Foundation (Work and Happiness)
Federico writes that we base our society on the exchange of labor for income, and income determines our quality of life, this is so interwoven that we even identify (10) ourselves with what we do.
For instance, if you provide accountancy services, what is your likely choice of words, will you say “I am an accountant” or “For income I provide accountancy services”?
Working hard and obedient without thinking, can often lead to becoming a human tool or a puppet. Being a good worker does not necessarily mean that you are working for the greater good, for example someone can work hard and good in a cluster bomb or narcotic factory, and although being a good individuals, when left without choice they had to accept the job. On the other hand, the idea that by working hard you will succeed in life is just an illusion. Simply put, people below the poverty line lack choices. Migrants, drunks, beggars, and many criminals are just a by-product of the current system. The rich will get richer. And, the poor will get poorer regardless of how hard they try.
Philosopher, Richard Cumberland wrote that promoting the well-being of our fellow humans is essential to the "pursuit of our own happiness", John Locke coined "life, liberty, and estate", Jefferson liked both of their ideas but replaced "estate" with "the pursuit of happiness"(11) so finally "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" ended up in the United States Declaration of Independence as a well-known phrase. This phrase was promoting that everyone has equal opportunities, but in reality that is far from the truth.
Similar as in the story of “The Scorpion and the Frog” (12), many problems we are facing and those we are about to face are the consequence of the current state of capitalism. It is in its core, in its nature to operate in the way it was designed. And, this may end up very much as the myth of King Midas*1 and his golden touch, leaving few unlucky people sitting on a vast pile of gold upon the smoking remains of our planet.
Since the measure of GDP is so widely used to describe prosperity of one country, a natural question to ask is does the same apply for the correlation between growth and happiness(13). From the evidence supplied we can draw conclusion that high GDP does not necessarily mean happy people. Furthermore, once a country gets out of the poverty, there is no strong correlation between income and happiness. Amazingly, different studies have shown that humans are capable of quickly adapting to any new situation, but that happiness is relative. Economist, Richard Easterlin has shown that money does not necessarily make people happier, but on the other hand more recent studies about income and happiness(14) have shown that money can buy you “Life Satisfaction” (opinion people have about their life when they think about it) but not “Emotional well-being” (emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience). Nevertheless, in both cases a lack of money can cause both dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
The general conclusion of many philosophers and psychologist is that humans are incapable of long term happiness(15) by definition. And there are two good reasons consistent across cultures and nations, first we are not biologically-evolutionary designed to maximize our happiness, and the other is genes. Study shows that for some people happiness is heritable.
Again, this is something I would question, as it is hard to distinguish between nature and nurture in the case of descendants who are not separated from their parents, in order to do a proper study we wound somehow need to study closely separated twins who lived in different families.
Psychologist, Ed Diener has discovered that the frequency of positive experiences is much better than its intensity at predicting someone’s happiness. We think that happiness is something to be found but instead we are creating it.
“Free choice paradigm” is an important experiment that shows us that by ranking things we have already chosen “higher” and those we have not “lower” — we reinstate the feeling of happiness. Although, the widely spread idea is that synthetic happiness is not as good as the natural happiness, or what we get when we get what we want. Reason for that is that natural happiness is widely used as a marketing tool of corporations, pumping up consumerist habits. In conclusion, the author says that understanding that synthetic happiness is good as the natural can help us escape this trap and shift direction of our lives toward more positive, genuine, and real state of well being – based on empathy, collaboration and thrill of discovery, and drive to do something meaningful.
He also points to the correlation between work and happiness (16) showing examples that people without jobs are generally lonely and unhappy or vice versa.
For the studies mentioned, it is not conclusive whether the people participating in the study had any income during the time of their unemployment, which can be important for the outcome of the study, as maybe the reason they were unhappy was not having a job but rather being worried about long term life conditions. I would like to argue a possibility that study was wrongly setup but I do not want to go in details about it now, I will try to discuss about this in a separate post.
If work is important for happiness and because of the profit-based market system requires increase in productivity which can be achieved only by automation, it follows that big unemployment will cause very big problems! And, as the study shows — even when paid for unemployment they still have miserable lives, therefore the question that arises is: should we create meaningless jobs?
Studies show that people are highly adaptable and that even when caught in bad circumstances they can be happy as they will lower their standards, expectations and dreams. Study also shows that people tend to be less unhappy and miserable when they are together in the same situation.
Self employed individuals are happier even when paid less, they enjoy doing it, and they also receive even more gratification through the act of helping others.
Point made is that people who work for less working hours are happier; conclusion was drawn from the graph. But, I was not convinced about that, upon closer inspection you can see that the Germans work less working hours than people in Denmark but still they are half as happy as the Danes.
It is pointed out that things that drive us the most are: independence, self-termination, freedom, ability to follow our dreams, a feeling of creating positive change and being in the state of a constant flow.
Drive, flow, purpose, work is merely an enabler of these conditions not a requirement.
Maybe “work” is wrongly defined, by saying “work makes us live more fulfilling lives” is somewhat misleading.
Take a hobby for instance, and by saying "hobby" I do not think about it in the terms of hobby as philately or coin/card collection, but more as a side thing you “do” because it fulfils you, but you have not found the way to monetize and live off of it. I know many people who enjoy different kind of arts, postcard making, ring crafts, electronic, wood carving, or other types of wood work, but still they do not leave their day jobs as they are not certain, they can earn enough money by doing what they love to do.
We are the ones who give a meaning to our lives, and the purpose as well. Many people volunteer, some like to make other people smile ... but generally when we do kind things for others we gain a sense of community, belonging, that generally makes us feel good.
In the last chapter of "why we do what we do", the author discusses the purpose of life (17) openly admitting that he does not know what the purpose is, for himself or let alone for anyone else’s, but he points out that intuitively we all know what the purpose of life is not, humorously pointing out how no one on his death bed regrets because he has not worked a few more hours overtime that particular time.
Automation is coming and it is inevitable, it does not matter when but it will come, and by existing it can give us more time to play and maybe time to discover a purpose for ourselves.
Continus with > Part III - Solutions