Scott Alexander, famed author of the Slate Star Codex blog, recently put out a survey on moral philosophy. He asks about what choices we would make in some very unlikely situations. It's good fun, and if you plan on taking it you should probably do so before you read what I have to say about one of the questions.


One of the questions is broken -- specifically, missing an important answer. I am paraphrasing, but essentially the question is "Given a population of happy people, is it better to double the happiness of living people, or to create new people who are just as happy as those currently living?" But the answers are only: A. These are morally equal; B. It is better to make the living happier; C. I don't want to answer. (There are also two other answer choices that are subtle variations on these answers).

I'm not sure if this is a typo, or if he honestly does not think that anyone would think that it is better to create new people than to increase the happiness of existing people. If the latter, this suggests that his model of happiness is very different than my own, and since many other people seem to make this same sort of error, I'll try and put my own model into words.

If I am currently 100 happy, then doubling my happy would make me 200 happy. I don't know what this means, because I cannot picture happy on any sort of linear model, but at least I have a concept of 100 happy down, and I don't have any trouble with the idea that there is generally some point that is significantly better or worse. But while I'm not sure what exactly 200 happy is, it really sounds like too much. I don't want it.

As far as I can tell, this is very different from most people's stated model of happiness, but I suspect that it probably isn't very far off from their actual models. When people talk about wireheading they don't tend to sound wistful. Most people don't talk about the wonders of a future when opium derivatives are free to all and side-effect free. Nor do people in love generally wish that they were twice as much in love, and people don't bite into their favorite food and think "gosh, if only it were twice as good!".

I think this this is a case of equivocation, where 'happy' just means 'magic!'. I honestly don't think that when most people talk about happy they mean anything very specific -- just like you can be all for justice without knowing all the laws and punishments that justice has to actually entail, or you can talk about the value of art without having to work through all the twiddly little edge cases. It's something that you can talk about safe in the knowledge that no one will ever ask you to define it or question whether it is good, so we simply don't have mental models that are any better than "get more of that!".

So right now, if I were wishing for ways to be happier, I would want my legs to be slightly less sore, the cat to back away from the computer when I am typing, and maybe for a cup of coffee. That would get me maybe as high as 105 happy. Anything more than that would distract me from writing this, and I don't want to be distracted from writing this. I could easily find things that would make me more happy, but I don't want to. I'll have plenty of time for those things later, if I decide that I want them.

So back to the question: It would be way better to have another human doing things that they want to do, rather than to distract me from things that I want to be doing just so that I can be more happy.




As it happens there is a thing that I value in more or less the same way as most people seem to value happiness; flow. (I didn't pick the term, and it's too late to change it now. I wish it had been labeled something like 'doingness'). I like it when I get into doing something, and get very involved in doing it. I would like more of it, and it is not always easy to get into.

But it makes no real sense to want "double the flow", except in the sense of duration. It is not an open-ended way to soak up infinite utils. I have never found anything that allows me to increase utils for any extended amount of time without also being annoying in some way -- for example, being a bit exhausting.

I think that many people experience something like this; if not exactly flow, then sitting and listening to music (you don't want another orchestra to start playing, that would just be annoying); or dancing (going twice as fast will not necessarily be twice as much fun); or that other thing that you've already thought of and are slightly disappointed that it wasn't the first thing that I mentioned.

I do not have any real way to judge if the standard model of happiness -- that it is something that you obviously must want more of -- is as imaginary as I perceive it to be. Most people who talk about happiness as an open-ended good do not seem to be happier than I am, but then, people who wants lots of money are not necessarily richer than I am, either. Psychologist talk about things like the hedonic treadmill resetting levels of happiness to a normal level over time, but that's not a statement about what is desirable, it's just a description of what we have to work with.

I am curious to know if my experience of happiness is an alien viewpoint to most readers, a familiar viewpoint to most readers but consistent with open-ended desire for happiness, or their default viewpoint... or something else.

Anxiety is the word of the day here. Yesterday I was productive and faced many things I had been putting off or avoiding. Today I dropped my oldest off at her job. This summer she's an unpaid intern at a summer camp that our local YMCA runs. I'm really proud of her for sticking with it since she doesn't care for it. I'm a little surprised she hates it as much as she does since generally speaking she likes kids, but I worked for her main boss and felt that the communication and appreciation left much to be desired. We were late due to her doing whatever she was doing. We spoke about it in the car, it's acceptable to be late when things are out of your control as they would be if you were in a car accident. She agreed to apologize and not let it happen again which was a relief.

After dropping her off I took my youngest into the next town over to drop off my court paperwork. I had saved every sheet of correspondence, I was nervous, and it showed. I have until September 1, 2016 to pay my ticket which will help my financial situation. The previous sentence was as far as I got yesterday as I allowed anxiety and unrest to prevent me from completing this. Late last night I read an article on how to deal with a bad day. The article recommends focusing on three things you're grateful for, taking action, however small, in one of the areas you're fretting about, and getting some perspective. Days such as the ones I had yesterday are inevitable, acknowledge them, and move forward.

While we haven't followed our menu plan exactly, partially due to the newness of the system, partially due to the late start, partially because life has a way of doing things you didn't expect it to, but overall I feel as if we have made some significant progress, Last night I made a simple peanut chicken recipe. Going forward I'm going to start taking recipes to the store instead of grabbing things I'm used to having at home off the shelves and trying to figure out something from that assortment. My blood sugar is much more stable when I eat meals. This wandering into the kitchen and eating whenever is not working. I'm glad we seem to have hit on a possible solution despite it needing some tweaking. We can't expect to be experts straight out of the gate.

Today I am going to make a list of my debts and monthly bills. I'm nervous about the job situation since I fear it will impact my ability to receive health insurance. After the car accident I'm suddenly hyper aware of how close to a single catastrophic event any of us are. Insurance is a scam and a racket. There are many things wrong with the current system, but it remains in place to offer some degree of protection and treatment for those who have it if they can afford to use it. What I need to avoid is going back to the past and beating myself up for things I no longer have any control over. There were times when I carried health insurance for my family and times when we were hit with thousands of dollars of medical bills when our insurance was inadequate or we couldn't afford it.

What I need to remember is that having some uncertainty and stress in my life is no reason to derail and allow myself to let anxiety overtake me to the point where I'm a spinning eating out of control manic frenzied mess. I'm trying to be better about focusing and staying on task. I did well on Monday, yesterday was not so great. But I can take today and make that better knowing what I do now. Life will be better if I get some exercise, take a walk, eat regular meals, and clean up after myself while insisting the others that live here do the same. There are many wonderful qualities my children possess. Jill has been making friendship bracelets, she's very creative, and I'm happy she's very outgoing.

Jane is creative in a different way. She did her makeup yesterday, she only did half of her face, but she was pleased with the final result. I took her to the mall after court. She bought some things at Bath & Body Works while I sat outside on the bench waiting for her. I'm going to be okay. I may need to declare bankruptcy, I may need to get a job, I may feel crushed with debt and feel as if I have no protection from my ex, but I can't allow myself to sit and stew about everything that is not quite right in my life. I can get my sleep schedule back on track, there are small good things in this world that I can be doing. The best news is I feel very accountable which is several steps up from where I felt helpless as a jellyfish quivering in its confines at the zoo. 

Today I took some anxiety medication, it takes the edge off, and that's what I need right now. I went for a very long period of time without reaching for it. I'm not sure what changed, but it's there and after seeing how far off the rails I was yesterday, I decided that the medication was the lesser of the two evils. I got to talk to the guy I like for a couple of minutes. Having him in my life has really made a difference. I wonder where things are going and realize I don't have to worry about it. For now it's enough to remember being held, hugged, and kissed, and to just enjoy this new development. I'm always impatient. This is the lesson I need to learn. I had to wait for a long time to get a date with him, it was worth it. I want to remember that. 

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