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Striving for happiness may lead to loneliness


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21 replies to this topic

#1
Avalanche

Avalanche
  • 130 posts

Today, I came over this article from the scientific journal Emotion I found rather interesting. From the paper:

 

 

 

Few things seem more natural and functional than wanting to be happy. We suggest that, counter to this intuition, valuing happiness may have some surprising negative consequences. Specifically, because striving for personal gains can damage connections with others and because happiness is usually defined in terms of personal positive feelings (a personal gain) in western contexts, striving for happiness might damage people's connections with others and make them lonely.
 
In the Freedomain Radio conversation there is a lot of talk about interpersonal connection and the old Aristotelic quote that goes something like this:
 

 

Reason equals virtue equals happiness

 

This had me thinking that happiness may have some parallells to what Edelstein talked with Stef about regarding self-esteem. In this interview Edelstein outlines certain negative consequences origining from the self-esteem movement. If I'm not mistaken he talked about that the focus on praise with no regard of the reality of what is praised; whether it actually is praiseworthy, can lead to detrimental effects on the praise recipient's efficacy. I concur with this notion, and I also find it somewhat manipulative and disrespectful. I also remember something Stef said that stuck with me:

 

 

I just go about my day, doing my things, and my self-esteem sort of just comes along with it.

 

The point here is that self-esteem is not what is focused on in his daily life, but that it sort of comes along as a bi-product of his other activities.

 

Maybe the same thing goes for happiness: An overly focus on happiness as an end in itself distorts your happiness because it leads you to become overly egotistical which leads to interpersonal disconnection which leads to loneliness which leads to unhappiness. A solution to such a problem might be to for example focus on compassion and reason as well as honesty with oneself and others as a primary without second thoughts of you doing it because you want it to lead you to a happy place down the line. However, as a mere bi-product of this kind of living you get happiness.

 

I don't know. These are big thoughts and big theories and I haven't really mulled them over for more than an hour so I do not claim scientific authority by any stretch of the imagination. I also have not scrutinized the theories and methods in the article enough to trust them 100% although the journal is of good quality. Let me know what you Freedomainers think; it would make me happy! ;)


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#2
dsayers

dsayers

    collateral damage

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An overly focus on happiness as an end in itself distorts your happiness because it leads you to become overly egotistical which leads to interpersonal disconnection which leads to loneliness which leads to unhappiness.

 

I don't agree with your chain of causality. For one, it's vague. Loneliness compared to what? If you are lonely because the people around you aren't virtuous, why should that lead to your unhappiness? Unless of course you make no effort to seek out virtuous people and/or make no effort to try to help others become virtuous. Dysfunction in the world is momentum. Reaching out to others in an attempt to help them would add to our own happiness while not conforming to the interpersonal disconnection you mention.


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Providing value doesn't justify providing anti-value. I won't pay to be censored.


#3
Avalanche

Avalanche
  • 130 posts

I don't think the chain of causality was vague, it was very explicit as I see it:

 

Value happiness highly -> egotistical -> interpersonal disconnection -> loneliness -> unhappiness.

 

Unless you meant something else was vague?


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#4
TheRobin

TheRobin
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The premise kind of assumes that happiness is not or can't be found by connecting with other people or seeing/making them happy. Is there a reason for that? Cause I don't see how that need to be the case. I'd argue for the opposite rather, that happiness requires at least to a certain degree some other people to share it with.


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#5
jpahmad

jpahmad
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Yeah, the definition of happiness as stated in the premise is extremely myopic.


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#6
Avalanche

Avalanche
  • 130 posts

It does not really matter how myopic the authors define happiness if the data suggests an association between striving for happiness and feeling lonely. The data and subsequent analysis showed the following (Happiness was measured with items like 'Feeling happy is extremely important to me'; feeling lonely was measured through a diary record).  

 

In Study 1, the more participants valued happiness the greater loneliness they reported experiencing during stressful daily events.

 

And;

 

 

In Study 2, participants who were experimentally induced to value happiness, as compared with a control group, exhibited greater loneliness as indexed by self-report and a hormonal index.

 

Moreover;

 

 

These patterns emerged regardless of whether (a) happiness values were measured as an individual difference or manipulated experimentally, (b) loneliness was measured via self-report hormones, © the effects were measured immediately versus over two weeks, and (d) loneliness was measured in the context of a stressful or a nonstressful affiliative context

 

Regarding your questions regarding their myopic definition of happiness, I think this quote answers it somewhat:

 

 

Our argument rests on the notion that in western contexts, people tend to define happiness in terms of personal outcomes (Uchida et al., 2004).

 

In a way it also validates your criticism for I suspect you mean something else when defining happiness than what most people tend to do.

 

I was impressed by that they found associations between valuation of happiness (as people tend to define it) and feelings of loneliness in biological markers through hormonal levels as well as in experimental designs. I think this is very cool. The experimental design in particular suggests a causation where high valuation of happiness leads to feelings of loneliness.


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#7
jpahmad

jpahmad
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so do the results of the experiment suggest if you value happiness, you will become lonely or do they suggest if you are happy, you will become lonely?

what if connecting with other people is the only thing that makes you happy?


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#8
Lians

Lians

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Few things seem more natural and functional than wanting to be happy. We suggest that, counter to this intuition, valuing happiness may have some surprising negative consequences. Specifically, because striving for personal gains can damage connections with others and because happiness is usually defined in terms of personal positive feelings (a personal gain) in western contexts, striving for happiness might damage people's connections with others and make them lonely.

 

Philosophical translation:

 

The pursuit of happiness may damage your relationship with people who aren't invested in your happiness.

 


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#9
jpahmad

jpahmad
  • 666 posts

something seems really screwy with this study


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#10
Avalanche

Avalanche
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so do the results of the experiment suggest if you value happiness, you will become lonely or do they suggest if you are happy, you will become lonely?

 

They did not ask whether the respondents was happy, only how much they valued it.

 

 

The pursuit of happiness may damage your relationship with people who aren't invested in your happiness.

 

Good one :) I need to think about that.


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#11
jpahmad

jpahmad
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 I'm only happy when my child is happy.  How could this cause isolation between the two of us?

Or, I value my own happiness, which is directly tied to my child's happiness. 

How did they induce the participants of the experiment to value happiness?


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#12
Avalanche

Avalanche
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I'm only happy when my child is happy.  How could this cause isolation between the two of us?

Or, I value my own happiness, which is directly tied to my child's happiness.

 

I do not doubt that in how you define happiness, your childs happiness is intertwined with it. However, this study is based on how most people define it which has been found is in terms of personal outcomes. That means that these findings may not apply to your situation since maybe you are an outlier which they mention might be the case in many instances:

 

 

Individuals who define happiness less in terms of personal positive feelings (e.g., individuals with Asian cultural backgrounds: Uchida et al., 2004; those with relatively pronounced communal goals: Brunstein, Schultheiss, & Grässman, 1998) might show weaker or even reversed effects of valuing happiness on loneliness.

 

Maybe most people need to redefine happiness.

 

 

How did they induce the participants of the experiment to value happiness?

 

 

Participants were told the study was about “TV programming.”To neutralize and equate emotional states across participants, the
session began with a 2-min affectively neutral film clip (“baseline film clip”). Participants then rated the extent to which they felt
lonely and provided a saliva sample. Participants were then randomly assigned to either the “valuing happiness” or an experimental
control condition. Participants in the “valuing happiness” condition read a bogus newspaper article that extolled the benefits of
happiness and closely matched the dispositional values measured in Study 1. The article included the following material:
"People who report higher than normal levels of happiness experience
benefits in their social relationships, professional success, and overall
health and well-being. That is, happiness not only feels good, it also
carries important benefits: the happier people can make themselves
feel from moment to moment, the more likely they are to be success-
ful, healthy, and popular. (. . .)"
Participants in the control group read an identical article except that the word happiness was replaced with “accurate judgment.”
Thus, in each condition participants were induced to have a self-improvement goal. This procedure has been validated for the
manipulation of valuing happiness in that (a) reading the valuing-happiness article led participants to value happiness more than did
reading the accurate-judgments article and (b) reading the paragraphs did not influence mood (Mauss et al., in press).
All participants then watched a 35-min film clip known to activate themes of affiliation and intimacy (Schultheiss et al.,
2004). Participants rated the extent to which they felt lonely and their positive and negative affect, and provided another saliva
sample.

 

 

 

 

something seems really screwy with this study

 

What do you mean by screwy and why is the study screwy?

 

I think this thread is an interesting meeting between philosophy and psychology by the way :)


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#13
jpahmad

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so one group is told to value happiness and the other group is told to value accurate judgment.

 

 

But they're told to value accurate judgment, because it leads to happiness.  See below

 

 

"People who report higher than normal levels of accurate judgment experience...overall health and well-being"

 

 

 

I substituted accurate judgment for happiness in the above quote.  So they have to value health and well-being on order to value accurate judgment.  Both groups are valuing happiness. (I'm equating health and well being with happiness)


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#14
Avalanche

Avalanche
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The terms (happiness, well-being and health) does not necessarily equate the way you propose. Although I think you could argue that both well-being and health are two of the personal outcomes of happiness, you forget the many other outcomes it can represent for most people: Money, popularity, status, a nice car, professional success etc..

 

It might also include more short-sighted personal outcomes which includes acts of promiscuity, lying and so on.

 

Maybe the people who have lied and obfuscated the truth which you have confronted in the past have done so because they value their own personal short-term happiness as they know it? Maybe these same people would have been more honest and compassionate with you if they defined happiness as something communal?

 

I have mulled over Lians post which I found very insightful and thought-provoking, but it only addresses the interpretation the authors does of the data. Lians sentence might also serve as an alternative interpretation of the data but it does need some more content and backing up before I could accept it.

 

However, the data still show the same association no matter what syllogisms you put together. You are of course free to propose your own interpretations and I want to encourage that. I myself proposed one in the initial post and Stef puts his own twists and interpretations of data on various topics, and at the same time he often disregards/ignores the interpretations the authors who report the data bring forth. As is his right and I find him very convincing most of the time. But, the data still stands.

 

I know this might sound passive-aggressive but that is not my intention because I pose it to improve my communication skills: I am thinking I should have prefaced the post with more of an easing-in-tone so people could be given more of a chance to activate their curiosity and imagination surrounding the study, the data and my theories. I think a more open and interesting discussion could have ensued (as I see it). I suspect these posts of mine have been uncomfortable to people. However, I am open to the possibility of being wrong. Let me know what you guys think.

 

I am also sorry about linking to an article which is behind a paywall, as it sort of gives me more power than necessary and it inhibits you guys to double-check and make up your own mind. I should have said something about this in the initial post as well maybe.


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#15
jpahmad

jpahmad
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I think reading the entire study would be more helpful for me.  I don't think you phrased anything wrong with your initial post.  At least, it wasn't shocking or provocative to me.  It just seemed like you wanted to talk about this experiment. 

 

That being said, I think there is a contradiction in the premiss.  It goes like this: 

 

 

  Those who value personal gain as happiness will ultimately become unhappy because they will feel lonely and isolated.

 

  To simplify the equation;

 

 

Those who seek A for happiness, and not B, will ultimately become unhappy because they will not get B. 

 

 

Why would they become unhappy if they didn't want "B" in the first place?

 

 

Am I missing something?

I think there is a "switch-a-roo" semantic thing going on.  Which is why this experiment seems "screwy" to me.  It seems like the type of thing they just wanted whip up to publish in a magazine in order to get readers.


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#16
Avalanche

Avalanche
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I think what I am missing here is that people do more of something like this: "Look, although i acknowledge what the data and subsequent analysis show, I do not agree with neither the authors interpretation nor your interpretation for this and that reason. I think x, y and z is the reason this phenomenon occurs". The fact that this association is found in several studies is not something that can be brushed aside with syllogisms or logic. Philosophy can not make reality obsolete.

 

As to your syllogism:

 

 

Those who seek A for happiness, and not B, will ultimately become unhappy because they will not get B. 

 

Why would they become unhappy if they didn't want "B" in the first place?

 

Let us replace happiness with C and unhappiness with D and see if we can't make sense of this: Those who seek A for C, and not B will ultimately become D because they will not get B. In other words, there are people who seek A for C and there are people who seek B for C. Those who seek A for C will get D which is the opposite of C and those who seek B for C gets C which is the opposite of D.

 

Let us say I wanted to do a successful surgery. A = Some surgic actions which does not lead to C. B = Some surgic actions different from A which leads to C. C = Successful surgery and D = unsuccessful surgery. Is it not possible to imagine that an unskilled person with the wrong tools and diagnosis systems could, despite a wish for a successful surgery, still end up with an unsuccessful surgery? In other words: The person would seek A for C, and not B, and will ultimately end up with D because he or she did not do B which would have been the "right values" to pursue to actually get to C.

 

There are more studies which have found links between high valuation of happiness and feelings of loneliness. Furtermore it is published in a scientific journal and not a magazine which to my ears are quite distinct things and a mark of a certain quality.


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#17
jpahmad

jpahmad
  • 666 posts

Let me work through this: 

 

Doctor accidentally or purposely severs a major artery during surgery in order to cure patient (A).  Same Doctor has chosen not to perform one of several surgical procedures that would for sure cure patient (B).  The Doctor is able to save patient by severing a major artery and killing the patient? (C as a result of A)

 

I don't get it.


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#18
Avalanche

Avalanche
  • 130 posts

I really don't see where I have said what you write I have.

 

Person does A which results in D even though he or she thought it would result in C. If, however, the person had done B, he or she would have ended up at C. I don't see how this can mean what you write it means.

 

No matter if I am wrong (I most likely am in some regard) or you are wrong the association still stands: Striving for happiness (as most people tend to define it) seems to be associated with feelings of loneliness statistically speaking. And yes, there are exceptions. Why have noone acknowledged this piece of reality and tried to make sense of it? People here are empiricists meaning reality trumphs preconceived notions right?

 

I think tongue-in-cheek-but-true it is best for me to subside from this thread as I did not get what I expected out of it even though I thought I would get what I expected ;) In all seriousness  I think we are stuck and no progress is being made and I am for the most part an impatient dude. It was both frustrating and interesting nonetheless.

 

Time to move on to other things, thanks for all the responses! I wish you all happiness! :)

 

PS: If anyone enjoyed this thread and found any of my contributions valuable please let me know so I do not leave this conversation thinking that I did not add any value to the community by posting here. I.e. I might make more threads about psychological research like this in the future if someone valued it. Feel free to suggest improvements as well.


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#19
jpahmad

jpahmad
  • 666 posts

Thanks for the discussion.  I think things would be a lot easier if we could discuss these things in person. :yes:


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#20
Robert Rak

Robert Rak

    Aubergine Dream

  • 1009 posts

I'm not sure how people can avoid valuing happiness. It sounds like they are describing something like cocaine addiction, where the pursuit of pleasure can alienate you from others. That's more of an issue with how happiness is pursued rather than whether they value it or not.

 

...happiness is usually defined in terms of personal positive feelings (a personal gain) in western contexts... 

 

Is there another way of defining happiness that I'm not aware of? What does it mean in the eastern context? This sentence immediately triggers my zen alarm, sadly without access to the paper it's hard to know what they mean for certain.

 

 

Maybe the same thing goes for happiness: An overly focus on happiness as an end in itself distorts your happiness because it leads you to become overly egotistical which leads to interpersonal disconnection which leads to loneliness which leads to unhappiness. A solution to such a problem might be to for example focus on compassion and reason as well as honesty with oneself and others as a primary without second thoughts of you doing it because you want it to lead you to a happy place down the line. However, as a mere bi-product of this kind of living you get happiness.

 

I don't know. These are big thoughts and big theories and I haven't really mulled them over for more than an hour so I do not claim scientific authority by any stretch of the imagination. I also have not scrutinized the theories and methods in the article enough to trust them 100% although the journal is of good quality. Let me know what you Freedomainers think; it would make me happy!  ;)

 

I agree with you on self-esteem and praise, but how does a focus on happiness lead to being "overly egotistical"? I can understand that in the context of a guy trying to become happy through bragging about the new car he just bought, and in that case your idea holds up, but I don't see how it applies to happiness in a general sense. If I want to cook a meal for someone who is having trouble affording them because it makes me happy, how does that fit into what you are describing?

 

I think your idea has some validity but is too narrow to apply to happiness as a whole. There are many ways to achieve it that don't involve vanity and there is also a difference between short-term happiness and sustainable, long-term happiness and I don't think your idea is accounting for those two things. (unless I'm mistaken)


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To make a point of maximizing automatic functioning and minimizing awareness of one's life is to welcome death before its time.


#21
Avalanche

Avalanche
  • 130 posts

Good criticisms!

 

 

Is there another way of defining happiness that I'm not aware of? What does it mean in the eastern context? This sentence immediately triggers my zen alarm, sadly without access to the paper it's hard to know what they mean for certain.

 

In the article they write:

 

 

Our argument rests on the notion that in western contexts, people tend to define happiness in terms of personal outcomes (Uchida et al., 2004).

 

What I deduct from this is that in Uchida et al., 2004 they surveyed Westerners and found that they tend to define happiness in terms of personal outcomes, meaning (I assume) that they tend to look at happiness as something that solely pertains to oneself with no thought of how it relates to others. That is the only way I can make sense of it atleast.  

 

I agree with you on self-esteem and praise, but how does a focus on happiness lead to being "overly egotistical"? I can understand that in the context of a guy trying to become happy through bragging about the new car he just bought, and in that case your idea holds up, but I don't see how it applies to happiness in a general sense. If I want to cook a meal for someone who is having trouble affording them because it makes me happy, how does that fit into what you are describing?

 

I think your idea has some validity but is too narrow to apply to happiness as a whole. There are many ways to achieve it that don't involve vanity and there is also a difference between short-term happiness and sustainable, long-term happiness and I don't think your idea is accounting for those two things. (unless I'm mistaken)

 

I have to agree on this: I don't have any good counter-arguments.

 

I guess what might be taken from the results of this study is that how many define happiness and pursue it can lead to the opposite outcome of what they intended if happiness was their goal. However, the pursuit of happiness if diagnosed correctly may still be worthwhile. We already knew this I think, but it was nonetheless interesting to see it confirmed in a scientific paper.


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#22
Robert Rak

Robert Rak

    Aubergine Dream

  • 1009 posts

What I deduct from this is that in Uchida et al., 2004 they surveyed Westerners and found that they tend to define happiness in terms of personal outcomes, meaning (I assume) that they tend to look at happiness as something that solely pertains to oneself with no thought of how it relates to others. That is the only way I can make sense of it atleast.

 

Ah that makes sense. In other words, when they describe things that make them happy they refer most often to personal benefits rather than say, things that they do for others. Using the word "define" here was throwing me off. 

 

I guess what might be taken from the results of this study is that how many define happiness and pursue it can lead to the opposite outcome of what they intended if happiness was their goal. However, the pursuit of happiness if diagnosed correctly may still be worthwhile. We already knew this I think, but it was nonetheless interesting to see it confirmed in a scientific paper.

 

Yeah the wording they chose concerned me as I thought they were trying to suggest that happiness comes from altruistic self-sacrifice, which is buddhist nonsense. What you said here makes sense and seems rational to me. When I see 'define happiness' my thought is: a pleasurable state of mind. If I were writing it I would choose something like 'what people think will make them happy' instead.


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To make a point of maximizing automatic functioning and minimizing awareness of one's life is to welcome death before its time.