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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Consensus Conversations

June 20, 2014 Leave a comment

While cultural values vary from community to community, it is society’s role to facilitate discussion and enforcement. Varied and wide-ranging, the perspectives we hold stem from numerous sources.

Perhaps a religious group believes in varied rights between the genders, or another feels that certain foods should not be eaten. These are real examples from our society that we allow to exist and often celebrate as unique features of the group. Of the Amish or other orthodox communities we recognize a unique way of living and see their existence as a sign that we live in a rational and fair society. Only tyrants squash any sense of “other.”

Who is to say that one group’s ideas are better than another? As a society we collectively discuss the varied ideas and come to a consensus about ideal rules. Such “universal values” come as products of consensus. We allow for massive differences and yet work to make sense of the diversity. What is best for the group is not decided by a specific person; instead it is a concept determined by a massive conversation. One of our greatest accomplishment as a society is this allowance for diversity.

Rooted Rewards

June 16, 2014 Leave a comment

The tingling of success at having accomplish something often inspires the very act itself. We do the chore because when finished we’ll feel better. Bit the bullet; take the ride: its in the completion that the pleasure kicks in. One wonders where such sensations come from. Are these feelings baked into our minds or are we educated early in life to feel these things? When we finish a book we feel we’ve done something, we’ve accomplished a task. But have we? Perhaps the challenge is the source of our joy: in being tasked with a chore we can succeed or fail. Read the book or give up; understand or completely be confused. Do we conquer a text when we read it? Is the author’s work to challenge us and our success in having flaunted her attempt?

In childhood there are many attempts to inculcate good behavior. Often classified as “carrots” these are benefits that stem from good behavior. The candy after “being good” or provision of a favorite food after academic success. Contrasted with these are actions often classified as “sticks”- the punishments for bad behavior. No matter one’s style, both carrots and sticks are designed to influence behavior on multiple fronts. To both cease the current bad behavior and encourage better, future behavior. Is this where we can locate our sense of success? Is the satisfaction following the completion of a symptom of these programs? Rewarded with a coupon for a free pizza, the young child participates in the Pizza Hut’s Book-It program and somewhere finds the drive to read another book. Sly or just great marketing. Whose the victor in this books-for-pizza-pie gimmick? One might answer the society.

Incentives are the roots to our behavior. Often we consider these incentives obvious and clear. But what if we can’t actually trace these incentives? What if these powerful drives are so baked in or rooted in our early development that our current mind doesn’t really know them at work? Perhaps the evidence of these “buried incentives” comes in our failure to meet them. Guilt, shame and embarrassment are sour reminders or personal failings. Steal the candy bar from the store? Fail to return the library book on time or buy generic when name brand was desired? Minor crimes, of course, but ones that often inspire deeper emotional responses. Might we find the clues to our incentives buried in our failures? Maybe the most profound experiences of guilt reveal less about who we are and more about the hidden, buried drives that run our brains and soul.

Loss on Higher Levels

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Is the death of someone talented more tragic? The “critically-acclaimed actor” is a common start for widely read obituaries. Lost at her prime stage of talent, her death comes with both reminders of the past and musings for the future. Reflecting on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Slate’s Dana Stevens reflected her regret that Seymour would never again be the focus of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. She mourned the loss of an artistic collaboration in the making.

All deaths are tragic, but with the death of public figures we experience death together. Though we never meet Celebrity X, we see his films and spend hours with his work. From this we experience the death of these figures in unique and novel ways. These are not our family members, but they matter and we know them a some deeper, human level. Is it strange that many spend more hours watching the work of a celebrity than they do with neighbors living just a house away.

The “w0rk” of a selective group of people is experienced by the world. The actor’s personality becomes product and, from sea to sea and country to country, a world experiences the work. Despite cultural differences and political turmoil an actor’s work can be considered by anyone. Herein lies another great power of art: where politics creates boundaries and pain and suffering determine daily life a work of art can breach all borders.

Each individual possesses a unique talent. Whether he or she locates and develops this talent depends on a variety of factors. Is everyone a Shakespeare or Mozart? Perhaps they are if given the right talent, time and focus. Though all have certain skill sets few are provided with the bundled supplements to find its worth. How sad is it that millions go without even knowing of their skill? And yet, despite these millions left unaware the select few who realize their talents often work to create things that forever change the world for everyone.

This is where the greater tragedy comes in. In losing an individual who was aware of his or her talent we lose this precious item of development. For the few who can break through and realize their skills it is their duty to follow it through. So often these breakthroughs come with an inability to cope. Some have argue that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting skills were closely tied to his ability to sense human experience. Such sensitivity, they claim, left him vulnerable and unable to cope. The same has been argued for poets whose untimely deaths suggests too sensitive a demeanor or some lacking tool to separate skill with life experience.

Is the death of genius more tragic? Indeed it is but not just for the human soul we lose.

Action is Not Progress

January 24, 2014 Leave a comment

We often mistake action for progress. Spin the wheels and chase the tail: it all feels like we’re getting somewhere, but driving the car around the cul-de-sac and swimming laps inside a pool is simply simulation. For endeavors where a change is needed we need to do something more, something harder, to reach the goals we sense we have.

A disconnect between knowing what we need and doing what needs to be done is often where we fall. Emotion muddies the water and rapidly our confident sense of action becomes shriveled to inaction. In the corner hides the shrunken dreams of a warrior that was.

Perhaps we might measure leaders by their ability to disregard their doubts. For those who can charge forward a great existence lingers. Of course this charge is relative as both evil and angels achieve power in such striving. For every hero is a Hitler.

For many this feeling of doing something is enough. A constant stream of attempts might feel like actual effort but until we actually face the facts and fight the war we’re merely playing games. Impressively skilled at complicating our existence, we each possess the equally tragic and impressive ability of doubting what we want and sabotaging effort.

Incorporated Grief

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Though John F. Kennedy’s biological life ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a cadre of alternative existences lives on. Kennedy the father, our president, the family man and soldier being just three alternative and complimentary existences at play. Kennedy is among a small cast of characters whose death provides a birth: figures who in leaving become enlivened by symbolic status. History is rich with great figures whose greatness went unrecognized when they were alive. Kennedy, like these figures, is an individual “cut down early” or geniuses living “beyond their time.”

Though few knew John F. Kennedy personally, millions feel a sense of sadness when considering his death. Often frames of commonality are applied to garner senses of melancholy. Not just a man but “President” “father”, “Catholic” or “solider” these labels become points of identification and relation. We more easily mourn the loss of someone we relate to or in whom we’ve placed significant importance. Is the death of a President more tragic than another? Of the millions who died on November 22, 1963 why is it John F. Kennedy that continues to capture public attention each November 22?

One wonders how the use of terms is utilized to manipulate responses. Are we mourning Kennedy or ” a president” Do his roles as “father” or “husband” make us more upset than an alternative JFK whose lack of children and wife negate these labels? What of his label as “Catholic”? One wonders whether the constant application of these terms functions more as a distortion. When a priest mentions Kennedy as Catholic does the moment of silence become something more? How is this religious figure utilizing JFK’s faith to cull reaction? What does it matter what Kennedy believed?

In memorializing the life of someone we warp that person’s existence. We layer on symbolic frosting and create some new identity whose c0nnection to its biological root is foreign. Are Presidents laying a wreath on Kennedy’s grave remembering or mourning their own death?Are we crying more for symbols or for something other- something beyond our experience and knowledge?

Relative Success

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

When a child yells, “I’ll be the greatest ever,” a parent might grin and pat her on the back and work to further an encouragement. And yet, while noble and respectable, much remains unsaid in such a statement. The greatest what? Certainly the greatest mob boss, terrorist or pornographer and what the parent had in mind. Success is relative and our notions of what defines it based on culture and the social norms within it.

Success is measured in many ways. Robin Hanson argues in this podcast that the ability to control is one of the most common. In our need to demonstrate our ability to control other people we invest significant amounts of time and energy. Minor tasks like picking what to eat or what to wear function less as decisions of detail and more as minor battles won in a war of control.

Worse yet is our tendency to measure the success of others via our own sense of success. A child might possess musical skills destined to make him the greatest rock guitarist of all time but what becomes of him if he is born to a great politician? Might a mother whose daughter shows signs of immense interest in baseball steer her otherwise for fear of some social stigma? How does a parent’s need to be perceived by others lead to manipulation and delusion of children. Many parents would likely shudder at the idea of their child becoming a gifted artist in some lewd activity. While many desire their child to have power, money and happiness they do with exception. Success is counted sweetest but only in some ways. Better to be poor and normal than successful in some weirdo way.

Perils in Pursuits

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

For a select category of products, consumer trust defines the relationship. Mary buys kosher beef with the confidence that her religious beliefs are not contradicted in her use of the product. In a sense, her need for the product stems not from solely her desire; instead, she purchases the item because it allows her to meet religious expectations and deliver pleasure. There is a dual role for products in many transactions- situations in which consumer desire involves multiple needs and expectations.

Consider violations of this trust. Vegans are shocked to hear of animal by-products in Chipotle’s beans. Jewish consumers are stunned to find that their supposedly kosher beef contains horse. The examples are numerous and spread throughout time; though, what remains common with each is this common violation of consumer trust and expectation.

Product failure happens all the time. A battery dies or a pixel fades to black. Consumers have come to understand planned obsolescence and regularly buy new phones, devices and toys despite having working models. Capitalism benefits from this system as innovation drives progress for both consumer and manufacturer. Perhaps the ideal economy is a world in which this dance is perfectly balanced and paced.

Despite this sense of what defines ideal, a world of competition creates benefits to cheat. To cut corners means to reduce costs and severe competition leads to a world where all cuts are on the table. The recent horse meat scandal in Europe is a prime example of the dangers of complicated networks and expected low costs. Expand the network out and more links become involved.

As we work towards greater levels of global competition we will see more violations of this consumer trust. Despite a greater concern for public health, as seen in America’s Affordable Care Act, the networks from which our health and society function grow increasingly less concerned with users who consume. When price becomes priority and reducing it the most valuable accomplishment there are no limitations to the means to reduce cuts. What today may shock us as appalling will likely pale as we demand more for less and blind ourselves with complex networks.

Relationship Comparatives

November 8, 2013 Leave a comment

What defines a quality relationship? Realistic expectations, quality communication and respect are just three commonly accepted expectations. One’s list, while highly personal, ultimately boils down to equality and respect. We might supply the analogy of a balance to illustrate the idea for a quality relationships.

Paradoxically, we best understand quality relationships by our experience with bad ones. From our nightmares come our sense of peace as often bad begets our sense of good. What is evil if not the direct opposite of good. Does not greater evil demand a greater sense of heroism? We are locked, it seems, in an endless game of cognitive leap frog.

If a quality relationship can be understood and its features stated, we can use this list to evaluate other relationships in life. What is the state of one’s relationship to food? How might one consider his/her relationship to charity or employment? Consider the features of a bad boyfriend: obsessive, indifferent to rational emotions and blind to common needs. Might these same features be used to evaluate one’s relationship to food? Does an eating disorder not treat its object (food) with the lack of concern?

By considering the ways we relate to other people and the expectations that guide our interactions we gain a useful tool for other applications. How should one interact with others? Branch beyond these human-to-human expectations and apply them elsewhere. How do we treat these other objects? Too much time at work? Obsessive compulsion towards a diet? Perhaps we gain a sense of balance by these considerations and learn from common social standards how we might best behave with that which surrounds our daily life.

Speaker Smarts

November 1, 2013 Leave a comment

In his essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace’s E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction personifies a collective population sitting at home alone watching television. His essay is a novel consideration of mass viewing which, among its many points, works to suggest that television viewing is a paradoxical experience where advertising wishes to draw the viewer out from an existence of passive viewing to one of consumerism. Wallace’s presented paradox lies here, tucked snugly with these figures locked at home, as the marketer’s work to attract customers, perhaps literally birth them from their ignorance, occurs while they remain alone at home. Ads exist in the private sphere to draw us outward and yet depend on us to be at home to take them in.

Wallace coins a term for this collected mass. He refers to them as “Joe Briefcase” and carries the character through consumerist experiences. He explicitly uses Pepsi to demonstrate the means of television advertising and presents a situation now well-considered in media studies. Beyond an exposure to branding which suggests the perks of drinking Pepsi: fun lifestyles, social populaity, etc…, Wallace also suggests that Joe’s interpretation of the advertisement is also well-crafted. For Wallace the best ad and one most reflective of our contemporary zeitgeist (mid-1990’s for Wallace), is one most richly bathed in irony. The ideal ad is one whose vapidity and stupidity make Joe question its validity. Joe feels good because he is capable of critically evaluating the ad. He breaks down the ad, he tears apart its rhetorical attempt by identifying its failures. Joe Briefcase enjoys this experience; it gives him a sense of intellectual pleasure as his critical skills give him the ability to not only recognize but tear apart its aims and goals. In essence, the ad is so dumb that Joe can break it down. He feels good because he does this and Pepsi accomplishes it’s intended goal: grab the viewer’s attention, plant the seeds of brand awareness and wait for him to shop. Wallace ends the example with a sense of personal awareness that it works- suggesting his own purchase patterns to be influenced by a daft use of irony.

Much can be taken from this observation. One might simplify the observation as nothing too profound: after all we all know that complimenting a listener is the fastest way to win them over. The best conversationalists are those who do the least amount of talking; instead, they are the one who asks the questions and sits back as the listener starts to speak. Irony rules again: our  greatest speakers, like our ads, are never those that speak the most; instead we listen most those who let us ramble on.

(Please Don’t) Live Forever

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Might one indicator of adulthood be the loss of interest in living forever? For the young and optimistic, life is rich with opportunity: fame and  fortune are but a day away and paradise awaits. For others, a career and responsibility have transformed one’s days to a series of chores and tasks. Weeks become less collections of opportunities and more extensive lists of needs and chores to do. When life becomes a gigantic list of tasks these is little to look forward to.

For the workers, desire shifts to rest and, if one is capable of imagining a life beyond the flesh, a world of unlimited pleasure while still desired exists beyond the human life. When this becomes the accepted state, a life that does not end is nightmare.

No matter how one sees paradise, it is the future that holds the happiness. To the young this place remains reachable in a human life. “I’ll be famous when they know” or “one day I’ll be rich” are legitimate possibilities. To the rest a life becomes a burden before death. Gifted with the possibility of heaven, some think” In heaven, I’ll be happy” and toil day-to-day with a sense of future pleasure as the goal. Potential shifts to punishment and paradise lifts higher and higher.

No matter what the age a world of bliss and endless pleasure is the goal. For some this state is within reach while for others a more ethereal destination holds the key. We all want the endless candy bars and fields of vegetation. The only grand distinction lies in how: is it here within my reach or just beyond my life. If its death that gifts desire than an endless life is just delay and one that does not end a confounding source of terror.

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