The following is the first chapter of the forthcoming book, “Yesterday and Today Promise Bright but Troubled Tomorrows” by Leo J. Shapiro. We invite you to use the comment box at the end of the post, or to share your feedback using the “Contact Us” page.
Humans Evolved in Control of Their Future
Homo sapiens evolved as a social, tool-creating, intelligent but severely disabled predator that is physically inferior to many of the species on which it preys and to many predators that prey on humans.
By virtue of their intelligence and tool creating capability, Homo sapiens is able to view itself as an object that it can shape and manipulate. In doing so, Homo sapiens became human by transforming itself into a hybrid, part Homo sapiens and part inert tool that is able to overcome specific disabilities by outfitting itself with tools that serve as prosthesis.
As a human, it can fly and see as well as an eagle, hear and detect odor as well as a dog, kill and butcher prey as well as a tiger and escape predators that would kill and eat it that are as large as, wolves, bears, lions or as miniscule as virus and microcellular disease causing bacteria and fungi.
Most important, as a human, it is in controls its own further evolution because it can overcome specific disabilities that interfere with its achieving it goals. The continuous struggle of humans to overcome their disabilities is at the root of technological progress,
Darwin observed that more individuals of a species are born than can possibly survive. In the consequent struggle for existence, any individual that varies in a manner profitable to itself will have a better chance of surviving and thus be naturally selected as a founder of a successor generation.
In this fashion, competition for resources between individuals of the same species then leads, by a process of natural selection, to the evolution of new varieties or new species resulting in the survival of the fittest.
Because humans are able to that vary themselves in a profitable manner they have had a better chance surviving and being naturally selected as the dominant species on earth.
In the beginning, Homo sapiens human hybrids by fabricated shoes and clothes as protective exoskeletons and trekked from their place of origin in Eden-like Africa to the ice bound North Pole. Nomadic: humans secured food by hunting and gathering using stone axes, spears, bows and arrows to kill from a distance, and containers to hold and cook their food. Then, as pastoral nomads, humans created machines for harvesting milk, blood and meat from their herds of cattle.
As nomads, humans changed the environment as they exploited it by destroying plant life, killing animals, cooking with fire, defecating, before moving on to a fresh, unspoiled environment. When humans adopted agricultural as a source of their food and could no longer be nomadic their population density increased as did their impact on the environment.
Darwin, in his letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker, describes the origin of life by stating that “all the conditions for the first production of a living being are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh what a big if) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sort of ammonia and phosphoric salts,—light, heat, electricity present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex. At the present such matter would be instantly devoured, or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.”
Reading between the lines of this March 29 1863 letter from Darwin to Joseph Dalton Hooker, we infer that Darwin recognized that life, including human life was an invasive, corrosive process that converts materials that are stable in nature to unstable compounds that degrade. Over time, we have learned that as these unstable compounds degrade they release some substances that are toxic and some that alter the environment.
As a hybrid, part Homo sapiens and part machine, human ability to adapt to hostile environments expanded exponentially as they created increasing efficient tools as prostheses. The impact of humans on the environment increased as they became increasingly able to adapt to and exploit the environment.
Using space suits as an intelligent exoskeleton, humans became able to survive and function in the gravity less vacuum of space and polluted space. With scuba exoskeletons, humans survived and functioned in underwater and altered the ocean environment.
The development of information sciences and computers which enhance human ability to sense, process and act on information greatly enhanced human capabilities to fabricate tools that enable them to overcome humans natural disabilities.
Society values innovators and philanthropists encourage their development. The Peter Theil Fellowships of $100,000 over two years plus other assistance are awarded to people under twenty years of age are meant to encourage persons who are under twenty years of age to skip going to college and get to work by conducting scientific research, starting a social movement or making some other contribution to society.
In forgoing a formal college education, Theil Fellows follow the path blazed by Bill Allen and Steve Jobs who dropped out of college and later founded Microsoft and Apple companies.
Think of the twenty or thirty Theil Fellows who are selected each year as incipient protean Bionic sapiens whose intelligence surpasses that of Homo sapiens by an amount that makes a difference of kind rather than in degree.
Bionic sapiens are emerging as a new breed of humans distinguished by their superior intelligence. They live among and interbreed with Homo sapiens much as Homo sapiens lived among and interbred with the Neanderthal.
In that human ability to create and use tools as prostheses increases as intelligence increases, the inclusion of Bionic sapiens in the general population accelerates the rate of technological advances resulting in the creation of increasingly efficient machines.
The three point increase in IQ intelligence scores per decade of the general population (the so-called Flynn effect) has the effect of increasing the percent of humans born with high enough intelligence to evolve as Bionics sapiens.
A recent example of the growing power of intelligent machines to serve as prostheses that enhance human capability to manipulate the environment is Raytheon’s XOS2. The XOS2 is a robotic shell into which a human fits. It enhances the capabilities of the human to do heavy lifting and perform other challenging tasks.
XOS2, with a human inside, is an agile, powerful hybrid that can do two to three times as much heavy physical labor in an hour than a human. An advanced version of the XOS2 was being tested in 2010.
The Lokomat, like the XOS2 is a robotic exoskeleton which, when worn by a person with spinal cord injuries puts that person through the motions of walking, enabling them to learn to walk. To quote remarks from the website maintained by the Mount Sinai Hospital Joyce D. and Andrew Mandel Center of Multiple Sclerosis Care and Neuroscience Research:
“The Lokomat replicates a normal gait for patients with a walking disability. The patient’s legs are secured in special cuffs and guided along a treadmill outfitted with sensors that send visual feedback to screens for the patient and therapist. The very act of walking correctly changes the brain and helps recapture function that until recently might have been considered lost for good. This “retraining” can make dramatic and lasting improvements.”
Machines, when used as prostheses, have developed to make the connection between the human brain and the environment a two way street.
In its December 2011 edition, Scientific American reports that neuroscientists led by Andrew Schwartz at the University of Pittsburg, have been recruiting patients paralyzed by spinal cord injury into a trial that would allow them to feel the environment around them thru electrodes in the somatosensory cortex that receives information from a robot arm worn as a prosthetic.
In the same December 2011 edition, Scientific American also reports that scientists led by Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University Medical Center have announced the first-ever demonstration in which a primate brain not only moves a prosthesis, but also senses what the prosthesis encounters by receiving encoded electronic signals.
Nicolelis hopes to unveil the first “wearable robot” in 2014. It will be a full body exoskeleton-like prosthesis studded with sensors that relay tactile information about the outside world to the somaticsensory cortex. Controlled by neural transplants that capture signals from the motor cortex, it will move the legs, hands, fingers, everything else. (Source Scientific American December 2011)
As this was written in 2012, the scientific community announced advances in the ability to “grow” human organs like bladder or a thorax from stem cells to replace organs that failed. Techniques were also announced for the regeneration of failed muscles.
With advances in technology humans are coming closer and closer to completing their process of hybridization with machines. Google has taken up the challenge of creating early forms of machines that can eventually surpass Homo sapiens in their ability to survive in the hostile environment of automobile traffic.
Prius driverless autos can sense, store, process and act on information without a Homo sapiens component. The 2010 model of the Prius comes close to having the capabilities of a driverless car except it is unable to maneuver in traffic. Google is succeeding in evolving the Prius as a hybrid composed of a human and a car by adding artificial intelligence and enhanced sensing capability so the Prius and the driver collaborate in making decisions that a driver would otherwise make.
Proof of concept testing was just about complete in mid-2010. In testing the modified Prius cars, GPS systems set a destination and the route the modified Prius was to drive. During the test, two humans were on board, one to monitor traffic and take control in the event of danger, and the other to monitor and manage the control systems.
As of mid-October 2010, seven modified Prius cars had driven 1,000 miles without human intervention. A total of 140,000 miles had been driven with only occasional human intervention. In the absence of a brain of its own, the Prius functions as the exoskeleton of a human-computer hybrid driverless car.
Development of this innovated driverless Prius ties into the development of a new driving environment in which the gasoline tax is replaced with a fee related to the cost of using the roadway. The fee is set to take account of distance driven, the environmental impact of the car or truck that is driven, and the unused capacity of the road at the time of travel.
Early experience with such a fee system in Holland – implemented without driverless cars – found 70% of users changed their behavior as a result of per kilometer pricing by traveling in off-peak hours. The percent of low emission trucks jumped from less than 1% when per kilometer pricing began to more than 55% after the program’s inception.
Per kilometer fees set before the trip began to reduce the environmental impact of the driving and distributes the cost of maintaining roadways more equitably. Given the development and adoption of driverless cars and trucks, the system would reduce the labor cost of transporting materials by eliminating the cost of the driver and encouraging trips at the times when the roadway is underused, the times of day humans avoid driving.
While machines are improving exponentially in their ability to sense experience and manipulate the environment, they have not reached near the level of human intelligence.
Google’s driverless cars are robotic in nature and intended to function in traffic without a driver even though they do not have a fully developed mind of their own.
But, even before Bionic sapiens has displaced Homo sapiens as the dominant species of human, the breed exerts a decisive influence on the structure and nature of the Next Society that will subsume the Grazing Society.
The effort to create machines that enhance human abilities to adapt to the environment has its roots in the persistent, relentless human effort to achieve happiness. In a more than metaphorical sense, the United States was established as a democracy that would treat all Americans as created equal with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence giving voice to the nation’s founders’ decision to provide for the survival of the United States of America by establishing it as a democracy, he did not stop in his writing to define the words “life” or “liberty” or “happiness.”
Life as well as liberty can vary in quality but both have core meanings that are widely known and may not need further definition but the word “happiness” is totally ambiguous.
Happiness is a word like pornography that describes something that is easily recognized but hard to define or explain and difficult to talk about in public.
A young eighth grade teacher trained to teach her class sex education had no trouble explaining the role of sex in human reproduction. She spoke glibly about the rather arcane process wherein the penis penetrates the vagina and delivers sperm which fertilizes the egg.
When asked for questions, the teacher was stumped by a girl who said she understood the process because she had already asked her mother where babies come from and heard about sex. But, what she could not understand is why anybody would engage in sex. The teacher stifled her impulse to say “Ask your father.” and declared recess.
Happiness is the word that Aristotle in about 350 B.C. and other philosophers in subsequent centuries have adopted to designate the highest good that all men seek. However, he did not define the “highest good” directly. Instead, by observing Athenian behavior, Aristotle inferred that happiness, the highest good, was whatever was achieved by acquiring wealth, luck, and relations with important others, particularly with members of the ruling elite.
Aristotle considered but decided not to include having ‘no fear of death’ as a source of happiness. He asserted that death involves a change in form not a substantial change. A rabbit, he said, eaten by a wolf becomes the flesh of the wolf; a change in form not a substantive change from being alive to being dead.
A thousand years later, in about 1,630 A.D., Blasé Pascal asserts that happiness motivates all behavior. He did not define happiness in a fashion that made it recognizable. Instead, Pascal posed what has become known as the Pascal wager to demonstrate that it is prudent to bet that God exists rather than bet that God does not exist.
If God exists, then failure to believe in God could invite punishment and pain diminishing happiness. If God does not exist, then little has been lost by believing in God.
In 1969, roughly three hundred years after Pascal did his work, Norman M. Bradburn published a book titled The Structure of Psychological Well Being that asserted that what people call happiness is a sense of psychological well being induced when pain encountered in life is mitigated by the pleasures enjoyed by satisfying desires.
Bradburn is a behavioral scientist, a discipline that draws on the techniques of logic and philosophy to develop hypotheses and on the techniques of hard science to challenge the validity of hypotheses based on logic through the conduct of critical experiments.
Having developed a fresh hypothesis about the nature of happiness, Bradburn challenged its validity. To determine whether people’s experiences with happiness conformed or failed to conform to experiences that would be expected on the basis of his hypothesis, he conducted population surveys.
With Bradburn’s permission, we used his survey questionnaire and scoring system to continue to explore the nature of happiness by: 1) surveying seventeen thousand Americans by telephone at the rate of 500 cases a month during the three years ending July 10, 2010; 2) conducting parallel surveys of 500 cases each in China’s metropolitan areas; 3) surveying residents in the trade area of a newly opened Chicago mortuary, 4) conducting statistical studies of the relation between personal happiness and beliefs in a higher power and in patriotic commitment to the United States and 5) conducting a 1,065 interview survey of Arizona residents to discover the origin of Obama and Romney’s campaign strategies used in the 2012 Presidential election.
These studies found that the meaning of happiness is universally familiar. Everyone we interviewed was able to give a meaningful “yes” or “no” answer if asked whether they are happy and, if so, whether they were very happy or just somewhat happy.
We also found Aristotle’s hypotheses about the sources of happiness based on observation of Athenians in about 350 B.C. were the sources of happiness for Americans and Chinese in 2007 to 2010 A.D.
Further, our survey findings supported rather than denied Bradburn’s hypothesis that happiness is a mood experienced when the pain of everyday living is mitigated by the pleasures that come from satisfying healthy desires.
We also found happiness to be a highly valued, easy to recognize mood by persons coming from cultures and speaking languages as diverse as 350 B.C. Greek, 17th century French, and 21st century English and Chinese.
Insofar as we can tell happiness has an almost universal meaning and value even though each person is unique and national cultures are subject to major differences.
Our reading of our survey research findings are compatible with but take step beyond definitions of happiness cited early as proposed by Aristotle, Pascal and Bradburn.
The burden of the author’s surveys find that happiness, when defined by what Aristotle calls the “highest good that all men seek” is a feeling of pride, an exalted sense of self-esteem that comes from learning or accomplishing something in the face of adversity and pain. In effect, a person who is happy is a person who is happy with their self.
While happiness is a universally recognized, valuable mood, it is a mood that is almost impossible to define or describe. Happiness is hard to define or describe because it is not experienced directly by the senses in a fashion that is simultaneously accessible to the senses of others so it can be shared with others.
Rather happiness is evoked by two radically different types of experiences, one hedonistic and the other altruistic. Each of the two experiences is sensed separately and differently.
Hedonistic happiness is evoked by satisfying the predatory nature of humans by securing pleasures that come from using wealth and power to secure access to and consuming material goods and enjoying relationships. Because wealth and power are finite resources, the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure triggers conflict and is divisive.
By contrast, the pursuit of altruistic happiness is an expression of the social nature of humans. It is evoked by the pleasure that comes from engaging in satisfying relationships with others. The pursuit of altruistic happiness unifies members of a group and facilitates their taking collective action to ward off threats.
Hedonistic and altruistic happiness are rarely experienced in isolation from each other. Rare humans, like Gandhi, forgo hedonistic pleasure and give themselves over to experiencing the ultimate altruistic pleasure that comes from martyrdom. Others, like Hitler, forgo altruistic pleasures that come from giving joy to others and give themselves over to experiencing the hedonistic pleasure that comes with world domination.
For most humans, happiness is achieved by simultaneously sensing a hedonistic and an altruistic happiness as two separate experiences that resonate and combine in the theatre of their mind to create something like a musical “harmonic” note that is sensed privately in a fashion that is not accessible to the senses of others.
In his book “Inventing America”, Garry Wills reports Thomas Jefferson recognized that it would be difficult to create unity of purpose among Americans because they resent the injuries they incur while competing fiercely with each other for wealth, power and other scarce resources.
According to Garry Wills, Jefferson believed it might be possible to unite the nation despite their resentment of injuries endured as they compete for wealth, power, and recognition if all Americans enjoyed equal rights to the pursuit of happiness.
Wills says that when Jefferson spoke of happiness he meant measureable happiness for the entire public. Taken literally, Jefferson meant progress toward achieving democracy could be determined by measuring and seeking to expand the prevalence of happiness as it is experienced in everyday life.
Bradburn’s hypothesis that happiness is more a flight from pain than a pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake is in line with earlier thinking by Darwin and Hobbes.
To repeat, Darwin explained that the competition for scarce resources is an inevitable part of life. Species, Darwin observes, reproduce geometrically producing more individuals than can be supported by available resources. The competition for scarce resources, by a process of natural selection, reward some individuals with enhanced survival capabilities and damages others giving rise to the diversity of species. .
Herbert Spencer later suggested that the words “survival of the fittest” could be substituted for the words “natural selection” to describe the evolutionary process. Darwin agreed.
Both “survival of the fittest” and “natural selection” describe the deadly competition that prompted Thomas Hobbes to say that life is “nasty, brutal and short.” Happiness is achieved when pain, endemic in living a life that is nasty, brutal and short, is overcome by pleasures evoked by the satisfaction of healthy desire.
Jefferson did not make a distinction as we do here between altruistic and hedonistic happiness. The kind of happiness Jefferson had in mind when he asked that happiness be measured is happiness as it is experienced by people in their everyday life – a blend of hedonistic and altruistic happiness that produces a unique experience which is neither hedonistic or altruistic much as two musical notes resonates producing a harmonic note.
The Bradburn questionnaire provides for measuring happiness of the kind Jefferson had in mind; that is the kind of happiness experienced in everyday life. In everyday life that people privately concoct happiness for themselves by blending hedonistic and altruistic happiness.
The review of our telephone survey of seventeen thousand Americans over three years ending in July 2010 found an overwhelming proportion of the population saying they were happy: 88% in the months leading up to the recession and 79% during the recession.
This one measure supports the view that the nation has had some success in mitigating the hurt imposed on its people as they compete for wealth, power and prestige.
But, single statistics on the prevalence of happiness are like temperature readings that detect the presence or absence of a fever but do not provide actionable information on its cause or possible treatment.
Actionable information for achieving happiness for one’s self or for others comes from survey findings relating to the degree of happiness achieved and the forces that enhance and diminish happiness. However, while the survey methodology does permit making rough separate, quantitative measurements of hedonistic and altruistic happiness these separate measurements are not as precise as Jefferson might want.
Norman M. Bradburn questionnaire provides quantitative measurements of happiness by asking respondents whether they had, in recent weeks, experienced each of five specific painful experiences and each of five specific pleasurable experiences.
Answers given to the ten questions about pleasurable and painful experiences are used to compute a ten point happiness score for each respondent ranging from a low of minus 5 to a high of plus 5.
A score of minus five means the respondent is absolutely unhappy. They report having experienced only pain and no pleasure. A score of plus 5 means the respondent is absolutely happy in that they report having experienced only pleasurable experiences and no painful experiences.
There is close correspondence, on a respondent by respondent basis, between self-ratings of happiness and happiness scores. In the chart that follows, those who describe themselves as “Very Happy” have the highest happiness score (+2.93) and those who describe themselves as “Not Too Happy” have the lowest happiness score (- 0.15) during both the good times that preceded the recession and during the recession.
Between these extremes, happiness scores diminish roughly in step with declines in the degree to which people describe their happiness.
The close correspondence between self-rating and happiness scores supports Bradburn’s the premise that what is measured by the Bradburn questionnaire is “everyday happiness” of the sort that Jefferson talked about.
The data also support rather than deny the Bradburn hypothesis that happiness is a flight from pain rather than a pure effort to achieve pleasure. Failure to take account of the respondent reports of both painful and pleasurable experience would have diminished the close correspondence between self ratings and happiness scores.
A word of caution for those who might be tempted to seek pleasure actively to escape pain: The process by which pleasure mitigates pain is not triggered by an act of will but is an involuntary response to pain that is inhibited by grief. We did not develop a statistics relating to the grieving process but draw on the professional literature about the stages of grief that needs be experienced to accommodate to a devastating loss.
If the pain is severe and caused by a crippling illness or by the death of a loved one that triggers grief, the involuntary seeking for pleasure will be delayed until the period of grieving is past. Seeking pleasure while grieving triggers guilt.
Anecdotally, when I was leaving the hospital where I had sat with my mother as she died, my spirits were momentarily lifted by the sunny and soft spring day until I felt a sudden pang of guilt for feeling good with my mother dead.
At the age of seven years, my grandmother died and the family gathered and spent seven days “sitting shiva” grieving and mourning and praying. This is only the first of a number of rituals engaged in to ease the burden of grief for the passing of a loved one.
It is only after grief abates that the joy that comes from involuntarily experience pleasure brings happiness rather than guilt. Americans are able to control their happiness by seeking pleasure except when deeply engaged in working through grief.
Because Americans can generally control their happiness, it is no surprise that the survey finds that most Americans are about as happy in good times as they are during the recession. Specifically, three in four respondents (74.3%) were counted as happy pre-recession because they scored above zero and seven in ten (69.4%) were counted as happy during the recession, a decline of only 6.6 percentage points.
However, while most Americans are happy, the bulk of Americans (95%) are only marginally happy, scoring less than a plus 4. Pre-recession 53.7% had scores less than plus 4 and were only marginally happy. During the recession almost as many Americans (50.6%) were marginally happy with score under a plus 4.
Another, 12% of Americans pre-recession and 14.7% during the recession had happiness scores of zero meaning that they are neither happy nor unhappy. And still another 14% had happiness scores of less than zero and are not happy. The balance of Americans, 14% pre-recession and 14% during the recession were unhappy with minus scores of less than zero.
While most Americans say they are happy, the United States has a long way to go to achieve the high degree of happiness needed to mitigate the pain inflicted by conflict and encourage unity.
The proportion of Americans who have achieved the highest degree of happiness is miniscule. Only 6.2% of Americans pre-recession and 5.1% during the recession score a plus 5, the highest degree of happiness.
In line with the miniscule proportion of Americans who have achieved a really high degree of happiness, the nation is torn by dissension. Its Congress is dysfunctional, torn by ideological disputes and unable to make decisions. The nation itself is embarking on a presidential election that promises to be a no-holds-barred conflict.
*The questionnaire and methodology for the survey were devised by Norman M. Bradburn. We thank him for permission to use his work.
Information useful for planning action to enhance the intensity of personal happiness comes from answers respondents give to questions asked about whether they experienced each of the ten specific feelings of pain and pleasure that make for happiness.
“Being bored” is the most frequently reported painful feeling. It is reported by 44.4% of respondents pre-recession and 43.0% of respondents during the recession.
Boredom can be evoked by experiences as varied as isolation or terror. It is an indication that a person is unhappy with their self – unhappy with being the person they have become. It is an indication of low self-esteem.
The four remaining painful feelings reported by respondents also reflect discomfort with self. They include:
- Being so restless that you could not sit in a chair: 30.9% pre-recession and 24.9% during the recession;
- Depressed or very unhappy: 24.8% pre-recession and 22.6% during the recession;
- Very lonely or remote from other people: 20.7% pre-recession and 21.5 during recession;
- Upset because someone criticized you: 19.4% pre-recession and 16.0% during the recession.
In good times, pre-recession, the average respondent reports having experienced 1.4 painful feelings in recent weeks. Paradoxically, the number of painful feelings reported during the hard times of recession is slightly lower at 1.3 painful feelings than the 1.4 painful feelings reported during good times.
The frequency of both painful and pleasurable feeling diminishes during hard times because people protect their feelings by withdrawing from reality and numbing themselves to pain as well as to pleasure.
“Being pleased about accomplishing something” is the most frequently reported pleasurable feeling. It is reported by 84.3% of respondents pre-recession and 80.9% during recession. Being pleased about accomplishing something bolsters self-esteem – satisfaction with self worth.
The four other pleasurable feelings that are reported also reflect satisfaction with self. In descending order of frequency, they include:
- That things are going your way: 71.8% pre-recession and 63.7% during the recession;
- Proud because someone complimented you on something you had done: 65.6% pre-recession and 60.2% during the recession;
- Particularly excited or interested in something: 55.6% pre-recession and 52.1% during the recession;
- On top of the world: 36.6% pre-recession and 31.8% during the recession.
In good times, pre-recession, the average respondent reports having experienced 3.2 pleasurable feelings in recent weeks. During the hardships of recession, the number of pleasurable feelings reported by the average respondent drops from 3.2 to 2.9 pleasurable feelings or 0.3 feelings fewer that reported pre-recession.
…Lack of Feelings – Numbness
When Americans cannot mitigate their pain by evoking feelings of pleasure that come with the satisfaction of desire, they suppress all feelings, not only feelings of pain but also of pleasure.
During the recession the average American reported having a total of 4.3 painful and pleasurable feelings which is 0.2 fewer than the 4.5 painful plus pleasurable feelings they reported during pre-recession good times.
The slightly lower happiness self-rating for the average American during the recession than pre-recession reflects a slightly greater decrease in pleasurable feelings (a 0.2 decline) versus a 0.1 decline in painful feelings.
It is logical that fewer pleasurable feelings are experienced during the recession than during good times (2.9 in good times and 3.2 in recessions). However, it is not logical that the number of painful feelings experienced is also lower during recession’s hard times than in good times (1.3 in recession and 1.4 in good times).
The illogical finding that both feelings of pleasure and of pain are suppressed to break a bad mood is explained when respondents describe what they actually do to break a bad mood.
Some respondents talk about going for a walk or a drive, keeping busy with work – gardening, remodeling, and cooking, – buying something or shopping. Others explain they read, watch TV, listen to music, relax, sleep, eat, take drugs, meditate or pray. Each of these tactics has the effect of disconnecting Americans from their immediate environment.
SOURCE: Information about how respondents break a bad mood comes from 500 men and women sampled from the nation at large and interviewed by phone in September 2001. This was an exploratory survey in which respondents were asked “When you are feeling low or unhappy, what do you do to improve your mood.” Verbatim responses to this open question were coded and summarized statistically.
The United States is not unique in that its people’s happiness stems from personal satisfaction with self. That people’s happiness stems from satisfaction with self is also the finding of surveys we conducted in China in June 2008 when the Chinese economy was booming, and parallel surveys conducted in the United States when it was in deep recession.
The June 2008 surveys utilizing Bradburn’s questionnaire found recession-plagued Americans markedly happier than the Chinese who were experiencing an economic boom.
When asked to rate themselves on happiness, more Americans than Chinese described themselves as “very happy”: 27% of Americans which is a third more than the 18% of the Chinese who rated themselves as “very happy.”
The statistical analysis of happiness scores found the lower prevalence of happiness in China was associated with experiences in recent weeks that made them feel devalued. Specifically, over twice as many Chinese than Americans reported being “upset because someone criticized me” (40% Chinese and 17% Americans, a difference of 23 points).
Many fewer Chinese, 49%, than Americans, 63%, reported feeling “Proud because someone complimented me for something I have done”: a difference of 14 points.
The fact that the Chinese economy was booming while the American economy was in deep recession was reflected in the survey findings about how Chinese felt about their personal situation. More Chinese, 54%, than Americans, 34%, reported they had, in recent weeks, experienced a feeling of being “on the top of the world”: a difference of 20 points in favor of the Chinese.
The pleasure of feeling “on top of the world” experienced by the Chinese, is nullified by their diminished comfort and satisfaction with self. Being criticized, which was common during the Cultural Revolution and has persisted, diminishes feeling of self-worth. Good manners and politeness which acknowledge the importance of others by saying hello and good bye reinforces feelings of self-worth.
As stated and restated before, while happiness is easy to recognize and report on a self-rating basis, it is extremely difficult to define or describe. Pain and pleasure are not experienced directly but experienced separately and then blended by each person into a single, idiosyncratic feeling that does not readily lend itself to verbal communication.
The mood Americans and Chinese who were surveyed call happiness has the ambiguous, indescribable taste of drinks like Coke, Pepsi or a Starbuck’s Latte — sweet, delicious with enough bitterness not to be cloying and a hit of caffeine to light up the world.
John Lennon seeks to overcome the indescribability of happiness by resorting to metaphor in his song:
Happiness Is a Warm Gun – Bang Bang – Shoot Shoot – When I hold you in my arms – ooooh, oh yeah – and feel my finger on your trigger –ooooh, oh yeah – I know nobody can do me no harm -ooooh, oh yeah – happiness is a warm gun momma momma –bang bang – shoot shoot – Yes it is gun!”
By expressing himself in song rather than prose Lennon could convey the indescribable feeling he was experiencing. The brain reacts directly to rhyme and rhythm and melody and relives the original experience. Words, the manifest meaning of the words used in his lyrics, function like captions that interpret the melody.
Music, and to a certain extent poetry, have high value because they allow the brain to relive and enjoy the original experience freshly and repeatedly. Prose, by contrast, is an encoded instruction used by the brain to reconstruct a memory that is only a shadow of the original experience.
(Source: This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin a neuroscientist and musician who runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University.
In summation, humans have become the dominant species by virtue of:
1) Their ability to innovate, to fashion tools as prosthesis that enable them to overcome disabilities and
2) Their constant pursuit of happiness which motivates them to innovate and work to mitigate pain by seeking pleasure.