Yesterday I had a conversation with a couple friends that started out about finance and then evolved into a discussion about long-term goals/ dreams/ values. One of them said that he absolutely does not want kids. His primary goals were to be financially secure and live a long, happy, and healthy life. While my own ideas for my future are not much different, my vision for that future is very different. We are all doing the best we can and we are all trying to do what makes us happy, either in the long run, or the short run, or both.
What does it mean to be happy? Is Jeff Bezos really happier than me? I feel like I’m pretty content right now so, but if wealth is a gauge of happiness, he must be on fucking cloud 11. Obviously, there’s more to happiness than money. The Book of Joy, with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, outlines some guidelines for happiness (“7 Pillars of Joy”), and tends on the side of happiness defined by a lack of want and an inner peace; living with compassion, acceptance, etc. The book I’m reading now, Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari, talks about happiness from a biological perspective. Happiness is a feeling produced by chemicals in our brain. The release of those chemicals can be stimulated in a variety of ways. Certain ways are conservative, others are more turbulent, and some simply unsustainable.
It seems that modes of thinking and attitudes can also influence biological happiness. Two people can respond to the exact same event with very different emotions depending on their mindsets. One may respond a shortage of spicy chicken sandwiches at fast food restaurant with anger and frustration, while another embraces the ordeal as a chance to practice patience and gratitude. But what orients us to one attitude/ mindset over another? Is it past experience? Prediction of potential future events? By what mechanism(s) do our brain cells evaluate outcomes? Is it all just pain and pleasure? Are these questions even worth thinking about? Right now I want to say it’s almost like an optimization problem with various inputs influencing each other and ultimately influencing our choices to maximize our biological happiness and minimize our biological pain/ suffering.