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I am trying to take a course on edx.org called The Science of Happiness. But I just did 1/5 of the first week's work and I'm not sure how far I'm going to make it. Here is what I tossed into the discussion forum after reading two articles with an increasing sense of outrage. I'm darned if I'm going to make myself unhappy over a course about happiness.

These are the articles I'm commenting one.

Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You by June Gruber
Is a Happy Life Different from a Meaningful One?" by Jason Marsh & Jill Suttie


The June Gruber article and the Jill Suttie/Jason Marsh article are taking correlations and assuming causal relationships without showing their work. June Gruber's article first.

These statements are contradictory, but no mention is made of this fact.
"too much positive emotion—and too little negative emotion—makes people inflexible in the face of new challenges."

"When feeling happy, we also tend to feel less inhibited and more likely to explore new possibilities and take risks."

"positive emotions like happiness signal to us that our goals are being fulfilled, which enables us to slow down"
This statement does not provide any evidence that pride "leads to" mania instead of being associated with mania or mania causing excessive feelings of pride. Isn't mania understood to have a biological component? If so then it would seem more likely that mania could lead to excess pride than that excess pride could lead to mania.
"when we experience too much pride or pride without genuine merit, it can lead to negative social outcomes, such as aggressiveness towards others, antisocial behavior, and even an increased risk of mood disorders such as mania."
In the context of human behavior, "hardwired" means "biologically or genetically determined" rather than "culturally determined." Americans don't have different genes than people who live in other countries, so it's pretty silly to assert "We seem hardwired to pursue happiness, and this is especially true for Americans."

Why would people who are depressed or who have bipolar disorder be more likely to 'pursue' happiness? Perhaps because their conditions make it more difficult for them to feel happy? Suggesting that their striving is causing their disorders seems like blaming the victim (especially since these conditions usually have a biological component).
"the pursuit of happiness is also associated with serious mental health problems, such as depression and bipolar disorder. It may be that striving for happiness is actually driving some of us crazy."
The final paragraph is written with highly questionable assumptions that constantly creep into self-help and pop psychology articles: that a person has finely detailed control over how and when they experience certain emotions and can therefore create an emotional experience as easily as making an omelette, and that it is necessary to constantly apply this sort of control in order to be "healthy."
"First, it is important to experience happiness in the right amount. Too little happiness is just as problematic as too much. Second, happiness has a time and a place, and one must be mindful about the context or situation in which one experiences happiness. Third, it is important to strike an emotional balance. One cannot experience happiness at the cost or expense of negative emotions, such as sadness or anger or guilt. These are all part of a complex recipe for emotional health and help us attain a more grounded perspective."
Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh's article is not as problematic as Gruber's, but it isn't free of the problem of confusing correlation and causation either.
A recent study by Steven Cole of the UCLA School of Medicine, and Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that people who reported more eudaimonic happiness had stronger immune system function than those who reported more hedonic happiness, suggesting that a life of meaning may be better for our health than a life seeking pleasure.
It must be that pursuing meaning causes better health, because it couldn'tpossibly be the case that people who are healthier find it easier to pursue meaningful activities than people who are having immune system problems all the time.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/852882.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments. I prefer that you comment on Dreamwidth, but it's also OK to comment here.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2014 02:28 am (UTC)
Our culture (that is, American culture, as it's the only culture I can really speak of) has weirdly confused "peak moments" with "contentment" and even downright demonized being content. It's common to hear people who live with some degree of equanimity and equilibrium, disparaged as being lazy or without motivation. The pursuit of happiness has become basically another thing to strive for and we're often quite materialistic and competitive about it - "so-and-so takes more cruises than we do".

It's possible to feel good without every day being a trip to Disneyland, and that's something that we've forgotten.

I've coached a couple of friends with depression issues plus Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) plus Facebook addiction, that their definition of happiness (to define a day as "happy", something HUGE had to have happened that day; it wasn't possible to just be content with a day that just went smoothly - they labeled those days as fuckups) was actually contributing to their unhappiness. If there wasn't some major event or new thing to crow about or something to brag about on Facebook, they actually felt miserable about it.

A lot of the happiness-striving strikes me as an addictive behavior. They're not actually seeking equilibrium, they're jonesing for that next hit of dopamine.

Edited at 2014-09-13 02:31 am (UTC)
Sep. 13th, 2014 04:56 am (UTC)

The course I'm taking is so far making things more complicated by refusing to use words such as "contentment" and "self-respect" and "goal-directed behavior" and "peak moments" instead of lumping everything under "happiness" and then going "Look, it's so hard to define happiness!" It's an error of the culture and not entirely of the course, but do they really have to repeat it in exactly that way?
Sep. 14th, 2014 06:53 am (UTC)
*nodnodnod* When I read that line about "pursuit of happines" my thoughts went right to that cultural thing of buying stuff to be happy. Which I don't really define as happy, but more like self-medicating and there it is at that last line of yours -- They're not actually seeking equilibrium, they're jonesing for that next hit of dopamine.</a>

Sep. 14th, 2014 10:25 am (UTC)
I'm glad my dopamine is a cheap date. I only have to feed it crossword puzzles, rather than taking it to expensive stores a lot.
Sep. 18th, 2014 02:59 am (UTC)
That is a much better way to think of my little kakuro problem. Thank you!
Sep. 18th, 2014 07:47 am (UTC)
Sep. 18th, 2014 03:03 am (UTC)
It's common to hear people who live with some degree of equanimity and equilibrium, disparaged as being lazy or without motivation.

ARGH this SO MUCH especially in IT, where I see so many job ads that are all PASSION, assuming those without PASSION about their work (which often means unpaid OT) are "mediocre", and even managers/speakers I otherwise respect have swallowed the Kool-Aid. Argh.
Sep. 18th, 2014 07:49 am (UTC)
Yes, for some reason "I am passionate about doing an excellent job between 8am and 5pm, because I am also passionate about work/life balance" never cuts it.
Sep. 14th, 2014 06:58 am (UTC)
I love the way you see stuff and am somewhat envious of your critical reading skills. I think I'd be frustrated taking this class online, but because I'd much prefer taking these articles apart within a face to-face group.

I wonder if the prof/teacher is aware of the problems with the articles or if zie is using them as a kind of straw man or stalking horse to get the class thinking.
Sep. 14th, 2014 10:29 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Yeah, it would be an interesting panel topic. (Ponders how to write up something for Wiscon.)

I put the comment on the EdX forums but they are hard to use (one reason I prefer the Coursera platform) and no one has responded.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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