A Critical Perspective on Maximizing Happiness

I know of two sub­stan­tially differ­ent ap­proaches to deal with the difficul­ties of the world. The stoic ap­proach is about mak­ing one­self ac­cept the things how they are, no mat­ter how hor­rible, painful and fright­en­ing. Ac­cep­tance is a rather lev­eled emo­tional state, un­like hap­piness which is a one sided set of emo­tions. Pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy is about cre­at­ing pos­i­tive feel­ings through pos­i­tive think­ing (- in­stead of re­al­is­tic think­ing?), op­ti­mism, hope­ful think­ing and gen­er­ally at­ten­tion con­trol to­wards pos­i­tive things.

I think in what sense pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy can be use­ful, is as a toolbox to heal men­tal weak­nesses by bal­anc­ing a lot of nega­tive emo­tions with pos­i­tive ones. How­ever, I don’t con­sider the pos­i­tive fo­cus and con­stant hap­piness as a rea­son­able or healthy state, but as an in­ter­me­di­ate stage, as for some peo­ple train­ing to han­dle and ac­cept all the hor­rible painful and fear­ful parts of re­al­ity is a very challeng­ing pro­ce­dure that re­quires lot of strength. Hap­piness, I think, is not an ap­pro­pri­ate or sus­tain­able state to have in the world that we cur­rently live in. It is a state for mo­ments and parts of life to en­courage hard work to­wards good things. But the state of hap­piness has the down side of get­ting ad­dic­tive and lose the abil­ity to han­dle un­happy states. In or­der to not freak out ev­ery time the next hor­rible thing is hap­pen­ing one needs to learn to ac­cept the con­sis­tency of change and gen­eral lack of con­trol.

You may as well say that stoic think­ing could be prob­le­matic, since when you ac­cept things how they are you lose drive work­ing to­wards bet­ter things. I do see that risk, and even have sev­eral friends who are think­ing like that. But it seems to be cru­cial to ac­cept things how they are to not make one self de­pend­able on the change you are work­ing on for the world. In or­der to be and stay healthy peo­ple shouldn’t be driven by the need for change but by the self-fulfill­ment that comes with in­vest­ing in one’s val­ues.

There may not be much par­tic­u­larly new about my ar­gu­ments, which is why I am won­der­ing whether my ed­u­ca­tion was/​ is just much differ­ent to oth­ers, or whether I am miss­ing some­thing, that among many effec­tive al­tru­ists max­i­miz­ing hap­piness is con­sid­ered a valuable and healthy goal.

I hope peo­ple can share their re­sources for the var­i­ous ar­gu­ments, so we can up­date our knowl­edge.