Saturday, October 03, 2009

If men are so badly treated, why are we so happy?

In response to a previous post on women's narcissism and happiness, someone left the following comment:

"I read that men are happier than women. I have also read that women are less happy now than in the fifties while men are happier. But how can this square with our understanding of how badly men are treated and how feminism has damaged them? How can we be happier yet be in the desperate situation that I think you and I think men are in?"

I wanted to answer it here, as I believe the answer is rather strange, and makes one question a lot of our assumptions about life.

The answer, I believe is that our happiness is ultimately unrelated to things that we strive to gain or not to loose. For example, I read before that people who loose a limb are no less happy, a year on, than when they had the limb intact, and people who win the lottery, are, one year on, no happier. When it comes to happiness, fortunes or misfortunes cannot raise or dent your natural levels in the long run. A good quote from Aubrey de Grey makes this point well:

"Humans are very, very good at adjusting their aspirations to match their expectations. When things get better, people are happy – but if they stay better and show every sign of continuing that way, people become blasé. Conversely, when things get worse people are unhappy, but if they stay worse and show every sign of continuing that way, people become philosophical. This is why, by all measures that have to my knowledge been employed, people in the developed world are on average neither much happier nor much less happy now than they were when things were objectively far worse. This is a good thing in many ways, but in at least one way it is a problem: it dampens our ardour to improve our lives more rapidly. In particular, it depletes the ranks of “unreasonable men” to whom Shaw so astutely credited all progress."

Now, of course, just because loosing a limb doesn't dent someone's long term happiness, that doesn't mean that we would be content to deliberately loose one, or have one of our relatives loose one. So, there is clearly a distinction between what is desirable and right, and what makes us happy. And that is quite strange if you think about it, as we are clearly therefore motivated by some other force than happiness. Or perhaps we are just falsely motivated by what we think will make us happy, or avoid making us sad?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis is insightful. I suppose my thought was rather more superficial. Instinctively I just see this sort of research as so much gossip.