The Controllability of Life Satisfaction

 

B.Contestabile       admin@socrethics.com       First version 2010   Last Version 2015

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Abstract

 

1.      Introduction

2.      Basics

2.1  Sense of Life

2.2  Life-Satisfaction

2.3  Comparison

3.      Determinants

3.1  Love and Desire

3.2  Power and Wealth

3.3  Society and Nature

3.4  Liberation from Suffering

4.      Competing Philosophies

4.1  Basics

4.2  Freud

4.3  Nietzsche

4.4  Late Stoics

4.5  Buddha

5.      Cross Comparison

5.1  Relation between Aims and Moods

5.2  Relation between Methods and Moods

5.3  Flexibility

6.      Conclusion

 

References

 

 

 

 

 

Abstract

 

 

Starting Point

Starting point of this paper is the Latin saying “quisque faber suae fortunae” (every man is the architect of his own fortune) and the numerous guidebooks which insinuate that happiness can be fabricated like a product or created like a piece of art.

On the other hand there is the experience that we are often the victims of our moods. A negative mood may persist although there seems to be no reason. Conversely a happy mood may emerge without a conscious contribution.

 

 

Type of problem

To what extent can life-satisfaction be controlled by autonomous decisions of the individual?

 

 

Result

Life satisfaction can be influenced but not controlled. Each philosophy which attempts to influence life satisfaction

- has to be adapted to a specific situation (personality traits, environment, life story)

- is tied to a specific risk

- is exposed to contingency

Contingency is the strongest argument against the slogan “quisque faber suae fortunae”.

 

The skepticism with regard to the controllability of life satisfaction implies skepticism with regard to simple guidebooks. The saying “Every man is the architect of his own fortune” turns unhappy people even more unhappy, because it makes them responsible for their misfortune, independent of their talent, their social environment and contingent events in their life story.

 

The controllability of life satisfaction can better be described by a casino metaphor. The different philosophies discussed in this paper correspond to different game strategies:

1. To pursue a biological or perfectionist aim in life with a strong emotional attachment (as promoted by Freud and Nietzsche) means to play for high stakes.

2. The Stoics try to limit the risks by becoming insensitive to (unavoidable) losses whereas the Buddhists recommend retreating from the game. But excessive self-control and disengagement create new forms of risk. The biological nature of humans strikes back in the form of neurotic disorders or psychosomatic illness and thus undermines the targeted control of life satisfaction.

 

It seems that a flexible concept opens the best chances to improve life satisfaction. In the casino of life the rules of the game are changing, as well as the gamblers perception of risks and chances.

 

 

 

 

 

1. Introduction

 

 

Starting Point

Starting point of this paper is the Latin saying “quisque faber suae fortunae (every man is the architect of his own fortune) and the numerous guidebooks which insinuate that happiness can be fabricated like a product or created like a piece of art.

On the other hand there is the experience that we are often the victims of our moods. A negative mood may persist although there seems to be no reason. Conversely a happy mood may emerge without a conscious contribution.

 

 

Type of problem

To what extent can life-satisfaction be controlled by autonomous decisions of the individual?

 

 

 

2. Basics

 

 

We start with the traditional term sense of life and then compare it to the term life satisfaction, which is used in sociological research.

 

 

 

2.1 Sense of Life

 

 

Definition

The term meaning of life is a synonym for sense of life. It has two aspects:

1.      Affective aspect: sensation, mood, awareness of life

2.      Cognitive aspect: aim in life, purpose

 

1)      The German word sinnvoll captures exactly the first interpretation. Life is perceived as meaningful (sinn-voll), if the senses (Sinne) are full (voll) of impressions. This conforms to a hedonistic interpretation: the sense of life consists in the pursuit of happiness, respectively in the avoidance of suffering.

2)      The second interpretation says that life has a sense, if it has a purpose. On the biological level the first interpretation directly relates to the second, i.e. the evolutionary design of the hedonistic system supports the biological goal (which is survival and procreation).

 

The affective and the cognitive perception don’t necessarily coincide:

1.      A person may reach all the aims he/she consciously strives for and still feel that life doesn’t make sense. In such a case there are unfulfilled unconscious goals which influence the awareness of life.

2.      A person may attain the feeling (mood) that his/her personal life makes sense, although he/she falls short of the aims he/she was consciously striving for. In such a case there are satisfied unconscious preferences with a positive influence on the awareness of life.

 

 

Biological and cultural sense

The biological root of the human psyche strives for a mood where “life makes sense”. Except from the biological meaning, all other interpretations of the term sense of life are culturally imposed or individually created constructions.

 

1.      Biological sense

The biological meaning of life is simply survival and procreation. It exists in hunter-gatherer cultures with no history beyond living memory [Everett]. They are reported to be among the happiest of the world, a fact which supports the thesis, that the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden symbolically describes the transformation from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle into an agricultural lifestyle.

 

2.      Cultural sense

Culture is always a long-term project. The Latin word cultura points to the English term cultivate, i.e. a preservative activity. It also relates to the term cult, i.e. the activity which guarantees the continuance of the world order. To comply with the “law”, to participate in the construction of the “world home” and thereby feel ones destination, is an experience which is common to the Hopi, as well as the Hindu or the Christians. Sense emerges out of responsibility for the whole [Bargatzky, 104].

 

 

Aims in life

The diversity of subjective aims in life has become immense. In order to investigate the cognitive interpretation of the term sense in life (aim, goal, purpose) in more detail, we reduce this diversity to a basic structure, so that the individual aims can be regarded as variations. The structure (purusarthas) is taken from Hinduism and is based on a more than two thousand years old experience. Insofar it can be regarded as a result of anthropology. Furthermore the purusarthas can be linked to Plato’s cardinal virtues, Aristotle’s lifestyles and empirical data in social psychology, see Konkurrierende Lebensziele.

 

 

 

Cultural aims

 

Biological goals and

their sublimations

 

 

Moksha

Liberation from suffering

 

 

Artha

Power and wealth

 

 

Dharma

Comply with the law

 

 

Kama

Love and desire

 

 

 

On the cultural level there are reasons to deviate from the simple concept of Artha and Kama. In the game of life we may be successful from the genetic point of view, but with regard to survival we are all losers. We may lose the persons we love most. We will age, get ill, and finally die. The fact that traumatic forms of suffering exist and persist is a major challenge for any attempt to construct sense in life. Cultural tradition not only reveals the risks of the biological goals, it also teaches us that biological preferences can be sublimated (e.g. love in art, power in technology) and that non-biological forms of happiness (like mysticism) exist and can be learned. The cultural aims Dharma and Moksha represent a stronghold against transience.

 

Altruism

1.  Altruism within the family refers to Artha and Kama because it serves the biological goal (see biological altruism)

2.  The engagement for justice and selfless love in the context of humanitarian action refers to the Dharma.

3.  Compassion in the Buddhist sense refers to Moksha.

 

Knowledge

In those cases where the distant observation of the world becomes a source of life satisfaction, we have to distinguish as follows:

1.      If the piling of knowledge leads to an increase in self-esteem and prestige it refers to Artha and Kama.

2.      A selfless devotion to science in the interest of the community refers to the Dharma.

3.      If the distant observation of the world liberates from suffering it refers to Moksha.

 

 

 

2.2 Life Satisfaction

 

There are two traditions in the empirical research for happiness:

1)      The sociological tradition uses the term quality of life

2)      The psychological tradition uses the term well-being

 

Quality of life is the valuation of objective living conditions. At the beginning the sociological research concentrated on social and economic indicators. Later research explored the subjective (psychological) valuation of living conditions. Changes in the subjective valuation don’t necessarily reflect changes of the objective living conditions.

 

Subjective life satisfaction measures assessed cognitive appraisals of the quality of life experiences [Kashdan, 1229]. It is the valuation of life as a whole, rather than particular aspects of it.

 

1.      The Eurobaromenter survey e.g. asks “On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied, or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?”

2.      The World Values Survey asks “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, quite happy, not very happy, not at all happy?”

3.      Another survey asked: “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” where answers are indicated on a 7-point scale ranging from “completely satisfied” to “completely dissatisfied”.

 [Hirata, 3]

 

Subjective and objective assessments can be combined in a single index:

Two widely known measures of a country's quality of life are the Economist Intelligence Unit's quality of life index and the Mercer Quality of Living Survey. Both measures calculate the quality of life through a combination of subjective life-satisfaction surveys and objective determinants of such as divorce rates, safety, and infrastructure (Quality of life, Wikipedia).

 

Example:

The Economist Intelligence Unit has developed a new “quality of life” index based on a unique methodology that links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys to the objective determinants of quality of life across countries [Economist].

 

The nine quality-of-life factors are:

1.      Material wellbeing

2.      Health

3.      Political stability and security

4.      Family life

5.      Community life

6.      Climate and geography

7.      Job security

8.      Political freedom

9.      Gender equality

 

 

 

2.3 Comparison

 

The following table connects the purusarthas with above determinants of quality of life.

 

 

 

Purusarthas

 

Determinants according to [Economics]

 

Kama

Love and desire

 

 

         Family life

 

 

Artha

Power and wealth

 

         Material well-being

         Job security

 

 

Dharma

Compliance with the laws of society and nature

         Political stability and security

         Community life

         Political freedom

         Gender equality

         Climate and geography

 

Moksha

Liberation from suffering

 

 

         Health

 

 

 

1.      Life satisfaction (as defined in this paper) is the individual perception of the determinants in above table.

2.      Sense of life (as defined in this paper) is the individual perception of the compliance with the purusarthas.

 

The term life satisfaction has a cognitive and an affective component:

1.      Cognitive: the determinants can be seen as (individually weighed) preferences which are more or less satisfied.

2.      Affective: the aggregation of all preference-satisfactions and -frustrations results in a mood.

 

The term sense of life also has a cognitive and an affective component:

1.      Cognitive: compliance with the aims in life.

2.      Affective: the aggregation of all unreached and all fulfilled aims results in a mood.

 

In order to clarify the controllability of life satisfaction we do not have to investigate all determinants; it is sufficient to pick out significant ones.

In the following we look at some of these determinants, in the order of above table:

 

 

 

3. Determinants

 

 

3.1 Love and Desire

 

The determinant in the [Economist] is family life.

 

Within family life we focus on partnership, because couples without children are easier to analyze. If the simple case is not controllable then the complex case is even less.

 

To what extent can the happiness (satisfaction) which results from a partnership be controlled?

 

 

Definition

In this paper the term partnership is used in a non-commercial sense, i.e. for married and unmarried couples.

In partnership each of the two partners takes roles in the two basic conflict areas power and love.

 

In long lasting relationships the forces are usually not balanced:

1.      one partner tends to be dominant, the other compliant.

2.      one partner looks for more closeness, the other for more distance

 

The importance of similarity and complementarity may depend on the stage of the relationship. Similarity seems to carry considerable weight in initial attraction, while complementarity assumes importance as the relationship develops over time (Interpersonal Attraction, Wikipedia).

 

 

 

 

contained

looking for more distance

 

 

dominant

 

compliant

 

 

sociable

looking for more closeness

 

 

 

There are two basic reasons for bad moods in a partnership:

1)      Role changes: Shifting roles trigger shifting moods. Bad moods indicate that roles are inadequate.

2)      The partnership (seen as a team) cannot comply with the demands of the outside world, loses its social status etc.

We start the investigation with the first issue.

 

 

Types of partnerships

The following types of partnerships were observed in marriage counseling [Willi], but have a general relevance. They are classified according to the type of attraction which decides in partner selection:

 

 

type of attraction

personality trait

 

 

identification

1. dynamic, successful [Willi, 66]

2. good listener, person of trust [Willi, 69]

 

care

anchorless and uncontrolled, but charming [Willi, 94, 144]

 

power

autonomous, leader type [Willi, 111]

 

 

sexuality

1. seductive woman [Willi, 144]

2. womanizer [Willi, 155]

 

 

 

The types of attraction mentioned here represent different forms of dominance. Complementarity in terms of dominance seems to be the most important criterion for lasting relationships:

[Markey] found that people would be more satisfied with their relationship if their partners differed from them, at least, in terms of dominance, as two dominant persons may experience conflicts while two submissive individuals may have frustration as neither member take the initiative (Interpersonal attraction, Wikipedia).

 

We content ourselves with a rough description of roles and moods. The goal of this paper is not to make a contribution to marriage counseling, but to investigate the controllability of happiness.

 

 

Identification

If the idea of a perfect love decides about partnership then

1.      one of the partners (the admirer) gives up his/her own personality for the sake of love

2.      the other one (the narcissist) perceives his/her partner as an extension of his/her own self and not as an autonomous person.

Freudian psychoanalysts believe that this pattern has its origin in the perception of a child in its first six months, when the boundaries between the self and the object of love aren’t clearly defined yet [Willi, 65]

 

Partner selection is based on the following dynamics [Willi, 83]:

1.      the narcissist feels grandiose because the partner adores him/her enthusiastically.

2.      The admirer feels great because he/she found such a grandiose partner.

 

This mutual understanding seems to be a guarantee for harmony. The risk, however, consists in the following development:

1.      The narcissist’s life is more and more determined by the perfectionism, the partner is asking for. He/she becomes prisoner of the ideal and tries to liberate him-/herself by hurting the partner.

2.      The more the narcissist deviates from being perfect, the more the admirer binds and confines him/her.

 

At some point, the conflict develops a momentum of its own [Willi, 83]:

1.      The narcissist deviates from the ideal because the admirer confines him/her.

2.      The admirer confines the narcissist because he/she deviates from the ideal.

These changes in mood indicate that the initially chosen roles are not adequate any more.

 

 

 

 

A narcissist is somebody better looking than yourself

 

Gore Vidal

 

 

 

Care

If care is decisive in partnership selection, then

1.      one of the partners (the attendant) looks for the task to save, nurse and shepherd somebody. He/she is glad to have found a partner who needs his/her help

2.      the other one (the nursling) looks for a place where he/she is in good hands. The nursling feels that he/she has an unlimited claim on help (at no charge), and is freed from obligations to help him-/herself

Freudian psychoanalysts believe that this pattern has its origin in the early (first year) mother-child relationship [Willi, 89].

 

Partner selection is based on the following dynamics [Willi, 101]:

1.      The nursling is in need because the attendant is so caring.

2.      The attendant is so caring because the nursling is in need.

 

This mutual understanding seems to be a guarantee for harmony. The risk, however, consists in the following development:

1.      the attendant turns into a demanding partner and accuses the nursling to be insatiable

2.      the nursling becomes ungrateful and accuses the attendant to be reproachful

 

At some point, the conflict develops a momentum of its own [Willi, 101]:

1)      The attendant is reproachful because the nursling is ungrateful

2)      The nursling is ungrateful because the attendant is reproachful

These changes in mood indicate that the initially chosen roles are not adequate any more.

 

 

Power

If leadership is decisive in partnership selection then

1.      one of the two partners (the leader) tends to be autonomous; he/she looks for a partner who admires his/her strength

2.      the other one (the follower) tends to be dependent; he/she looks for a strong partner

Freudian psychoanalysts believe that this pattern has its origin in the early parent-child relationship (when the child is between one and three years old) [Willi, 107].

 

Partner selection is based on the following dynamics [Willi, 115]:

1.      The leader is autonomous and powerful because the follower is so passive and compliant

2.      The follower is so passive and compliant because the leader is autonomous and powerful

 

This mutual understanding seems to be a guarantee for harmony. The risk, however, consists in the following development:

1.      the follower tends to be disobedient because of (unconscious) wishes to be more autonomous; the leader attempts to repress these tendencies.

2.      the leader tends to be unfaithful because of (unconscious) passive wishes; the follower attempts to bind him/her.

 

At some point, the conflict develops a momentum of its own

[Willi, 115]:

1.      The leader is tyrannical because the follower is disobedient

2.      The follower is disobedient because the leader is tyrannical

or [Willi, 133]

1.      The follower is jealous (possessive) because the leader is unfaithful

2.      The leader is unfaithful because the follower is possessive

These changes in mood indicate that the initially chosen roles are not adequate any more.

 

 

 

 

Love slips away, if one tries to control it.

A controlled emotion cannot be a great emotion.

 

(Author unknown)

 

 

 

 

Sexuality

If male sexuality is decisive in partnership selection then

1.      the male partner tends to be a chauvinist; he looks for a partner who confirms his virility.

2.      the female partner feels strong by identifying herself with her partner’s virility; she looks for somebody who needs her admiration

Freudian psychoanalysts believe that this pattern has its origin in the early the parent-child relationship (when the child is between four and seven years old) [Willi, 139].

 

Partner selection is based on the following dynamics [Willi, 154]:

1.      The female partner admires the male partner because he is so virile.

2.      The male partner is so virile because he feels the admiration of the female partner.

 

This mutual understanding seems to be a guarantee for harmony. The risk, however, consists in the following development:

1.      The female partner starts to withdraw her attention because of (unconscious) wishes to be admired herself. If the male partner shows signs of weakness she unwillingly supports and finally disdains him.

2.      The male partner is irritated and looks for signs of confirmation. He is forced to deny his own (unconscious) wishes to play a more passive role.

 

At some point, the conflict develops a momentum of its own [Willi, 114]:

1.      The female partner disdains the male partner because he is weak and needs confirmation.

2.      The male partner feels weak and needs confirmation because the female partner disdains him.

These changes in mood indicate that the initially chosen roles are not adequate any more.

 

An analogous mechanism also applies to

1.      sexually dominating women with an admiring male partner

2.      homosexual relationships with a corresponding distribution of roles.

 

 

Robustness of personality traits

If the dynamics of partnership asks for a change in roles and the partners are unable to adapt to the new situation (because of their personality traits), then the bad mood persists. Personality traits are anchored in the unconscious and accordingly difficult to discern and change.

Following some examples for the robustness of personality traits:

1.      Female partners of male narcissists permanently refer to their partners. Years after the narcissist’s death they still mention his possible opinions about actual issues. No matter how ruthless the partner was in reality, they continue to idealize him and need him as a source of vitality [Willi, 78].

2.      Also the liberation from a narcissist mother is extremely difficult. This kind of relation seems to have a magical force and often can’t be terminated even if the mother died many years ago and the son/daughter moved to a foreign country [Willi, 72].

3.      After a separation or divorce the new partner often looks like a caricature of the old one [Willi, 152].

 

 

Distorted perception

         Moods are sometimes not “logical”, i.e. they don’t match actual roles:

Perception and actual behavior might not be congruent with each other. There were cases that dominant people perceived their partners to be similarly dominant, yet in the eyes of independent observers, the actual behavior of their partner was submissive, in other words, complementary to them. Why do people perceive their romantic partners to be similar to them despite evidence to the contrary? The reason remains unclear, pending further research (Interpersonal attraction, Wikipedia).

         Shortly after the marriage (or even during its preparation), the partner may suddenly be perceived as a restriction of liberty, whereas before he/she was seen as a source of emotional liberation. Such a change of moods is difficult to predict and even more difficult to control.

 

 

 

 

 

             This picture was taken from the internet (author unknown)

 

 

The outside world

Changes in situations like financial state, accidents, the influence of other family members etc. can have a profound influence on the conduct, responses and actions of the individuals in a relationship (Relationship Counseling, Wikipedia).

In liberal societies partnerships are permanently created, expanded, modified and dissolved according to the following rules:

1)      Expansion is the natural (biological) mood as long as the environment is favorable (informal and formal polygamy respectively polyandry).

2)      Contraction is indicated if demand diminishes or resources are scarce (reduction of the number of relations).

3)      Fusion is indicated if there is a mutual benefit (e.g. marriage).

4)      Dissociation is indicated if the partner loses attraction (e.g. divorce).

Expansion and fusion are usually tied to good moods, contraction and dissociation to bad moods. Divorce is mentioned among the worst things that can happen to people (see A Non-Technical Introduction to the Economics of Happiness, Andrew Oswald).

 

The cohesiveness of the partnership increases

1.      if there is a common challenge or threat

2.      if the common effort in mastering this challenge is successful

In such a case the outside world is more relevant as a determinant of happiness than the internal structure of the partnership.

Conversely

1.      if there is a controversy about the goals of the partnership

2.      if the common efforts fail

then the internal structure of the partnership gains in importance as a determinant of happiness.

 

 

Empirical data

1.      Divorce Demography, Wikipedia

2.      Divorce and Remarriage, Craig Everett (1997)

 

 

Conclusion

1.      It is possible to select a partner by reason (social status, maturity, etc.) but it is impossible to deliberately fall in love. Spontaneous partner selection seems to be controlled by unconscious mechanisms.

2.      Also the role changes within a partnership and the corresponding moods are hard to look through. Conflicts tend to develop a momentum of their own. In addition the perception of roles in partnerships may be distorted. It takes the distant view of a therapist to understand what is happening.

3.      Even if the conflicts in a partnership are understood, it may be impossible to solve them because personality traits are anchored in the unconscious.

4.      There is an “outside world” for each partnership which cannot be controlled, but which is a major factor for stability.

 

 

 

3.2 Power and Wealth

 

The determinants in the [Economist] are material well-being and job-security.

 

Since both determinants are related to activities in groups, we focus on roles (respectively role changes) within groups.

In many areas of social life a dominant role procures more material well-being and job-security. However, if we interpret the term power in the wider sense of influence, then material well-being is not decisive. Life satisfaction may result from a kind of appreciation which is not expressed in material terms.

 

To what extent can the happiness (satisfaction) which results from group activities be controlled?

 

 

Definition

In the social sciences a group can be defined as two or more humans who interact with one another, accept expectations and obligations as members of the group, and share a common identity (…)

A true group exhibits some degree of social cohesion and is more than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals, such as people waiting at a bus stop. Characteristics shared by members of a group may include interests, values, representations, ethnic or social background, and kinship ties. Paul Hare regards the defining characteristic of a group as social interaction. (Social group, Wikipedia).

 

Each individual participates in various groups (work, leisure etc.). The core of social interaction is communication. According to empirical research in social psychology the following two factors are significant in describing the communication within a group [DTV, S.213]:

 

1)      The inclination to communicate

a)      low: detachment

b)      high: affiliation

 

2)      The hierarchical position within the group

a)      low: compliance

b)      high: dominance

 

 

 

detached

 

dominant

 

 

compliant

 

 

 

affiliative

 

 

 

 

 

Changes within a group

In analogy to partnership there are two basic reasons for bad moods in a group:

1)      Role changes within the group.

2)      The group (seen as a team) cannot comply with the demands of the outside world, loses its social status etc.

We start the investigation with the first issue.

 

As well as in partnership, shifting roles in larger groups (work, leisure etc.) trigger shifting moods. Shifting moods indicate that roles are inadequate.

A person who is satisfied with his/her role in the group is normally in a good mood, whereas rivalry and jealousy trigger a bad mood:

1)      A dominant member may become compliant, if he/she feels over-burdened. Conversely a compliant member may become dominant, if he/she feels underestimated and succeeds in convincing the majority.

2)      A sociable member may become contained, if he/she feels neglected. Conversely a contained member may become sociable, if he/she feels lonesome and succeeds in being appreciated.

 

Roles may shift dramatically in cases of accidents or illnesses but they may also shift slowly and stepwise according to unequal developments (e.g. learning processes) within the group. If bad moods persist and changing roles within the group proves to be impossible, then a general feeling “to be in the wrong place” emerges.

 

The general schema for a group looks as follows:

 

 

role

 

chances

good moods

risks

bad moods

sociable

 

feeling appreciated or eligible

feeling neglected or deprived

dominant

 

feeling strong or powerful

feeling over-burdened or defeated

compliant

 

feeling to be in good hands

feeling misguided or abused

detached

 

feeling independent or free

 

feeling lonesome or bored

 

 

 

Each role within a group is tied to corresponding moods.

Each good mood (chance) is tied to a bad mood (risk).

 

As far as the contributions of the group members are visible or measurable, it is possible to increase ones influence (power, dominance) within the group by creativity or hard work. People who are determined, focused and persistent have (in the average) a much better chance to succeed than people who are in a passive mood. This is the essence of “quisque faber suae fortunae”. The saying is attributed to Appius Claudius Caecus, who was a successful Roman politician from a wealthy patrician family.

 

The validity of “every man is the architect of his own fortune” has to be restricted, however, for two reasons:

1)      Successful people like Caecus tend to underestimate the contingent factors of success and overestimate their own contribution: Contingent factors are e.g.

         to be born with specific talents

         to meet the right people at the right time

         to be in the right place when specific talents are asked for

2)      Apart from the conscious choice of a philosophy, life is driven by the unconscious adaptation to internal and external conditions and the explanation of one’s way of living is merely a rationalization. In most cases the iceberg model of the psyche is more realistic than the model of conscious control (see Eine interdisziplinäre Betrachtung zur Willensfreiheit)

 

 

Pathogenic moods

For each role within the group there is a pathogenic mood which predisposes for mood disorders:

 

 

 

contained

alienated

 

dominant

aggressive

 

compliant

fatalistic

 

 

sociable

obsessed

 

 

 

1.      Fatalism and alienation predispose for a depressive disorder.

2.      Obsession and aggression predispose for mania.

Alternating periods of mania and depression are called bipolar disorders.

 

There are also claims that personality traits predispose for certain kinds of psychosomatic illnesses.

Example: The personality trait “attendant” may predispose for peptic ulcer and anorexioa nervosa [Willy, 97].

 

 

The outside world

In complex liberal societies groups of individuals (and higher level groups) are constantly created, expanded, modified and dissolved. The rules are analogous to the ones mentioned for partnerships. Expansion and fusion are usually tied to good moods, contraction and dissociation to bad moods.

Example: Dismissal and unemployment are mentioned among the worst things that can happen to people (see A Non-Technical Introduction to the Economics of Happiness, Andrew Oswald).

In analogy to partnerships the cohesiveness of a group depends on the existence of common challenges (goals) and the success in mastering them.

 

 

Social class

Groups are embedded in social classes. From the structuralist point of view the social class is a determinant of mood [Strassberg]. This is obvious in caste systems where the mood of the higher caste (of being superior) is such that they don’t fall in love with lower class members and the intimidation of the lower class members (e.g. Parias) is such that they wouldn’t dare using the dishes of higher class members. It is less obvious but still effective in liberal societies:

         Dating agencies usually match partners of the same social class.

         The prices in upper class restaurants are such that lower class people are excluded.

The promotion into a higher social class is tied to a positive mood; the fall into a lower class is usually tied to depression.

 

 

Comparison with partnerships

Partnerships can be regarded as small (two-person) groups, where each of the partners takes more than one role.

The moods described in chapter 3.1 are variations within the group schema. As opposed to the formation of partnerships, the formation of groups is less dictated by unconscious mechanisms and more by conscious demands. But in liberal societies the (uncontrollable) market decides about demands. The group activity can be devaluated by the rest of the society independent of the group’s performance.

 

 

Conclusion

1.      In most societies success can be influenced by autonomous decisions of the individual. But the chances are unequally distributed. There is no guarantee that the untalented und underprivileged succeed, if they only work hard enough.

2.      There is an “outside world” for each group which cannot be controlled, but which is a major factor for the group’s success. Each investment (energy, funds, etc.) is exposed to the forces of the market and therefore a risk.

3.      There is no general rule which says that success will be rewarded by happiness. A public success can be a private defeat, if the investment (energy spent, loss of family life, loss of leisure etc.) exceeds the return in terms of happiness. Not only is the market a risk, but also the reaction of the unconscious vis-à-vis to long-term commitments (catchword Burnout).

 

 

 

3.3 Society and Nature

 

The determinants in the [Economist] are

         Political stability and security

         Community life

         Political freedom

         Gender equality

         Climate and geography

 

We focus on a phenomenon which functions like an aggregation of various determinants on the society level:

 

 

Zeitgeist

A prevalent mood in society corresponding to predominant character traits and expectations about the future is called zeitgeist.

1.      Character traits like punctuality, diligence, cleanness, correctness, parsimony and orderliness are awarded in achievement-oriented societies [Willi, 107]. These traits occur typically in the middle class and lower class in periods of scarcity, e.g. in the generations before and during World War II.

2.      The actual generation in the First World doesn’t know what difference it makes, if the society lives in times of peace or war, and if a war is won or lost. Character traits like narcissim and compulsive consumption reflect the affluent Western societies after World War II [Willi, 107].

3.      Most people in Western democracies lack the experience, how it is to live in a totalitarian system. But most of these people know how mood is influenced by economic boom and depression. Moods spread like viruses and contaminate previously uninvolved people. On a small scale this phenomenon can be observed if a soccer-crazy nation participates in the World Cup.

4.      The public interest for happiness is a sociological phenomenon. In the United States the majority of people link happiness with success. Since success is the major ranking factor in a competitive society, there is a social pressure to be happy which functions like an ideology.

 

 

Conclusion

It is evident that the societal determinants mentioned by the [Economist] cannot be controlled by the individual, as well as some others like

         The state of the economy (boom, depression, stagnation, scarcity of resources etc.)

         The technological environment (complexity)

The individual is navigating in an emotional river with different currents (zeitgeist, ideologies, wars etc.).

 

 

 

3.4 Liberation from Suffering

 

The determinant in the [Economist] is health.

 

We replace health by the more general term bio-physical state of the body.

 

 

The body controls the unconscious

1.      Mood disorders like pre-menopausal major depression and bipolar disorder may have a genetic component, see Depression, Wikipedia.

2.      There are unconscious attempts to regulate mood which are dictated by the bio-physical state of the body:

People often use food to regulate mood. Thayer identifies a fundamental food-mood connection, and advises against the reliance on food as a mood regulator (Mood, Wikipedia).

There are also psychological explanations of the food-mood connection which relate it to personality traits and vicarious satisfaction [Willi, 94].

 

 

The unconscious controls the body

Unconsciously initiated moods may help to regulate the biophysical state of the body:

A depressed mood is common during illnesses, such as influenza. It has been argued that this is an evolved mechanism that assists the individual in recovering by limiting his/her physical activity. The occurrence of low-level depression during the winter months, or seasonal affective disorder, may have been adaptive in the past, by limiting physical activity at times when food was scarce. It is argued that humans have retained the instinct to experience low mood during the winter months, even if the availability of food is no longer determined by the weather (Depression, Wikipedia)

 

 

Conscious control

1.      The low energy arousal coupled with tension, as experienced in a bad mood, can be counteracted by walking. Thayer suggests walking as a means to enhanced happiness (Mood, Wikipedia)

Thayer’s advice probably doesn’t apply for a security guard who circles around a building all night. For stressed intellectual workers (lacking physical exercise), however, walking satisfies elementary preferences and procures a mood of liberation. Recent research confirms the thesis that endorphin is produced in the brain while doing exercise.

2.      The conscious control of the bio-physical state has a long tradition in Hindu Yoga techniques:

The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings and is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj", meaning "to control", "to yoke" or "to unite” (Yoga, Wikipedia

In contrast to Western techniques (like the one of Thayer above) the ultimate goal of Yoga is to become independent of the body.

3.      Excessive self-control and disengagement create new forms of risk. The biological nature of humans strikes back in the form of neurotic disorders or psychosomatic illness and thus undermines the targeted control of life satisfaction.

 

 

Conclusion

Two major aspects of the bio-physical state cannot be controlled:

1.      The bio-physical state at the age of 80 (and corresponding moods) is not the same as the bio-physical state at the age of 20. It may be possible to slow down the process of aging a little but that doesn’t change the essence of the situation.

2.      Also illnesses can be avoided to some extent but the predominant part is uncontrollable.

 

 

 

4. Competing Philosophies

 

 

4.1 Basics

 

 

Link between aims and philosophies

According to chapter 3 the determinants of life satisfaction are predominantly uncontrollable. We can, however, influence probabilities by choosing a philosophy. Such a choice has little to do with reading books and has much to do with practical experience. Following an example how the purusarthas can be linked to philosophical concepts:

 

 

 

Moksha

 

Buddha

 

 

 Artha

 

Nietzsche

 

Dharma

 

Stoics

 

 

Kama

 

Freud

 

 

 

1.      Freud’s philosophical concept is assigned to Kama because of the central role of the pleasure principle and sexuality in psychoanalysis. Adopting Freud’s point of view means accepting the importance of love and desire and getting engaged in a partnership or family.

2.      Nietzsche’s philosophical concept is assigned to Artha because of the central role of the will to power. Adopting Nietzsche’s point of view means accepting the importance of power (influence in its widest sense) and getting engaged in creative competition.

3.      The Stoics are assigned to Dharma because of the central role of Universal Reason in Stoicism. Universal Reason is a synonym for the (divine) law, which governs humanity and the universe. Insofar it takes the place of the Dharma in the Hindu culture. Adopting the Stoics point of view means leading a virtuous life and contributing to the welfare of the society.

4.      Buddha is assigned to Moksha because his prime goal is the liberation from suffering. Hinduism knows several variations of the concept of liberation and is sufficiently tolerant to integrate the Buddhist interpretation. Adopting Buddha’s point of view means changing the perception of the material world.

 

 

Evolutionary view

Each of the four philosophies can be associated with a different strategy for survival:

1)      Freud: The survival value of a philosophy which emphasizes the liberation of the unconscious is obvious.

2)      Nietzsche: Also the survival value of a philosophy which strives for domination and perfection is obvious.

3)      Late Stoicism: A stable (virtuous) society is superior in the competition between societies. This in turn serves all participating individuals

4)      Buddha: The commitment to non-violence and a retreat-oriented way of living protect from becoming the victim of violence. Buddhism survives because suffering survives. Monks manage to survive in a societal niche.

 

The competition between aims in life (see Konkurrierende Lebensziele) corresponds to a competition between philosophies.

Following a short description of aims in life, seen from each of the above four philosophies:

 

 

 

4.2 Freud

 

There are forms of psychoanalysis which work on the basis of free association and hermeneutics, without using an expert language and without being fixed on Freudian concepts like the Oedipus complex. Many people undergo psychoanalysis for improving self-knowledge and not for being cured from a mental disease. Freud is seen as a philosopher in this paper because of his radical quest for knowledge and because hermeneutics has its origin in philosophy [Cavell, 289-291].

 

 

Love and desire

With regard to social relations the emphasis of Freud’s philosophy is clearly on partnerships. The biological drives are seen as the most important source of happiness, but also as a permanent source of conflict. The forms of conflicts described in chapter 3.1 rarely occur in a pure form. A partnership has to deal with a combination of all four potential areas of conflict [Willi, 160]:

1.      Identification: Love as an ideal, as perfect unification, “oneness”

2.      Care: Love as “caring for each other”

3.      Power: Love as “belonging one another”

4.      Sexuality: Love as sexual affirmation and reassurance

 

Since partnership is a dynamic process, the balance of power and love tends to shift in various directions. Such a shift usually leads to emotionally loaded debates which end in confirming roles or establishing alterations. In contrast to this kind of debates which come and go, bad moods in a partnership point to unsolved conflicts. Long lasting conflicts in partnership are difficult to solve by rational discussions. Reason can only assess that value systems are different. The question then is

1.      whether the benefit of the partnership outweighs the annoyance of permanent conflicts

2.      whether the modification of personality traits by psychoanalysis is desirable and affordable.

Psychoanalysis (as well as a separation) is a risk and there is no guarantee for a happy end.

 

 

Power and wealth

1.      According to Freud a person is cured if he/she is capable to love and capable to work. Do the same personality traits that hinder the individual to get engaged in a stable partnership also lead to conflicts at work, in leisure groups etc.? Unfortunately things are more complicated than that:

Example: Many narcissists are overstrained by an intimate partnership but function well in groups [Willi, 73].

We even have to consider the possibility that certain personality traits are not the result of sexual immaturity, but the result of a pathogenic occupation. If a certain type of work awards narcissist behavior, then it tends to make healthy people narcissist. The conflicts in partnership are then caused by the work environment and not vice-versa. In such a case Freud would give the priority to partnership (respectively mental health).

2.      In most societies there is a link between sexuality, power and wealth. Power and wealth seem to procure some advantages in the market of partner selection, so that the commitment to love and desire (in the average) increases the interest for power and wealth.

 

 

Society and nature

Freud thought that the numerous hysterical attacks at that time (concerning young girls of the upper class in particular) were caused by the repression of biological drives. In fighting against pathogenic societal instructions the medic and healer Freud almost inevitably became the advocate of repressed drives. Curing was tied to the liberation from ethical ideals and religious norms. Finally Freud started to question culture as a whole, including the public offices and institutions [Hampe 2009, 186]. Culture, seen as a promise for future happiness could be an illusion as well as religion. Culture liberates the individual from outside aggression, but only for the price of an inner aggression, represented by a kind of inner police (control instance) which Freud called super-ego [Hampe 2009, 188]. Cultivation therefore doesn’t eliminate aggression; it only sweeps it under the carpet [Hampe 2009, 190]. We have to accept that there is an unconscious tie between aggression and pleasure. Doubts, concerning the controllability of aggressive moods, were a major reason for Freud’s pessimistic world view.

 

Freud never developed a political philosophy, but it is hard to imagine that his vision would have differed much from that of liberalism. Does liberalism cure people whereas conservatism (e.g. Stoicism) makes them neurotic? The vision of making the world “better” by liberating people from the burden of culture might be an illusion as well. We don’t know if a “neurotic” world produces more suffering than a “biology-driven” world.

Freud’s well known slogan “We can change neurotic misery into real misery” makes clear that he had no intention to solve psychic problems by means of positive outlooks. Happiness should be attained by reverting to the biological resources and not by utopias. The unconscious simply ignores the future. Freud’s biography illustrates that it is possible to be an optimist in personal matters and a pessimist with regard to the future of society.

 

 

Liberation from suffering

Psychoanalysis (in contrast to religion) does not provide any consolation in cases of illness, accidents, natural catastrophes etc.

Religion and mysticism are seen as regression, i.e. as a defense mechanism leading to the temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way. The “adult way” consists in accepting the world “as it is” and in counting on the unconscious, which remains a source of positive moods despite of all negative experiences.

Example: Patients with a life expectancy of only a few days sometimes continue to produce optimistic dreams and plans for the future. The unconscious simply ignores certain aspects of reality.

 

 

 

4.3 Nietzsche

 

 

Love and desire

Nietzsche doesn’t make any assumptions with regard to an ideal partnership. This has the following consequences:

1.      There is less pressure to change personality traits and cure “neurotic” partners. If there is a social pressure to chose “appropriate” partners, then Nietzsche confronts this pressure with the power of the individual to create his/her own values.

2.      A neurotic individual may discover that his/her personality traits are different (as compared to the majority) but not necessarily “false” or “unsound”. There is no psychological theory or model of the human mind which defines how partnerships should be. In contrast psychoanalysis classifies sexuality according to more or less mature forms (see Psychosexual development) and considers maturity as a therapeutic goal.

3.      Without ideals and norms not only the scope of acceptable partners, but also the scope of possible forms of partnerships is wider.

There are reasons to believe that Nietzsche would have denied all sorts of moral impartiality. The stronger partner defines about right and wrong. An unfaithful partner doesn’t necessarily repress his/her own separation anxiety [Willi, 129] he/she might just be well equipped with alternatives. Also marriage counselors who pathologize unmarried people [Willi, 79, 84] wouldn’t have got much support from Nietzsche.

 

 

Power and wealth

With regard to social relations the emphasis of Nietzsche’s philosophy is clearly on competing individuals and groups. As opposed to Freud, Nietzsche subordinates sexuality and partnership to self-realization. Nietzsche’s view of self-realization is the sublimation of biological drives in order to attain dominance (perfection).

 

Example: If a brilliant social critic is a narcissist and a bad spouse [Willi, 67] then Nietzsche would probably hesitate to recommend psychoanalysis. The (undesired) result of psychoanalysis could be a good spouse without intellectual ambitions. Nietzsche might also support some neurotic people in science and art, although their sex life is not mature according to Freudian standards.

 

According to Nietzsche, the discovery that validation must come from within is not only a possible source of anxiety, but also an immense gain in power. The individual becomes independent and, as far as self-created values are accepted by others, attains a dominant position.

 

 

Society and nature

Nietzsche is not a radical nihilist. Similar to the Russian nihilists, he advocates destruction only as a means to establish a new order. The “new order” promotes a Darwinian kind of cultural evolution, driven by (unconscious) biological forces and therefore closer to nature than Buddhism or Christianity.

Competition plays an important role in Nietzsche’s concept of psychic health. He refers to the agonal nature of the Hellenistic culture, where events like the Ancient Olympic Games had a religious dimension. Although Nietzsche counts on the unconscious as a driving force, he strives to transcend the biological goal. In our time we could associate the transcending overman with transhumanism.

 

According to Nietzsche, a narcissist personality trait is neither morally good nor bad; it simply represents a possible adaptation to the environment. The only thing that counts is this trait’s success in the competition with other traits. A prevalence of narcissism in society is acceptable as long as it serves cultural evolution.

 

 

Liberation from suffering

As well as Freud, Nietzsche does not provide any consolation in cases of illness, accidents, natural catastrophes etc. Religion and mysticism are seen as delusions and lies, born out of weakness. There is no other value than the will to survive.  The will to survive constructs meaning in seemingly hopeless situations and develops an almost unlimited creativity in finding positive interpretations of the world. Transhumanism, born out of creativity and perfectionism, may eventually lead to the liberation from suffering.

 

 

 

4.4 Late Stoics

 

Late Stoicism is characterized by the influence of the Romans on Stoicism, starting with the rise of the Roman empire about 27 B.C. The duty to the partner (marriage), the family (children) and to the state became of prime importance. Early Stoicism, in contrast, was a retreat-oriented ethics similar to Buddhism; see The Moral Ideal of the Complete Life.

 

 

Love and desire

Partnership with a Stoic is usually understood as a partnership without passion. But this understanding doesn’t consider the ancient meaning of the word:

A Stoic must strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of 'passion' was "anguish" or "suffering“ that is, „passively“ reacting to external events— somewhat different from the modern use of the word. A distinction was made between

1.      propathos (passion) or instinctive reaction (e.g. turning pale and trembling when confronted by physical danger) and

2.      eupathos, which is the mark of the Stoic sage.

The eupatheia are feelings resulting from correct judgment in the same way as the propatheia (passions) result from incorrect judgment.

(Stoicism, Wikipedia)

 

The “correct” judgment doesn’t say that emotions are wrong; it says what kind of emotions is wrong.

Examples: Anger, envy and jealousy are wrong. Monogamous partnerships are preferable to permanent rivalry.

 

The Stoic does not seek to extinguish emotions, only to avoid emotional troubles, by developing clear judgment and inner calm (Meaning of life Wikipedia)

 

The Stoic sage will never find her-/himself in a situation where she/he acts contrary to what Kant calls inclination or desire. The only thing she/he unconditionally wants is to live virtuously. Anything that she/he conditionally prefers is always subordinate to her/his conception of the genuine good. Thus, there is no room for a conflict between duty and happiness where the latter is thought of solely in terms of the satisfaction of our desires (Stoicism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

 

A Stoic partnership has to deal with a combination of all four potential areas of conflict [Willi, 160], as well as a partnership within the worldview of Freud or Nietzsche. But in Stoicism the cohesiveness is stronger because monogamy is an ethical ideal (a common challenge) and separation is perceived as a common threat.

 

Whereas the school of pleasure (Epicureans) found family life too much of a nuisance, the Stoics defended monogamy and the family with its reciprocal duties (Historical Theology, Samuel Waldron).

 

 

Power and wealth

A distinctive feature of (late) Stoicism is its cosmopolitanism. All people are manifestations of the one universal spirit and should, according to the Stoics, live in brotherly love and readily help one another. In the Discourses, Epictetus comments on man's relationship with the world: "Each human being is primarily a citizen of his own commonwealth; but he is also a member of the great city of gods and men, where of the city political is only a copy." (…)

They held that external differences such as rank and wealth are of no importance in social relationships. Thus, before the rise of Christianity, Stoics advocated the brotherhood of humanity and the natural equality of all human beings (Stoicism, Wikipedia).

The term “natural equality”, however, did not imply equality of opportunity. It only meant that each individual has an equal potential to liberate him-/herself from passion, the slave as well as the emperor.

 

Stoicism held that external circumstances (such as being enslaved) did not truly impede a person from practicing the Stoic ideal of inner self-mastery (Slavery in antiquity)

Translated into our time this means accepting ones place in the family, at the workplace etc. without permanently struggling for more recognition. It also means feeling equal with regard to “inner” value, no matter what the position is within society.

 

 

Society and nature

With regard to social relations, the emphasis of late Stoicism is on the society as a whole. Rational cooperation is given a higher moral value than Nietzsche’s individual will to power. The restriction of individual liberty is justified, if it serves the welfare of the community. Virtuous citizens make the community stronger and increase overall welfare.

In liberal societies the Stoic virtues are rather seen as a source of neurotic behavior than as a source of happiness. But the change from a conservative to a liberal society doesn’t necessarily increase overall happiness. It is not self-evident that real misery is easier to bear than the neurotic misery caused by Stoic virtues. In view of “liberated” (aggressive) competitors, partners, fellow workers and juveniles we learn to appreciate the bourgeois’ type of neurosis. And it is even possible that liberal societies create different (and not less) neurotics. Individualistic and competitive people might e.g. tend towards narcissism.

Furthermore a potential gain in happiness is not equally distributed. Each change creates winners and losers.

Example: The life style of a single has a high happiness-potential for attractive people. Attractive people possess a kind of “capital” which they can invest in the “markets of happiness”. The unattractive are in the same position as the poor in former times [Burkhart, 186].

 

 

Liberation from suffering

Stoicism provides consolation in cases of illness, accidents, natural catastrophes etc. because all events are understood as a manifestation of the divine law. The ancient Stoic sage didn’t rebel against the law; he/she identified him-/herself with the law.

A contemporary adherent of reason does not have to adopt the Stoic vision of the logos and the pantheistic view of nature. Despite of this, he/she may attain peace of mind by acting in accordance with reason.

The meaning of life is freedom from suffering through apatheia, that is, being objective, having "clear judgement", not indifference (Meaning of life, Wikipedia).

 

 

 

God, grant me the

         Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

         Courage to change the things I can, and

         Wisdom to know the difference.

 

Origin disputed, but clearly Stoic doctrin

 

 

 

 

4.5 Buddha

 

 

Love and desire

The ethical ideal of Buddhism is the absence of desire:

The key feature of Buddhist monasticism is the adherence to the vinaya which contains an elaborate set of rules of conduct including complete chastity (Sangha, Wikipedia).

 

In laic Buddhism (similar to Stoicism) the Buddhist teaching says that monogamous partnerships are preferable to permanent rivalry.

The ideal partnership doesn’t differ much from a Stoic partnership. Given the considerable influence of Buddhism on Stoicism, this cannot come as a surprise.

It is said in the Parabhava Sutta that "a man who is not satisfied with one woman and seeks out other women is on the path to decline". Other fragments in the Buddhist scripture can be found that seem to treat polygamy unfavorably, leading some authors to conclude that Buddhism generally does not approve of it or alternatively that it is a tolerated, but subordinate marital model. (Polygamy, Wikipedia)

 

Family life doesn’t have a high moral status:

Buddhism is not a family-centered religion. For a variety of reasons, it does not possess doctrinal standards or institutionalized models of the family. Some of these reasons include the role of renunciation, detachment, and the individual's pursuit of enlightenment. The virtue of renunciation derives from Siddhartha's Great Going Forth, at which point he forsook his family and familial obligations as son, husband, and father. The monastic lifestyle and the role of the religious community (sangha) formalized the renouncing of familial relationships. The goal of detachment also impinges negatively upon family life. The inherent nature of families and family relationships produces attachments that constitute formidable obstacles to achieving detachment from worldly affairs and desires (Buddhism and the Family)

 

 

Power and wealth

In most societies the struggle for survival and procreation is linked to the struggle for power and wealth. Since (monastic) Buddhists don’t struggle for survival and procreation the importance of power and wealth is devaluated as well.

The legend of Buddha says that (at the time when he was a wealthy young man) he was deeply impressed by the peaceful look on a monk’s face. How could this monk be so happy without material well-being? He decided to find out, left the luxury palaces where he was born and renounced his life of power and wealth. After many years of practical experience, he was convinced that people must voluntarily choose a life of simplicity, if they want to find inner peace.

 

 

Society and nature

In Ancient India democracy was known in groups (within the Sangha), but not on the society level. Buddha’s concept of the ideal society conforms to the model of an ideal monarchy with virtuous citizens. The ideal monarch represents the just constitution in much the same way, as e.g. Rawls’ principles represent the just constitution of a modern democracy.

Any righteous monarch is always said to reign with righteousness and impartiality (…).

One thing is certain, that is, “every one to count for one”. Buddhism, unlike Brahmanism, recognizes no privilege obtainable merely through birth and profession [Tachibana, 265]

Buddha’s ethics disagrees with the Indian caste system.

 

 

Liberation from suffering

With regard to social relations, the emphasis of the Buddhist philosophy is clearly on disengagement and retreat. Social relations represent attachments to the material world and are therefore seen as a risk and not as a source of happiness.

Buddhism prepares people for illness, accidents, natural catastrophes etc. so that these events don’t come as a shock. Meditation is an exercise in perceiving the material world as a transient world. As far as the Buddhist succeeds in detaching from the material world he/she experiences decay and death as “not belonging to him-/herself”.

 

 

 

5. Cross Comparison

 

 

5.1 Relation between Aims and Moods

 

Aims in life are the highest order preferences. Each aim is tied to a specific mood. If an aim gets a dominant position within the hierarchy of preferences, then the corresponding mood also gets an accordingly dominant position: Shifting aims means shifting moods.

 

According to psychologist Robert Thayer, mood is a product of two dimensions: energy and tension. A person can be energetic or tired while also being tense or calm. According to Thayer, people feel best when they are in a calm-energy mood. They feel worse when in a tense-tired state (Mood, Wikipedia).

 

If we assume that all our philosophers reside on the same level of energy, then Thayer’s data seems to favor the Buddhist and Stoic philosophy:

 

 

calm

emotional detachment

normative

tense

emotional attachment

individualistic

Moksha

 

Buddha

Artha

 

Nietzsche

Dharma

 

Late Stoics

Kama

 

Freud

 

 

But Thayer’s data doesn’t say anything about

1.      the effort which is required in order to attain a calm mood (e.g. an education awarding self-control,  long periods of concentration, etc.)

2.      the internal risks which are involved in attaining the calm mood (e.g. depression because of lacking spontaneity)

 

There is a hierarchy in the controllability of the mind:

1.      Affects can often be influenced by a few weeks of training (e.g. in behavior therapy)

2.      It takes months to reach a better understanding of moods (e.g. the understanding that a certain mood changes quickly because there is an unconscious readiness for the change)

3.      It takes years to change personality traits and becomes increasingly difficult with age. A part of the personality traits is hereditary.

 

The flexible part of personality traits (e.g. the weight given to each aim in life) is 

1.      partly determined by transcendent experiences, i.e. intensive experiences where the ego dissolves (see Erkenntnis und Transzendenz in der Lebenspraxis)

2.      partly determined by less intensive but long-lasting experiences

To shift weights therefore means to get engaged in a long process of correcting intensity and duration.

 

In the future it will probably be easier to control the mind by means of drugs and medicaments [Hampe 2009, chapter 2]. For the time being there is a considerable risk that

         a short-time gain in control (by drugs) has to be paid by

         a long-time loss of control

 

 

 

5.2 Relation between Methods and Moods

 

The philosophers mentioned in chapter 4 use several methods to gain insight, but they emphasize one of them:

Example:

Spinoza (who was influenced by the Stoics) spent much time and energy on deriving rational conclusions from axioms (see Ethics), whereas Nietzsche spent most of his time on questioning axioms (and even rationality).

 

 

  purusartha

philosopher

method

  dynamics

  of value

  Kama

Freud

 

free-association

  disclose values

  Artha

Nietzsche

 

creative, antithetic thinking

  contest values

  Dharma

Spinoza

 

analytical, deductive thinking

  derive values

  Moksha

Buddha

 

insight meditation

 

  eliminate values

 

 

Each method is linked to a goal and provides corresponding insights. But each method also has its limitations and may prevent insights into a different area:

Examples:

1.      A person who is in a free-association mood, neglects analytical thinking.

2.      A person who is in a problem-solving mood, cannot gain meditative insight.

 

Ancient philosophers combined analytical and meditative methods:

         Buddhism aims at spiritual liberation but uses analytical methods to understand the material world.

         Stoicism, with its emphasis on reason, included spiritual exercises similar to some forms of Eastern meditation (see Stoicism, Wikipedia)

Modern philosophers replace meditation by different forms of mental liberation:

         Freud’s psychoanalysis represents interplay of analytical thinking and free-association.

         In Nietzsche’s work we find a combination of grim analytical diagnosis and dreamlike break-outs.

 

There are theses about the relation between moods and methods of thinking. It seems that

         an optimistic mood tends to induce creative thinking and

         a slightly depressive mood tends to induce analytical thinking

[Döring].

Possibly the converse is also true

         Creative thinking (e.g. free association) induces an optimistic mood

         Analytical thinking induces a slightly depressive (cramped) mood

 

 

 

5.3 Flexibility

 

 

Learning

Constructions of sense may change with new experiences. Suddenly a new landscape of knowledge emerges and the person changes direction like a wanderer who discovers a new goal when reaching a hill. Sometimes the new goal can be connected with previous goals in such a way that it appears to be a logical step in a pattern [Hampe 2010] or a necessary step in a learning process. In such a case it is possible to find a consistent interpretation for a life story, which previously was seen as a sequence of contingent events.

Frequently there is a movement from the cultural sense (world view taught in education) to the biological sense (partner, children) and then back again to the cultural sense. The latter has to do with specific experiences (accidents, illnesses, death of beloved persons etc.) and an increasing awareness of transience. For more information about this issue see Erkenntnis und Transzendenz in der Lebenspraxis. If life is seen as a learning process, then it requires a flexible philosophy.

 

 

Contingency

Since each philosophy is characterized by specific risks and chances, the risks can only be exchanged but not avoided. Somehow or other we are exposed to probabilities. We may think of a calculated risk, but sometimes life takes a turn, which is incalculable and in direct contradiction to long-term plans:

Examples:

1.      A person decides to join a meditation-workshop (with the idea to disengage from the material world) and falls in love with a participant of the workshop.

2.      Another person (conversely) decides for psychoanalysis with the idea to improve his/her capability of forming attachments; falls in the hands of an unqualified therapist and retreats from partnerships.

 

We can change roles, partnerships, groups and move to foreign countries by autonomous decisions. But once a decision is taken it may soon prove to be wrong. Something unforeseen can happen, so that all our reflections become obsolete. This is especially true with regard to physical and mental health.

Examples:

1.      The optimistic “architect of his own fortune” (Freud, Nietzsche) often forgets that his construction stands on feet of clay. He may be confronted with catastrophes, wars, crimes, accidents and the inevitability of death at a point in time where we expects it the least. The medieval slogan Media vita in morte sumus (in the midst of life we are in death) is as true as ever.

2.      The realistic or pessimistic philosopher (Epictetus, Buddha) knows that risk-aversion increases with experience and concludes that risk-aversion is more reasonable than risk-tolerance. But risk-aversion also applies to internal (mental) risks. The “architect of his own fortune” may be overstrained by the degree of self-control which is required by the Stoic or Buddhist practice and fall into depression.

Contingency – as well as learning – asks for flexibility. Instead of obstinately holding on a specific philosophy, it may be wiser to become friends with value pluralism.

 

 

Value pluralism

Value pluralism contends that there are two or more genuine scales of value, knowable as such, yet incommensurable, so that any prioritization of these values is either non-cognitive or subjective. A value pluralist might, for example, contend that both a life as a nun and a life as a mother realize genuine values (in a universalistic sense), yet they are incompatible and there is no purely rational measure of which is preferable (Meta-Ethics, Wikipedia).

 

The engagement for life is risky; but so is emotional disengagement. We cannot know beforehand if external or internal risks are more dangerous. If we compare the psyche with a democratic parliament then we should support all major interest groups (purusharthas) to some extent. If we are caught by surprise then we have the resources to change our identity and corresponding interests. Value pluralism is anchored in the subconscious and is therefore a more natural state of the mind than absolutism. A biological organism knows contradictory states like expansion and contraction. Conscious attempts to eradicate value pluralism (like Spinoza’s Ethica) require an extraordinary mental constitution.

 

Example 1:

         The Hindus propose pursuing the life-friendly goals Kama and Artha and at the same prepare for strokes of fate by learning the Dharma and practicing Moksha. The individual takes external risks and chances, and retreats to an inner resort, if external experiences become too painful. The tension between the affirmation and denial of the world is modeled in the purusarthas.

         Hinduism also recommends a certain pattern in shifting emotional attachments (see Ashramas) which takes account of the changing perception of risk in the course of life.

         Finally the Hindu value pluralism is restricted by the Dharma and therefore far from moral relativism.

If we replace the Dharma by a contemporary ethics of reason, then it becomes clear that the above promoted value pluralism does not contradict moral universalism. On the contrary, universally accepted human rights enable and secure a pluralistic society, see Moral relativism and the Search for Happiness.

 

Example 2:

“Become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us. For all good and evil consists in sensation, but death is depriving of sensation… So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.” [Epicurus, 30]

Epicurus’ text was criticised because it suggests that life-shortening events are no harm for the concerned person:

         A life-shortening event deprives the dead person from good sensations [Broome, 236]

         The harm (depriving) is done during a concrete time period [Broome, 237-238]

This criticism, however, refers to a single value system (positive utilitarianism) and ignores the ethical relevance of switching perspectives. Positive utilitarianism represents the perspective of a living person, where death is perceived as a terrifying ill. Epicurus raises no claim that we should live in the moment or shorten our lives [Broome, 239] he simply indicates that there is a (egoless) perspective, from where death loses its terror.

In Hinduism this kind of value pluralism is not only an intellectual exercise. The positive experience of non-existence (of the ego) in meditation (chapter 4.5) is the key for coping with transience and death.

 

 

 

6. Conclusion

 

Life satisfaction can be influenced but not controlled. Each philosophy which attempts to influence life satisfaction

1.      has to be adapted to a specific situation (personality traits, environment, life story)

2.      is tied to specific risks

3.      is exposed to contingency

Contingency is the strongest argument against the slogan “quisque faber suae fortunae”.

 

The skepticism with regard to the controllability of life satisfaction implies skepticism with regard to simple guidebooks. The saying “Every man is the architect of his own fortune” turns unhappy people even more unhappy, because it makes them responsible for their misfortune, independent of their talent, their social environment and contingent events in their life story.

 

The controllability of life satisfaction can better be described by a casino metaphor. The different philosophies discussed in this paper correspond to different game strategies:

1)      To pursue a biological or perfectionist aim in life with a strong emotional attachment (as promoted by Freud and Nietzsche) means to play for high stakes.

2)      The Stoics try to limit the risks by becoming insensitive to (unavoidable) losses whereas the Buddhists recommend retreating from the game. But excessive self-control and disengagement create new forms of risk. The biological nature of humans strikes back in the form of neurotic disorders or psychosomatic illness and thus undermines the targeted control of life satisfaction.

 

It seems that a flexible concept opens the best chances to improve life satisfaction. In the casino of life the rules of the game are changing, as well as the gamblers perception of risks and chances.

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgment

 

I would like to thank Michael Hampe for the inspiring conversations in the context of this paper.

 

 

 

 

 

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