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June 19, 2009



Don't "reasons" for our unhappiness make us more happy? Inequality and communism gave us reasons to buck up, of course things were bad. Which jobs and opportunity, why are we sad? It's depressing.

(We in the broad sense, I'm a male capitalist)


Is it coherent to measure subjective well-being intersubjectively (I know this is a problem with happiness economics generally)? So that the subjective well-being of one is somehow comparable with the well-being of someone else. It is also possible that vocabulary has changed sufficiently in the intervening years such that people now associate different concepts with happiness than before.

With that in mind though, there may be a point to concede. That something important has been lost in the last few decades. Whether that is an intrinsic element of freedom, or some other feature of modernity, is another matter.


We need to keep in mind that whilst some freedom seems to be good for the human psyche, that doesn't imply that more freedom is necessarily better. Of course, where the 'some' and 'more' tend to lie varies between individuals. See a post of mine here:


What makes us less happy is comparing our position with others - the old green-eyed monster syndrome. If you are under Communism,everyone is pretty much on the lowest rung together - we've all got nothing. When other people have MORE than we do we are generally unhappy - which is why the MP expenses thing is creating such hatred.


I think I could here quote from a comment I made on another post on another blog:
We choose to take permanent jobs rather than temporary jobs at the expense of freedom,
we choose to buy our residence at the expense of feedom,
we choose to get married at the expense of freedom,
we choose to have children at the expense of freedom...
Freedom is good, it isn't everything.


And really(!) can we avoid talking about "real" (tm) freedom (or "real" anything else). As a prefix, it tends to advertise - now, I'm going to invoke the "no true scotsman" fallacy!


Do you equal well being with freedom? I don´t think this is right.
But what is more clear is that good life (or well being) doesn´t mean happiness. We know that at least since Aristotle.


You're interrogating "freedom", but not "happiness". If we put prozac in the water supply, it would probably increase human happiness. Should we do it? If not, why not?

If early humans had been utterly happy and content, they'd have never explored or invented things. Discontent can be a positive. It can lead to progress.


@ reason - I used the phrase "real freedom" because you could argue that in the 70s women had the formal legal freedom to work and divorce. It's their ability to use these freedoms - what I call real freedom - that's increased since the 70s.
@ georges, ortega - I wasn't (I hope) saying that subjective happiness is the only good. But it counts for something, doesn't it? Or does it?


Hi Chris

I certainly favour the alleviation of unhappiness, where feasible. But happiness is still a very tricky concept. A man might be happier not knowing he has an inoperable cancer which will kill him in six months; but we feel it's our duty to tell him, even if we thereby make him much less happy. A woman may well be happier in the grip of a fantastical religious delusion than with a sober scientific view of her place in the universe, but we still feel truth is better than fantasy.

I prefer to think that people should flourish, should try to live their lives with their eyes wide open, and should seek to achieve as much as possible of their human potential; both for themselves, their friends and family, and - where possible - the whole of humanity. They might be happier staying in bed or smoking marijuana all day, but that isn't flourishing.

Our time on this Earth is limited, and this necessarily leads us to conflicts which no political action can ever do away with. We can not devote ourselves 100% to our careers and 100% to our families - even if we have armies of servants. Whichever we prioritize, we will always have regrets about what we give up. So we will say we're "unhappy", simply because we have amazing choices which earlier generations lacked. This can lead to the idea that Medieval peasants dying of the Black Death were less unhappy than we are - because they had no real life choices at all.


Maybe subjective happiness is first related to the difference between expectations and actual achievements.

Obviously freedom is likely to widen this gap. But there is also an other effect: maybe women in the 70's saw their condition improving whereas now few improvements are in sight.

So maybe that women in the 70s felt more optimistic than now, but maybe they felt also more optimistic than in the nineteenth century.


A ha you mean "actual" not "real" then.


Alarm goes off. Husband pulls duvet over head. Wife gets up. Calls children. Sorts out packed lunches. Chases up children. Eats breakfast, gets children eating breakfast. Husband arrives, tells children to stop quarrelling, eats breakfast, leaves in car. Wife gets kids ready for school. Gets herself ready for work. All out the door. Wife takes bus to work.

Midafternoon, wife ready to leave work as family have decided the kids are still too young for a full day out of the house. Wife collects pay packet. Half the hourly pay of her husband because a) she is female b) she works part-time c) she hasn't been promoted for years, because she is part-time.

Wife collects kids, herds them round supermarket, gets them home. Wife simultaneously cleans house, cooks supper, supervises homework.

Husband arrives home, all eat supper. Wife cleans up after meal, gets the kids to put their stuff away, have a bath, get into bed. Tonight, husband contributes by reading bed-time story.

Husband and wife watch television program together, while wife does ironing. Husband flashes up his computer, does work for family by checking the bank balances -- his own and the joint one. Both discuss family summer holiday. As her earnings are considered an extra, she will pay for the holiday. She wonders how she will also pay for childcare for the school holidays -- naturally that comes entirely out of her earnings.

Wife gets out sewing machine to do essential mending, wishes she could afford a new one. Husband uses his computer to order some nice new woodworking machinery that is an absolute necessity. Wife starts on evening routine, tidying house and preparing for the morning rush, finally getting upstairs. Husband turns off tele and follows her.

Husband is unhappy, because his life is more restricted than it would be if he were a bachelor. No-one can see any reason at all why his lucky wife should feel unhappy.


Sorry -- forgot to mention his using the computer to check his private pension too, while she wonders if she will manage to qualify for a full state one.

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