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Author Topic: does acting ethically make you happier?
Strider
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I picked up up Ethics for the New Millennium, by the Dalai Lama, at a recent local library sale. I'm not religious but I've always appreciated Buddhist thought. I've found that my understanding of the universe and my place in it, which has mostly come from science, meshes quite well with many(though not all) Buddhist teachings, and I appreciate that the Dalai Lama has stated that any Buddhist teachings that contradict science need to be disposed of. I heard him speak last year at the local university, and it was a really rewarding experience.

I've only just begun the preface, but I came across a line that caused me to ponder something. He says:
quote:
in general, those individuals whose conduct is ethically positive are happier and more satisfied than those who neglect ethics.
My biggest issue is with the "happier" proclamation, though I have a minor quibble with "satisfied" as well. I know that for me that I have certainly become more satisfied and more content with my life as I have striven to make more ethical choices in how I interact with the world around me. But I don't know how accurate it would be to make that statement for all individuals. I think those who act in an ethically positive way are more satisfied than they would have been had they not acted that way. And those who see the disconnect between how they feel they should act, and how they actually do act, probably are less satisfied with themselves. But those who don't see the need to change their behavior to be more ethically positive(as defined by whom is part of the problem i guess), most likely don't feel dissatisfied with their life(at least not for ethical behavioral reasons). Ignorance is bliss right?

But I think there's a more interesting question in regards to happiness. As I said, I think I've grown more content with my actions as I've striven to act more ethically, but I haven't found that it has made me any happier. In fact, it might be just the opposite. As I've become more involved in my community and in attempting to bring about social justice(don't tell Glenn Beck), I find it's harder to remain happy. I've become involved in food and clothing drives for the homeless, in petitioning townships to contribute funds to our city for the homeless influx from their areas(which burden our resources), and in the more fundamental problem of zoning and affordable housing. A desire to act ethically has forced me to become aware of these issues and thus makes it harder to remain happy.

Learning about the injustices around the globe, the conditions of many of our fellow human beings, the causes and circumstances that put individuals at a disadvantage in life, and the happenstance that has put me in more comfortable circumstances necessitates, imo, positive ethical actions, but also makes it increasingly hard to remain happy in the face of these problems.

Now, I'm by no means depressed. And those that know me, know I'm a very jovial and convivial individual, and always have been. But I'm personally acquainted with various individuals who try to act ethically an DO find it very difficult to be happy given their knowledge. Maybe there are two different types of happiness to think about. It's tempting to say that there is one internal level of happiness, stemming from your view of your own actions, and an external one, stemming from your reactions to the world around you. Or possibly the Dalai Lama is making a broader point that happiness should be an internal barometer. That you can only be responsible for your own actions, and thus should only be happy or disappointed based on decisions within your control. And that while injustices in the world around us are certainly sad, and we should work to relieve them, we should not let them dictate our mental state of happiness, or lack there of. I think there's a lot of truth to that, but I question whether that idea is an "ought" as opposed to an "is".

Do individuals who become more aware and act in a corresponding ethical way also have the knowledge/philosophy that allows them to be happy in the face of these things? There's nothing that necessitates them going hand in hand in my mind. What do you think?

Is there any objective way to judge if someone is ethically positive and to correlate that to their happiness? Is there any correlation between an individual's happiness and their own perceived ethical nature? If not, what is happiness rooted in?

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Lisa
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I think that any behavior which furthers your values will make you happier. Almost by definition. If behaving in an ethical manner is a value of yours, then behaving in an ethical manner will make you happier. So long as you don't have other, contradictory, values. For example, if being ethical is a value for you, and having lots of money is just as strong a value for you, then behaving ethically in a way which results in you having less money might not make you happier. If you value money even more than ethical behavior, then you'd probably be happier acquiring money, however it might be necessary.

In that context, I think the Dalai Lama is saying more about his view of human nature than anything else.

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Strider
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quote:
I think that any behavior which furthers your values will make you happier
But what I'm saying is that while I think that's how it "ought" to be, that's not how it "is". I've been a happy person all my life, before I was ever worried about acting ethically, or actively thinking about and engaging in ethical behavior. And I know others, who much more consistently behave in ways which further their values than I do, and they are not happy individuals. Maybe they are happy for brief moments when they are actively engaging in those ethical behaviors, but their overall persona, is not a happy one.

So I guess the question is, do they have other values that are more important to them that they are not fulfilling? I don't think so. Is it a perceived misunderstanding between what they are doing and what they can do? i.e.- maybe they think they can be doing a lot more, and thus are not happy because despite their best efforts they are not living up to their ideals. I think to a degree, that's part of it. Can we blame it on neurotransmitters? Or maybe our brains and our society are just much more complicated than in our evolutionary history, and life isn't as simple as avoid pain, seek pleasure as it used to be.

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Jim-Me
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I think there is a tendency to conflate "ethical" with "generous" or "giving", especially in the West (and probably because of Judeo-Christian background). We are taught to be unselfish. We are taught to value the whole of society and particularly those less fortunate that we are. We are called to deny ourselves in favor of others. We are continually hounded by calls to action for this or that cause and for the betterment of the world at large. We hold up as heroes (and rightly so) those who have given much to others.

And I am convinced that this is terribly wrong for most people. I readily admit that I may be projecting here because I am certainly one of those people. I feel like there are many like me, however.

I was very active in causes. I wanted to affect the world. I was born within minutes of Dr. King's death (U2 got it wrong, he was shot in the evening) and I had a very high IQ. My parents used to tell me, regularly, that I was meant to accomplish something. I spent (wasted) a good deal of my life trying to justify my own existence.

As a result I neglected my duties to self and family. I could have made a much bigger mess out of it than I did, but the fact remains that I was more into (for example) arguing points here on Hatrack than I was about making sure my children were being taught self-discipline and self-sufficiency.

The reason charity begins at home is that the best way of making the world a better place is cleaning up your own mess. THEN you can give to your heart's content. And "cleaning up your own mess" here means taking care of your own needs as well. Making sure you are rested, fed, loved, and yes, even entertained before you try to give of yourself. That way you give from abundance rather from need, and your gifts don't cost anything. If you don't get that in order, your gifts tend to cost more than they are worth.

Just the way I've come to see this issue. Take or leave it as it suits you.

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scifibum
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quote:
Or maybe our brains and our society are just much more complicated than in our evolutionary history, and life isn't as simple as avoid pain, seek pleasure as it used to be.
How much adaptive survival value is there in happiness, though? Do you think simpler times involved more happiness? (I don't.)
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Strider
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I think, as I mentioned, that a lot of it has to do with the fact that many people's happiness is greatly influenced by external circumstances.

Edit: this was an adendum to my above post. Before you guy posted

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Raymond Arnold
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I'm a little conflicted about this, and I think I am about somewhat contradict an earlier statement I made in another thread.

I think that helping people tends to make you happier/more satisfied (while I'm not prepared to make a conclusive argument for "evolutionary ethics", it makes sense to me that social creatures who survive largely by banding together and being smart would have a biological drive to help each other). It's not the helping people part that makes you unhappy, it's the knowledge of how screwed up the world is that makes you unhappy.

Unfortunately "helping" people by itself isn't necessarily the same as acting "ethically," since part of acting ethically is making sure you understand what it is you're doing and why. Assuming there is some evolutionary basis for human ethical tendencies, it would have predated our ability to analyze long term consequences in a meaningful way. So yeah, we're kinda screwed there.

I also recently had a conversation with a friend about why people enjoy getting drunk and why I don't enjoy going out to bars. He made a statement which made a lot of (sad) sense to me, which is that most people do not like to think if they don't have to. Going to a bar is an excuse to turn off their brain for a few hours. Whereas my version of "turning off my brain" is to NOT worry at all about social norms or try to restrain my bizarre, intellectual sense of humor. I also recall in my psychology class that when you're doing the Myers-Briggs test (think that's the name), there are 4 personality types people tend to fall into, and of those the Rationalists make up something like 2% of the population.

So I think it's a likely (and not unreasonable) outcome for the small percentage of the population who HAS to look for complete answers to be happy (even if doing so paradoxically also makes them unhappy), ends up laying the groundwork for other people to simply things so that the bulk of humanity can feel good about themselves doing reasonable good things that actually help the world, while getting the benefit of being ignorant of how terrible it actually gets.

Edit: I pretty much agree with Jim-Me.

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
quote:
Or maybe our brains and our society are just much more complicated than in our evolutionary history, and life isn't as simple as avoid pain, seek pleasure as it used to be.
How much adaptive survival value is there in happiness, though? Do you think simpler times involved more happiness? (I don't.)
No, I think you misunderstand me slightly, but I wasn't clear...so it's understandable. [Smile]

Our distant evolutionary ancestors evolved to avoid pain and seek pleasure(adaptive survival value and all that). The concept of happiness had no role in the matter as I'm sure those organisms had no notions of happiness or sadness. Happiness is not only a human word, but for the most part, a human state(how much self awareness/consciousness is required to even be able to be happy or sad?). I think organisms who would we say are able to be in a state we call "happy" probably start out by maximizing pleasure. So in as much as the idea of "happiness" coincides with "seeking pleasure" I think we're wired for it, but I'm saying that in reality, happiness is such a convoluted idea that those two don't coincide in such a simple way anymore, if ever.

Jim and Raymond, I'm not really looking to argue over the objective nature of ethics and whether helping the less fortunate would count. But I AM saying that individuals who I know, who live by whatever ethical code they happen to have, are no happier for it. And I'm relating this to the Dalai Lama's quote about ethical people being happier. Unless you're arguing that these people I know are mistaken about how to be ethical, and are thus unhappy because they are acting in ways that aren't truly ethical?

[ March 15, 2010, 07:09 PM: Message edited by: Strider ]

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
quote:
I think that any behavior which furthers your values will make you happier
But what I'm saying is that while I think that's how it "ought" to be, that's not how it "is". I've been a happy person all my life, before I was ever worried about acting ethically, or actively thinking about and engaging in ethical behavior.
Well, if that's the case, then acting ethically probably wasn't any major value of yours. You pursued whatever values you did hold, though.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
And I know others, who much more consistently behave in ways which further their values than I do, and they are not happy individuals.

So how sure are you that they behave in ways that further their values? Remember, it's their values; not their stated values. And it's not as simple as that. The example I gave of money and ethics was sort of dichotomous (at least as I presented it; it needn't be), but what if they aren't? Suppose my greatest values are a joyful and functional family life, behaving ethically, eating chocolate, and being in shape. I can be super ethical, but if my family life is full of tension and dysfunction, it's going to make me unhappy. And I can chow down on chocolate, but the being in shape thing falls into jeopardy.

If a value that's more important to me isn't getting furthered while a value that's less important to me is getting furthered, I'll be skewing towards unhappy. Maybe. If the value that's less important to me is getting furthered a lot, it might outweigh the other one. Magnitude matters as well (sort of like the inverse of risk assessment).

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
Maybe they are happy for brief moments when they are actively engaging in those ethical behaviors, but their overall persona, is not a happy one.

So I guess the question is, do they have other values that are more important to them that they are not fulfilling? I don't think so. Is it a perceived misunderstanding between what they are doing and what they can do? i.e.- maybe they think they can be doing a lot more, and thus are not happy because despite their best efforts they are not living up to their ideals. I think to a degree, that's part of it. Can we blame it on neurotransmitters? Or maybe our brains and our society are just much more complicated than in our evolutionary history, and life isn't as simple as avoid pain, seek pleasure as it used to be.


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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
How much adaptive survival value is there in happiness, though?

It's a gauge. It's the equivalent of a pleasure/pain reaction, only it's based on your values, rather than on a hardwired reaction. It's why you can't just decide to be happy. You have to adjust your values. Sometimes that's just a matter of adjusting them to fit reality. If you dream constantly of winning Lotto, going day after week after month after year without winning it is going to make you unhappy. It might be balanced or exceeded by happiness in other areas, but you can remove that source of unhappiness by getting rid of unrealistic expectations.

[ March 15, 2010, 09:04 PM: Message edited by: Lisa ]

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
quote:
I think that any behavior which furthers your values will make you happier
But what I'm saying is that while I think that's how it "ought" to be, that's not how it "is". I've been a happy person all my life, before I was ever worried about acting ethically, or actively thinking about and engaging in ethical behavior.
Well, if that's the case, then acting ethically probably wasn't any major value of yours. You pursued whatever values you did hold, though.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
And I know others, who much more consistently behave in ways which further their values than I do, and they are not happy individuals.

So how sure are you that they behave in ways that further their values? Remember, it's their values; not their stated values. And it's not as simple as that. The example I gave of money and ethics was sort of dichotomous (at least as I presented it; it needn't be), but what if they aren't? Suppose my greatest values are a joyful and functional family life, behaving ethically, eating chocolate, and being in shape. I can be super ethical, but if my family life is full of tension and dysfunction, it's going to make me unhappy. And I can chow down on chocolate, but the being in shape thing falls into jeopardy.

If a value that's more important to me isn't getting furthered while a value that's less important to me is getting furthered, I'll be skewing towards unhappy. Maybe. If the value that's less important to me is getting furthered a lot, it might outweigh the other one. Magnitude matters as well (sort of like the inverse of risk assessment).


Okay, fair points, I see what you're getting at. You're pretty much just bolstering my original point though. Which is about the disconnect between the quote from the Dalai Lama, and the reality of happiness. You've explored different reasons why this might be the case, specifically that acting ethically is not the only thing that makes us happy, but just one of many "values". So would you agree with the Dalai Lama's statement, if we were somehow able to adjust for other factors?

I still think you're ignoring my statement about external factors though. Someone who is poor, and has no family or friends may still be unhappy, no matter how many of their values they further. Someone who values a world where there is no starvation may be unhappy no matter how much they work towards that goal. The fact is...many people's sadness or happiness is, at least in part, dictated by external factors, regardless of their own behavior.

Btw, your second post you've mis-attributed to me. that was scifibum. I took a crack at answering his question.

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Jim-Me
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All I was really trying to say was that we often confuse "generous" for "ethical" because that's the particular touchstone of mine that your thoughts set off. Like most of us here on the nets, I took your words and made them about me. [Smile]

But, that having been said, I *am* suggesting that there are people who are wrong about how to be ethical. I know for a long time self-denial and, to be frank, self-hatred were an inherent part of my concept of ethics and in my particular case that was a part and parcel of my focus on outward causes and neglect of my own responsibilities (particular towards my self).

*I* had the idea that the essential part of giving was giving "till it hurts" and that my charity was only valuable inasmuch as it cost me. In a case like mine, "living ethically" was pretty much guaranteed to ensure unhappiness. I do not know how much this applies to the cases you have in mind, but your initial statements equating involvement in the community and social justice were what led me down this line of thinking.

I also think Ray made a good point about the cause of your unhappiness being more about your perception of the amount of bad in the world than by your working against it. (I'm not trying to leave Lisa out, btw, I like what she has to say as well).

I think, all other things being equal, those who live up to their code of ethics are going to be happier than those who do not, simply because of getting more sleep. [Wink]

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
Okay, fair points, I see what you're getting at. You're pretty much just bolstering my original point though. Which is about the disconnect between the quote from the Dalai Lama, and the reality of happiness. You've explored different reasons why this might be the case, specifically that acting ethically is not the only thing that makes us happy, but just one of many "values".

Right. I think the Dalai Lama's comment partakes of truth, but only slightly.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
So would you agree with the Dalai Lama's statement, if we were somehow able to adjust for other factors?

No. It's too simplistic.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
I still think you're ignoring my statement about external factors though. Someone who is poor, and has no family or friends may still be unhappy, no matter how many of their values they further.

I don't know that that's true. There are people who've cast off their possessions to live a more simple life and are very happy.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
Someone who values a world where there is no starvation may be unhappy no matter how much they work towards that goal.

True, because they know that their goal will never be reached. No matter how much they work towards it, it recedes from them.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
The fact is...many people's sadness or happiness is, at least in part, dictated by external factors, regardless of their own behavior.

Yes. But not regardless of their own values. If it's really important to me, for example, that the Chicago Bears win (it isn't, although it is to my partner, and I like when she's happy), then the Bears winning will make me happy. A value of mine has been achieved, even if I'm not the one achieving it. That's external to my behavior, but it isn't external to my values. If I hate the Bears and they win, I'll be sad. See?

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
Btw, your second post you've mis-attributed to me. that was scifibum. I took a crack at answering his question.

Oops. Fixed that.
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August
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NewScientist ran an interesting article over the summer entitled "10 mysteries of you". One of them was about altruism, and it sought to explain its evolutionary background. I quote: "People with a certain version of a gene called AVPR1 are more altruistic than the average".
Research shows that the people with this gene are more susceptible to a "feel good" hormone that occurs when they do good deeds. In essence, they get those warm fuzzy feelings that we all love. So if we count altruism as being an ethically correct trait, then scientifically speaking, these people do become happier.

I've always found this explanation to be a bit cold. I mean, it's like the age old question for free will. Does altruism really exist?

There's something about having an unreachable goal that inspires hope, however. To quote Camus, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy". Even though his task (pushing a boulder up a mountain for eternity) was unthinkably awful, by putting it in perspective, it may not be so horrible. Humans tend to cling to hope in the worst circumstances; it's one of our best traits as a species. Personally, that lovely feeling of hope is enough to keep me happy. Sure, thinking about it for an eternity would probably be enough for me want to kill myself, but by keeping it in that small perspective, there's always some kind of future to imagine. That's what keeps me happy.

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scifibum
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quote:
I've always found this explanation to be a bit cold. I mean, it's like the age old question for free will. Does altruism really exist?
Just look past it. All our behavior can be deconstructed to the point that we're simply biological machines, following the path of least [behavioral] resistance. But the meaning to our behavior, even though it exists only ephemerally in our minds, still exists. It's still meaning.
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MightyCow
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I'd say that there are a lot of reasons that the Dali Lama's idea has merit.

First, people in better situations have a much easier time acting "ethically", so having the freedom to be ethical already comes with a certain level of health, wealth, autonomy, and so on. It's possible to be ethical if you're on your deathbed, or in jail, or starving, but it's a whole lot easier if you're not.

Second, there tend to be negative repercussions for acting unethically, if nothing else the fear of being caught. So people who act unethically have a certain amount of emotional baggage, or social scorn, or legal consequences, or danger to their health.

Being ethical tends to have the opposite effect, gaining praise from your community, avoiding illegal activities, and so on.

We also are happier when we avoid cognitive dissonance, and most of us have the idea that we should be ethical. We like to think of ourselves as "good" people. So when we behave ethically, we give ourselves emotional points, and avoid the need to either live with the cognitive dissonance of being unethical, or the effort of explaining it away somehow.

In other words, I wouldn't say that being ethical is always emotionally beneficial simply because it's ethical, but that it also has a number of associated benefits.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Just look past it. All our behavior can be deconstructed to the point that we're simply biological machines, following the path of least [behavioral] resistance. But the meaning to our behavior, even though it exists only ephemerally in our minds, still exists. It's still meaning.
Yes, this.
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August
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:

I also recently had a conversation with a friend about why people enjoy getting drunk and why I don't enjoy going out to bars. He made a statement which made a lot of (sad) sense to me, which is that most people do not like to think if they don't have to. Going to a bar is an excuse to turn off their brain for a few hours. Whereas my version of "turning off my brain" is to NOT worry at all about social norms or try to restrain my bizarre, intellectual sense of humor.


This makes so much sense. I guess you could say that I've had trouble maintaining my happiness these past few months, and I found that I had must success when I "turned my brain off", that is to say, I stopped thinking so much. I've thought about drinking as a relief, so that I wouldn't have to try so hard to not overthink (it's such a temptation), but I don't think that I could do that to my body. I don't ever want to lose the thoughts that make me who I am. And I don't want to get out of control. And I don't think that wanting that numbness is a good reason to drink at all.
quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:

So I think it's a likely (and not unreasonable) outcome for the small percentage of the population who HAS to look for complete answers to be happy (even if doing so paradoxically also makes them unhappy), ends up laying the groundwork for other people to simply things so that the bulk of humanity can feel good about themselves doing reasonable good things that actually help the world, while getting the benefit of being ignorant of how terrible it actually gets.

Yes.
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Itsame
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No.
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theamazeeaz
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A couple of weeks ago, I went back to work late and I stayed there until 1:30 am on a weekday night. There had been a snowstorm that day and I was cursing myself as I was walking back home mostly because I really really should have been in bed. Then I saw someone's credit card lying in the snow. I picked it up. The last thing I wanted to do at 1:30 in the morning was walk about a half mile out of my way to the campus police station or call anybody or do anything but go to bed. My cell phone was home in my apartment. As I was walking I realized I vaguely recognized the name as someone in my bookclub, and I stopped at a public computer, checked that yes, I knew this person, found her directory information and spent about 20 minutes composing an email telling her where and when I'd found it and how to get the card back (email included my office, my address, my cell, everything). Sort of satisfied, I walked the rest of the way home and decided, no, I wasn't satisfied. This person had her cell on Facebook and the student directory and I called it when I got home (she was one of those people you meet once and friend but don't really interact with much, except she joined the bookclub I'm in). She was surprised to get a call at 2 in the morning, even more so because she didn't even know her card was missing. Also, she was still awake because she was packing because she was getting on a plane that afternoon. Since I had my coat and boots on, I walked to her door to bring it to her. She would not have discovered her credit card was missing until she had at least arrived at the airport.

Nevertheless, getting that card to her in the middle of the night was one of the most thrilling and selfishly other-centered things I had ever done. Once I had decided that I could get this person her card, I was suddenly awake and deliriously happy. Saving people from a big mess and receiving gratitude gives you a big high. The high lasted for several days, and I think I ticked off one of my sisters with my self-righteousness.

So basically, what I'm saying is that you haven't lived until you return someone's lost credit card to their door at 2:30 am after a snowstorm the night before they get on a plane.

So yeah, acting ethically makes you really really happy.

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Chris Bridges
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I'm not sure I would say it makes you happy, necessarily, but acting ethically can reduce the amount of daily stress you take on by simply removing a great deal of the lying many people do on a regular basis.

If you never say or post online anything that would embarrass you later, you never have to worry about someone else finding out.

If you don't treat people badly you never have to worry about people whose good opinion you do treasure finding out.

If you never do anything you wouldn't be proud to admit to anyone who asks, you never have to worry what someone might ask you.

It's not happiness, per se, but that sort of openness can make happiness a lot easier.

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Tatiana
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I think acting selflessly, ethically, or helpfully does bring along with it an unreasonable and just deliriously crazy fun amount of happiness. Like in Amelie when she was going around doing those secret nice things for people, that was so cool and so much fun. I decided I wanted to start doing that. Even though not all of them worked out well, as I recall, they were still super fun.

One thing I did (adopting my son) that could be considered altruistic and selfless has brought me untold joy in a thousand million ways. It's kind of paradoxical like that. What did Christ say? Lose your life to find it? Last shall be first and the first shall be last? Everything one does to try to give happiness to others without regard to one's own happiness ends up backfiring and bringing more happiness to our own selves than we could ever have dreamed. For some reason that's how it works. It's crazy!

I think it would be cool to have a secret happiness giving club. Like we could dream up ways to do unexpected things to bring other people happiness, we could conspire together to make people happy. That would be so cool! A stealth ninja goodness society. Let's do it!

Can anyone think of some fun (non-creepy) ways to do that?

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Tatiana
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It seems like the best thing to do would be to find people who were struggling with problems in their lives and just bomb them with unexpected encouragement or kindness or gifts of some sort. It seems like in that case it's not just the actual gift but rather it's the fact that someone noticed and cared and wanted to help that makes a person feel loved and supported in their struggles.

The kind of gifts I'm thinking of are tasty home-cooked meals, toys for kids, warm coats or new sneakers for kids who need them, new glasses or contacts for someone who needs them but can't afford to pay for them, other stuff that can bring a upgrade in the quality of life for someone. I guess what I'm describing is almost like Relief Society, isn't it? But more stealthy than that. [Smile]

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Tatiana
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I noticed that as I grew up, the price of whatever it would take to buy a new something-or-other to make me really happy (if only for a day) kept going up. That's why I loved to buy my nieces toys and things. Like, they might be made deliriously happy by something as cheap and easy as a new toy or a new outfit they loved. You're talking under $50! And like for me to get something I would be that excited and overjoyed about would cost thousands at least. [Big Grin]

So I spoiled my nieces when they were little by buying them too much stuff. Then for my oldest niece it was sad because we would go to the toy store and in that entire huge store there would be nothing at all that she wanted that she didn't already have. I felt badly, then, at what we'd done to her.

For maximum happiness, there needs to be some component of longing, don't you think? That's why I'd rather save up for something I really want than buy it on credit. I get the extra pleasure that way of fulfilling a desire I've long deferred. And in some cases by the time I have the money I don't even want the thing anymore, whatever it was. So then I get to come up with a happier way to spend the money I've saved.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
That's why I'd rather save up for something I really want than buy it on credit.
While I'm all for saving up instead of buying on credit, that's certainly not my reason. [Smile]
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sinflower
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It makes me happier to do things that are compatible with my values, yes. And that's how I define ethics in my personal life. But I don't know if other people would judge me to be "acting ethically" when I do some of those things.
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Tresopax
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I don't think acting ethically automatically makes you happier. I think it depends on how you understand the world. If someone acts ethically only because he is beaten whenever he does something wrong, acting ethically in itself probably isn't going to make him that much happier. If someone acts ethically because he sees the inherent worth of other people, then that probably will give him a great deal of happiness. Thus happiness is not just a function of acting right; its also depends on the lens through which you view your own actions.

Having said that, happiness is a complicated thing and comes in different varieties that do not equate: pleasure, joy, etc. I think anyone who has acted ethically and understood the true value of acting ethically would recognize it comes with a sort of happiness that is stronger and more lasting than almost any other sort.

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katharina
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I think people are definitely happier when they act ethically/morally.

It's for lots of reasons - the following list is by no means exhaustive:

1. No matter what else happens in the world, we have to live with ourselves. Life is better when you can approve of yourself, and when you act unethically/immorally, then you have to live with your own disapproval.

People deal with this in many ways, sometimes changing their behavior to become more ethical/moral, and sometimes rearranging the story in their head where their unethical/hurtful actions were totally justified so they didn't do anything wrong.

2. We, as people, are not meant to stagnate. Acting ethically can be hard, so doing so gives us a sense of accomplishment.

3. Life is better when you don't have to lie and hide. If there is nothing to be ashamed of, you don't live in fear that anyone will find out the real you.

4. We are born with the light of Christ within us - we know in our souls, generally, unless we smother that light, what is right and wrong. When we act according to that inner light, we are closer to God, have the Holy Ghost with us, and are happier as a result.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
If someone acts ethically only because he is beaten whenever he does something wrong, acting ethically in itself probably isn't going to make him that much happier
Actually, I think it pretty obviously would, by the most common meanings of word.

I think that most people would be happier not being beaten.

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Tresopax
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Yeah, but in that case its the not being beaten that's making him happier, not his behavior. [Wink]
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AchillesHeel
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I try to follow the golden rule "be good" I stay away from working in industries that I think are unfair (i.e. security for strip clubs because they earn money off the bodies of women, small companies who cheat on taxes etc.) and even go as far never shopping at walmart because they are the largest employer in my state but majority of their workers on some form of govt. aid. I help people who need help when I can, I smile and say thank you when my Grandma buys me wierd things for Christmas, and I refrain from bludgeoning stupid customers who complain about nothing. I cant really say that any of these things make me feel better but I rarely think about what Ive done and feel bad, mostly because I always attempt be good and minimize my negative impact on the world at large.

So I guess what Im saying is that in my purple colored world being good today means you have nothing to be ashamed of tomorrow. But then again I may be sociopathic and never feel ashamed of anything, dont you love roasted hamster?

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Originally posted by Tresopax:
Yeah, but in that case its the not being beaten that's making him happier, not his behavior. [Wink]

In your scenario, they are inseparable.
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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Jim-Me:
Like most of us here on the nets, I took your words and made them about me

I'm pretty sure we all do that all the time. Here or in RL. [Smile]

Lisa, I see what you're saying, that all those external factors are still values. I can get on board with that in general. Though I think it's worth pointing out that there's a difference between a value you hold, and something you value. A somewhat minor distinction, but the latter might be a proximate cause of happiness or sadness, but only because a more absolute (is that the word i'm looking for?) cause is in effect.

quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
quote:
I've always found this explanation to be a bit cold. I mean, it's like the age old question for free will. Does altruism really exist?
Just look past it. All our behavior can be deconstructed to the point that we're simply biological machines, following the path of least [behavioral] resistance. But the meaning to our behavior, even though it exists only ephemerally in our minds, still exists. It's still meaning.
I also agree with this statement.

quote:
Originally posted by August:
quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:

I also recently had a conversation with a friend about why people enjoy getting drunk and why I don't enjoy going out to bars. He made a statement which made a lot of (sad) sense to me, which is that most people do not like to think if they don't have to. Going to a bar is an excuse to turn off their brain for a few hours. Whereas my version of "turning off my brain" is to NOT worry at all about social norms or try to restrain my bizarre, intellectual sense of humor.


This makes so much sense.
AT the risk of a thread derailment, I feel I have to stick up for bars AND turning your brain off.

Assuming people do go to bars to "turn their brains off" it's one of many ways people choose to do that. And I don't see anything inherently wrong with turning your brain off. I think a lot too raymond. I like books that make me think. Movies that make me think. My work makes me think. I enjoy posting on Hatrack and thinking. But my brain needs some downtime too! So maybe I watch a movie or tv show with no intellectual benefit, is that wrong? (I guess you can make an argument that time spent watching tv could be better spent trying to save the world, but I don't think that's the issue at hand!)

But turning off your brain is not the only reason people go to bars. People go to bars to socialize and be with friends, to meet prospective dating partners, to dance and/or sing, to play pool/foosball/darts, to eat and drink(though of course this needs to be appealing to you in the first place), and these people will have whatever conversations they normally have...some might even be intellectual!

These days I'm not really into the bar scene, unless there's live music I want to see somewhere. But I get together with friends a lot for dinner parties. Is there really any difference? We socialize, we eat food, we drink alcohol, we have whatever conversations we feel like, and if someone has Rockband we might even sing. Just because we're adults getting together at a house(part of the reason people go to bars is because they have nowhere else to all get together) doesn't make us any better.

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Raymond Arnold
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Oh I wasn't saying turning your brain off was bad. Just that the way I turn it off is completely different than the socially acceptable way that people do at bars.

Part of it may be that the particular bars I've been dragged to have obnoxiously loud music (which strikes me as an absolutely terrible idea for what is supposed to be a social venue, but for some reason everyone else loves. If I can't hear what you're saying, we can't be socializing.)

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Strider
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But if you can't hear what someone is saying, you also can't tell how BAD they are at socializing! [Wink]
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August
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quote:
Originally posted by Tatiana:


I think it would be cool to have a secret happiness giving club. Like we could dream up ways to do unexpected things to bring other people happiness, we could conspire together to make people happy. That would be so cool! A stealth ninja goodness society. Let's do it!

It's called the Boom Boom! Revolution. http://boomboomcards.com/
I'm trying to get people aware of this at my school. Tracking good deeds across the nation!

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Juxtapose
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Incidentally, I seldom have problems being in a bar and not at all restraining my bizarre sense of humor. And if I do, I know I'm in the wrong bar!
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Mike
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
Part of it may be that the particular bars I've been dragged to have obnoxiously loud music (which strikes me as an absolutely terrible idea for what is supposed to be a social venue, but for some reason everyone else loves. If I can't hear what you're saying, we can't be socializing.)

To continue with the thread derailment, I think a large part of why the music is typically so loud is so that people are forced to get close to one another to make themselves heard.

quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
But if you can't hear what someone is saying, you also can't tell how BAD they are at socializing! [Wink]

I see and acknowledge the emoticon, but nevertheless reserve the right to strongly disagree. [Smile]
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Cindy Carter
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What an interesting thread. I just had to register to participate.

I think ethical behavior can make you happy as long as the people you're around are acting ethically too. If you're around unethical people however who are benefiting from unethical behavior, then remaining the sole ethical person won't make you happy. In fact, it might make you feel miserable.

This is because ethical behavior probably has an evolutionary basis. Back when humans were mainly tribal creatures living in groups of hundreds, we acquired a tendency towards reciprocal altruism and cooperative behavior. In short, if the tribe cooperates, the entire tribe benefits. However, there's the problem of cheaters: people who freeload on the altruistic and cooperative behavior of others without reciprocating that behavior. We evolved to have an innate dislike of such behavior and to derive pleasure from seeing cheaters punished, so in a way, being "ethical" can make one happy so long as the end result is that a cheater is punished, however if you insist on being the sole ethical person in an unethical party then you're bound to be miserable, and the only way to avoid this misery is to either extricate yourself from that situation (perhaps seeing to it that the cheaters are punished) or giving in to the unethical behavior yourself.

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Tatiana
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Welcome to hatrack, Cindy Carter!

Thanks for the link, August! I should have known someone had already had that idea. I'm totally going to check it out. It sounds like fun. =)

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Tresopax
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quote:
And I don't see anything inherently wrong with turning your brain off.
Sleeping is a good time to turn your brain off.

However, I think there IS a moral issue with turning your brain off in any situation where you have to do significant decision-making... since those decisions may have consequences, both for you and for other people. This is why, while sleeping in bed is okay, sleeping while driving is not.

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Strider
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hah, if I ever argue that sleeping while driving is okay, you can lambaste me appropriately.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
hah, if I ever argue that sleeping while driving is okay, you can lambaste me appropriately.

It's OK if your car has an automated driving system.
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Strider
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what if it gets taken over by an evil AI and I have to wrestle control away from it manually and I'm asleep and mis my opportunity and it destroys the world???
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Jenos
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quote:
Originally posted by Cindy Carter:
What an interesting thread. I just had to register to participate.

I think ethical behavior can make you happy as long as the people you're around are acting ethically too. If you're around unethical people however who are benefiting from unethical behavior, then remaining the sole ethical person won't make you happy. In fact, it might make you feel miserable.

I want to support this position - given what we know of social norms and how it affects peoples actions, acting within social norms is likely to make us happy. That said, we do not have social norms for fully "ethical"(and by that I mean altruistic) behaviors. Rather, at least in America, we have a social norm toward partial altruism - giving some, but still leaving much for luxury. So people donate to charities since it makes them feel good, but they don't donate college funds to charity because no one else around them does that either.
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Raymond Arnold
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A thought occurred to me regarding the percentage of "rational but generally uphappy people" vs the general population. I wonder if this is a ratio that evolution actively selects for. Similar to how humans have a 1:1 male/female ratio whereas lions have a 1:8 (or something similar), there may be an evolutionary advantage to having a society wherein 3-5% of the people are inclined to think a lot, but consequently tend to be more stressed out, and the rest of the people tend to follow whatever the social norms are without worrying too much about it.

If you're in a society where the "thinkers" are in positions of power, then the rest of the population gets to benefit from them without having to actually be stressed out. And if you're in a society where thinkers are NOT in positions of power, the ratio would still end up being about the same, since they'd exist on the fringes of society and, um, not reproduce as much. (Perhaps the nerdy virgin stereotype exists as a self-correcting mechanism, to prevent thinkers from overpopulating and creating a society of unhappy people.)

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LaneyDMD
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It is an interesting question. I agree with whoever posted that in general, acting ethically will help you avoid all manner of problems, so in that sense acting ethically is a good plan for happiness.

I also think the Dali Lama's generalization is a good rule of thumb, but it is certainly not a hard rule.

I had an experience where acting ethically did not make me happy. I participated in a Christmas time charity, and I was expecting the children to show some kind of joy or gratitude or somesuch. As I thought about it later, I realized I was doing the right thing for the wrong reason - you should do the right thing because its the right thing, not because you want some kind of emotional payoff.

I doubt many of us have trouble imagining a situation where you do the right thing and end up feeling a sap.

Life is complex, and so there are always exceptions to rules of thumb. For that reason, if you're looking to be happy, trying to act more ethically or moral will probably not work.

btw, states of emotion are not rational, so following your well reasoned values may not impact your emotional state at all.

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Cindy Carter:
What an interesting thread. I just had to register to participate.

Ah, but are sockpuppets ethical? A most intriguing question.
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Tatiana
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
what if it gets taken over by an evil AI and I have to wrestle control away from it manually and I'm asleep and miss my opportunity and it destroys the world???

This is why I love hatrack! Can you get this anywhere else?
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