cognitive schemata in our Selves harms us instead of educating or helping.
But why do people do nothing but read? Depending on the intellectual level, there are always books that have something new to say. Saying something new is nothing other than establishing new cognitive schemata, which cause Self-expansion. A lot of reading provides many Self-expansions. The act of reading itself is a sign of Self-expansion: an act performed openly in one’s Environment in a relaxed state.
People having good general abilities can reach a point in their Self-knowledge where they accept that, by themselves, they cannot give anything new to mankind. They measure and accept the limits of their abilities (initially, creativity), and choose the path of utilizing their different and unique abilities: of integration, memory, attention to detail, organization &c. These are the people who make science work by their own arrangement of information, distilling it and so making a dialogue between different theories. They are a good source of information for those too impatient to read all of the literature on a subject.
This activity can lead to happiness, as people can feel that they do not only absorb, but also provide a service. As previously seen, such giving is one way to Self-expansion. Autotelic reading lacks this sharing of knowledge.
A more visible measure of unlimited wealth, and more intellectual than jewelry or gold, is the art collection. Before reviewing the psychology of collecting art, we should recall that the sole aim of art is to obtain Self-expansion; this is enlarged upon in the article on beauty and aesthetic quality. Let us begin with the general acceptance that looking at a painting causes Self-expansion. The better the painting (it is also how we define it), the greater Self-expansion it causes and to more people. Using this principle, let us disregard the collections acquired as investments by wealthy people who value art only by price, not for its aesthetic qualities. Such people see art as a status symbol. Instead, let us focus on those who appreciate the aesthetics of art as an exemplary life form which should be available to all people.
These people are determined in their pursuit of a painting or its provenance, and feel satisfaction (Self-expansion) when they succeed. In this and everything else, there is no difference between passionate collectors, whether of stamps, baseball cards, china, matchbox labels &c. They all obtain Self-expansion from improving their collection. (“One of the 1934 etchings of Picasso was still missing, but now I have that too. Now it is a complete collection.”) On the other hand, as they appraise their paintings, they discover new connections, or conduct research in order to find connections between different pieces.
We could ask, “So what?” Imagining somebody living their life amongst art of immeasurable value, in constant fear of it being stolen or damaged, and doing nothing but eat, sleep and look at his art, makes us feel that this cannot be fulfilled happiness. The world of art collectors is a subculture: they know each other, each other’s collections, brag about their new acquisitions and disposals, they live and breathe art.
Still…so what? Some of these collectors (also motivated by economic considerations) want to leave their collection to their children, so that they can obtain a form of the happiness which comes from raising children. That is what happens to the collections of the aristocracy: the Prince of Lichtenstein, the British royal family. The problem is still that there is no permanent bridge between the Self and the wider (social) Environment, therefore permanent (lasting) Self-expansion cannot occur. So, they open their collection to the general public, or give it to the state. They can then finally step out of the confined world of the Self, and open up to the world by unselfishly giving again. This smacks of altruism, another way to happiness.
Another method that can also make a (subjective) bridge towards others is to patronize art. When a wealthy person patronizes an artist with whom he can identify aesthetically, he practically buys a share of the artist’s Self-expansion arising from the process of creation. When the painter makes a work of art that the patron likes, the patron rightly feels that he has a part in the creation, that it is due to him too that the world is enriched by that work of art. At such times, we can be surprized at the purposes money can serve: that somebody can contribute it to the creation of great works without any creativity or without touching a brush, and can have a share in the pleasure of its creation. It is not by accident that art historians maintain records of patrons and customers of former ages so accurately as the financial driving forces of the world of painting.
Returning to the publicizing of collections, we can discover a “Catch-22” which applies to other forms of Self-expansion. What is it like when someone opens his collection to the public and then takes it back for some reason? Or gives it to the state then requests its return? This is unimaginable, but this bi-directional nature is what gives a bad taste to Self-expansion in general: when you tell a secret to someone in a very intimate moment, and cannot take it back when the relationship goes wrong. However, if you do not tell it, there will be no intimate moments.
This calls attention to Self-expansion having to be irrational to allow things to happen which would not happen rationally. At the same time, irrationality enhances Self-expansion, even if it is not its essence. That is more akin to the dissolution of boundaries and obstacles, which make the merging of the Self and the Environment possible. The question is: can the Self reset the original boundaries after the Self-expansion passes? To use the previous examples: I told a big secret and someone will be able to blackmail me; or, I gave my collection to the state, and I watch helplessly as they store my biggest treasure in damp and dusty places. What can I do at such times? The rational answer would be: a.) do not be irrational; b.) secure their return or silence legally; or c.) ensure you that cannot be harmed. For example, you may be told a secret in return; you make a contract with the state, declaring what they can and cannot do with the collection. In most cases, spoken words are very difficult to take back, and performed acts are very difficult to undo.
This legal attitude to contracts &c. detracts from the beauty of the situation. They require a Self-narrowed condition (contracts require concentration, maneuvering requires guile), and so are against Self-expansion. The same applies to marriage contracts. It is a logical thing but they carry the germ of distrust. What we have so far discussed is that there is no complete Self-sacrificing, that the Self cannot become completely one with the Environment, that there is no absolute trust, as there is no absolute truth. However, everybody strives for it, and we need a condition in which we can forget about this. We realize that condition by forgetting what we are not supposed to forget.
I attempted a difficult task in discussing a happy life. We cannot make ourselves absolutely independent from the moral aspect, although I believe I can demonstrate principles based on general human motivation. Briefly, we can feel happy in the hour of death (because what else counts if not the last moment which lights up – or, admittedly clouds – everything that has happened before) if we feel we can give something to the world, we are at peace with our Environment. We might say: our Self (the boundaries between it and our Environment) started to decompose even before our physical body. A man’s Self could merge with the Environment, as after he dies his physical body will merge with his physical environment (“ashes to ashes, dust to dust”).
I would like to keep morality away from science. However, I am not disturbed if it does intrude, in the sense that what I described above does not contradict any major traditional system of thought: religions, Kant’s categorical imperative (do to others what you want others to do to you), psychology’s image of mental health. I am satisfied with this as I believe it cannot be far wrong.
Another result is that we could reduce the parents of children such as the altruistic Mother Teresa, Einstein, Picasso and Bill Gates to a common denominator. Everybody gives something to the world, only they do so in different ways and with different things (people who help others; give knowledge; create beauty or things that make our lives easier) according to their best knowledge. What is common in them is that they did not retire to loneliness to obtain only lower-level Self-expansions (e.g. sex, eating, autotelic reading); this form of Self-expansion is short-term, and has little effect on other’s lives. Instead, they chose to use the good within them for the common good.
I believe that is how heaven works. People who, at the end of their lives, can look back and say that they gave are the people who can enter a state of endless Self-expansion. Is this foolish? Am I not over-emphasizing Self-expansion so that I can even explain heaven and hell with it? My answer (although speculative, due to its nature) is: near-death experiences have been studied scientifically in medical procedures, whereby a patient is placed in a state of clinical ‘death’, then brought back to life; this technique is used on asthma patients. Psychologists interviewed these patients about their near-death experiences. There were two common points in their accounts:
By combining the two, assuming that the latter is an extremely Self-expanded condition, the process then works in the following way. We relive the experiences of the highest emotional intensity, amongst which there will initially be intensely Self-narrowed and intensely Self-expanded experiences (e.g. first kiss, marriage, childbirth etc., and matters that are sins according to the Ten Commandments: intrigue (gossiping), stealing, cheating &c.) All of these memories, mixed with the actual state, result in those who were mainly Self-narrowed attaining a Self-narrowed (evil-minded, pessimistic, violent) state, and those who are generally Self-expanded (positive thinking, helpful, giving) will become Self-expanded. The import of this moment is that it is the last a person will ever have. There is no absolution of this, and no chance for explanations, so it becomes a constant moment. The key to understanding this lies in the wrong – or at least altered – sense of time: when we relive a whole life (70-80 years, more than 2.2 billion seconds), it is possible that the last second may feel as if it lasts for decades.
Let us imagine the worst (the most Self-narrowed) moment of our lives: great pain, terrible news etc. Fix that mental condition in ourselves. Now imagine that we are in that mental state for 70-80 years. Is that not the greatest punishment we can ever receive? Permanent living purgatory? Is this not Hell that we get for our sins? Is this not the opposite of what we call heaven (70 years of constant Self-expansion similar to a 70 years long orgasm)?
Did God create in us this alteration of the sense of time (when one-tenth of a second feels like 70 years before death), or this is only a biological fact everyone has to decide for himself. I do not know exactly which hormones and neurotransmitters could do that, but if there is a system like this, is it both a work of God or the result of evolution?
There have always been people throughout history who “came back from the dead”, so that their remaining lives run down in front of their eyes due an existential danger. After they related their experiences, the concept of heaven and hell could be established, which closely related to the good in the life of these people.
As the theory I have described is not verified by experiments yet, is not so robust after all, nor usable in many cases. What I can state is that the above mentioned may not work exactly in a chemically pure form, but that the combination of these paths is close to give a real answer for somebody. Therefore, that real happiness can be attained by someone who mixes the above, even if one of the aims overtakes the others by some way. Altruists who do not have children, or who are not interested in aesthetic beauty, will have difficulty in being happy. It does not matter how nice or attractive these things are, but as we are sated and sickened if we eat chocolate all of the time, so permanent stimulation of the region of the brain dealing with cognitive schema will lead to burn-out.