You are here

A Slightly Mathematical Derivation of Happiness

What is your purpose? Do you do anything that's important to society? Do you do anything that's important to you? Think about happiness. What makes you happy? Does happiness just happen to you? I doubt that and what I'm about to propose supports that it does not. If you have ever been happy in your life, and then at some point later you did reach a state of happiness, then happiness didn't just 'happen'. Either someone did something to you or for you, or you did something yourself that lead either directly or indirectly to your happiness. I think most people, if you ask them, can tell you exactly what makes them happy (e.g. their wife, children, money, etc.) Most people can also tell you the things they do that make them unhappy. So happiness and unhappiness are states of being that are generated by actions, whether they be your boss, a tornado, or your children. So happiness, can be supported by a list of actions, or verbs. It would suggest that happiness, generated by actions, is really the purpose of all human behavior.

Donald Davidson has, I think, put together a great definition of an action. First I will separate actions between those that are intentional and those that are not. In a Kantian sense, unintentional actions are the mechanical processes of the world, driven by physics. Intentional actions are those driven by conscious beings with free will. (To be completely fair Donaldson distinguishes between intended consequences and unintended consequences which in economics are called externalities. This is different from the Kantian distinction. They are complementary because they were defined for different reasons.) Davidson proposes that a person performs an action with the expection that it will produce a specific result. In other words if you desire more light (to use his example) you would flip the light switch, not stand on your head. So as human beings we conduct all sorts of activities with the expectation that they will produce results favorable to us. The reason is the 'favorable results' part. We are constantly behaving in such a manner as to make our environment more conducive to our own pleasure (Donaldson recognizes the similarity to Freud's pleasure principle).

It seems your mind is merely an input/output apparatus capable of processing (reason and imagination) information from the present (senses) and past (memory) to produce judgments about the environment. These judgments are the justification for action. Actions are the results, the output of the brain, if you will. That's its speciality. So Davidson proposed that all activities are conducted, not for the sake of producing the result, but because there is a reason we need the result. If it's dark I need it to be lighter. So I flip the switch with the expectation that my activity will increase the light level. Therefore, all behavior stems from the need or desire to the requests of the brain. We still don't know why the brain does what it does, merely that it's trying to take care of its needs (e.g. survival, sex, entertainment).

But a human being is not a simple automaton. We are multi-faceted and complicated. We have many needs and desires. We exist in a very complicated and abstract world where we must simultaneously solve for many needs. Our behavior must reflect these needs and our brain must manage to work with the limited resources of the environment (i.e. materials, time) to satisfy all of those needs. If for some reason you are unable, then the person will be unsatisfied (or worse dead). And if the person is unsatisfied (or dead) then it would seem that happiness is unachievable.

So in other words, action is a function of the environment, knowledge and reason: action(environment, knowledge, reason). Happiness can then be represented as a function of actions: happiness(actions). In effect our bottlenecks would be limited resources and the performance of our brain (i.e. its ability to produce behaviors that lead to success in the environment). If you could calculate the value of your actions then you could pick the best action to take: action=positive benefits-negative benefits-externalities.

Now if your purpose is the things you do, then how is it someone can be without purpose? Or that they don't know their purpose? I think it is more likely that they aren't content with what their purpose is. If I bag groceries for a living and it's not doing it for me, then I should aspire for a greater purpose. In other words a new purpose or a new set of actions. The greatest purpose is the set of actions with the greatest advantage to you.

In conclusion, happiness is being content with your environment, but action shapes your environment. If purpose is your actions, in other words 'what you do', then purpose is directly linked to your happiness. A person that is unhappy needs to find a greater purpose. If life is unfulfilling, then you are not realizing your potential. But because all actions are intentional, and humans behave rationally at least as far as maximizing their position through their action that is their purpose for a particular reason, then the reason and the suppositions it is founded on are inefficient or false.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <table> <tr> <td> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <pre> <dd> <img> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
5 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.