Sunday, 9 June 2013

Everybody wants 'a happy life' - differences are about the perceived nature of 'life'

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When someone asks the purpose of life, the answer can become a bit convoluted - but the simple and universal answer is to be happy.

On this, I think, everyone agrees - everyone seeks a happy life.

The differences come when considering the scope of 'life'.

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The three main variables are:

1. Time-scale - short-term versus long-term

There are trade-offs between being happy immediately and being as happy as possible overall, across life; between the immediate certainty of here-and-now happiness by doing exactly what you want, and deferring happiness now - or accepting suffering - as an investment in building less-certain but potentially greater happiness later.


2. Mortal life versus post-mortal life

The modern secular person is concerned only by happiness during mortal life, but most religious people are concerned with happiness across a life which extends beyond mortality. Therefore the scope of a happy life varies in duration between a finite (but uncertain) number of hours, days or decades; up to some greater unit than mortality, which varies between religions and extends up to infinity.


3. Personal happiness versus the happiness of a larger unit

There is a wide variation in the understanding of that unit whose happiness is to be pursued and maximized. At one extreme it is just me - the individual; but beyond that there are many increasingly larger units of all believers; the family, tribe, nation; all humans, the living world - potentially up to the whole existing universe.

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If it is assumed that the desire for a happiness is intrinsic and universal, this scheme can be used to classify all religions (whether private or public) in terms of whether the aimed-at happiness is now or later, for mortal life or beyond, and just for me or some larger group.

Both the modern secular hedonist and the devout Christian seek a happy, but the differences in attitudes and behaviour may be vast - not because they conceptualize happiness differently, but because they perceive reality differently; and therefore conceptualize the scope of happiness and the scope of life differently.

If you see 'life' as ending in death, and only concerning your-self, then a strategy of maximizing happiness leads to quite different results from a person who sees 'life' as extending beyond death and encompassing others people - past, present and/or future.

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All people are the same insofar as they all want to be happy, their aim is to have a happy life; and differences between people can be reduced to differences in the perceived nature of reality. 

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[Note: Differences between people 'can be' reduced to differences in perceived nature of reality - and this is enlightening in some ways; but this analysis (this kind of analysis) is necessarily a reduction. Meaning that much is left-out by it. To put it mildly.]