Happiness – a very short into

Happiness: A Very Short Introduction, by Daniel M. Haybron

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  1. Just finished this book, part of the prereading for a class I am taking this semester.

    The book is _Happiness: A Very Short Introduction_, by Daniel Haybron (and the class, BTW, is “Topics in Philosophy of Religion: Death, Happiness, and Immortality”).

    Like other authors writing on a professional, academic level about happiness, such as Martha Nussbaum and Susan Wolf, here Haybron also talks a lot about the importance of meaning for one’s happiness.

    (Wolf, for example, has the saying, which summarizes her position, that “Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness.” By this she means that in our world, some things are better – are more worthwhile – than others, and meaning arises when we as subjects discover or develop affinities for these more worthwhile things, and engage with them in a positive way. And Nussbaum, for example, is well known for her “capabilities approach” in which she delineates a relatively objective list of capabilities important for happiness and well-being.)

    Unlike those other authors, however, Haybron steers away from the notion of an objective-list theory of happiness. Haybron does not develop an objective-list notion of happiness, but instead focuses on happiness as a state of mind, and emotional evaluation of your life. He delineates three aspects of happiness:

    1) Attunement
    This is being able to let your defenses down, make yourself fully at home in your life, as opposed to taking up a defensive stance.

    2) Engagement
    This involves an assessment of whether it is worth investing effort in your activities, versus withdrawing or disengaging from them.

    3) Endorsements
    These are emotional states that signify that your life is good, like joy.

    He also reviews what researchers have learned about the sources of happiness, summarized as SOARS: “Security,” including material security, social security, project security, and time security, “Outlook,” including positivity, acceptance, caring for others, and motivation, “Autonomy,” “Relationships,” and “ Skilled and meaningful activity.”

    Happiness for Haybron is part, but not the whole, of a good life, which also includes well-being, virtue, and meaning, of course, and he discusses all these, as well as hedonism, desire theories, and list theories (like Nussbaum’s).

    Happiness is not, however, a right. “The mistaken assertion of a right to be happy is an example of a broader error,” he says, “namely a belief in cosmic entitlements.” We call people, he says, who overexert their perceived rights (to be happy themselves at whatever cost to those around them), assholes: “One should not be an asshole in the pursuit of happiness” (pp. 95-97).

    See more comments on books and my reading lists at https://stevenclarkcunningham.net/other/ or https://stevenclarkcunningham.net/religion/.

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