Tuesday 11 April 2023

Happiness Workshop: Emotion, Mood, or Character Trait?

On 5th and 6th January 2023, Alex Grzankowski hosted a hybrid two-day workshop at the University of Birkbeck entitled, Happiness: Emotion, Mood, or Character Trait. 


In the first talk, “Can we be delusional and happy?”, I (Lisa Bortolotti, University of Birmingham) focused on the relationship between being happy and having delusional beliefs. We tend to assume that living in a delusional world is bad epistemically because we lack contact with reality. And it is bad psychologically because believing the delusions can make us feel disconnected and excluded, and depending on the content of the delusion, also stressed and anxious.

But things are more complicated than this: delusions can be a response to a crisis that bring about a paralysis of agency, and can help us overcome overwhelming negative emotions, so believing a delusion may lead to temporary happiness. However, the temporary happiness is a stepping stone towards a more permanent state of happiness where connection with the world resumes.

The second talk, “Affective experiences of higher values”, was by Jonathan Mitchell (Cardiff University) and addressed Scheler’s understanding of happiness as having affective experiences that are of higher value. Higher values: (1) endure (we expect emotions to be lasting and make a demand on the future); (2) afford satisfaction (that’s about the depth of contentment we feel); and (3) apply to everyone or at least not be relative to the person having the experience. Happiness seems to have a structure that corresponds to persistent, blissful contentment that is not just a subjective feeling but something more objective. So, happiness can be occasioned in reception to affective experiences with positive higher values.

Jonathan Mitchell

Alex Grzankowski (Birkbeck) and Mark Textor (King’s College London) presented the last talk of the first day, on “Happiness is a Mood”, where they discuss what it means to be happy at a time (different from being a happy person or from having a happy life). The talk was inspired by the poem “The Orange” by Wendy Cope and the view defended was that happiness at a time is a mood, a disposition to enjoy things.

Alex Grzankowski

Being happy at a time does not require being happy about anything in particular: although we may be happy of something (Argentina winning the World Cup), sometimes we just feel happy with no object or no cause. Moods are dispositions to act in a certain way and are defused and they have a universal content (“everything is cheerful”). So, for me to be happy at a time t, I need to have a property P at t, and having that property makes it possible for me at t to take pleasure in things I am aware of and having that property feels good to me.

Kicking off the second day of the Happiness workshop, MM McCabe (King’s College London) presented a talk entitled “Choosing Lives”, focusing on eudaimonia. The first question is what eudaimonia is: Is it living well? Is it flourishing? Is it doing well? Another question is how eudaimonia is achieved. One important aspect of eudaimonia is the association of happiness with virtue. What are we to do if we want to be happy? We need to do what the virtuous person would do. As a maxim, though, this answer seems empty. We need to do what works for us, and thus choose the best life we can live. 

MM McCabe

But what are lives? Are they merely larger in scope than acts, series of acts considered together? Not really. Can we evaluate the goodness of a life while the life is being lived? Do we have to wait until death before making a judgement? After a very interesting discussion of what it is to try things out and learn from mistakes, and a detailed analysis of Greek philosophers’ views (especially Plato and Aristotle), McCabe argues that a life to be chosen, a meaningful life, involves both emotional and cognitive components. Eudaimonia consists in a complex of emotion and cognition.

Dan Haybron

Dan Haybron (St Louis University) was the second speaker, presenting on "Happiness and Human Agency". He argued that moods and emotions are person-level control mechanisms: they help us direct out lives independent of reason. Haybron used a notion of happiness that is compatible with how the term is used on contemporary psychology, something that matters but does not necessarily relate to values. There are three dominant philosophical theories of happiness: life satisfaction, hedonism, and emotional state theory. Haybron develops an emotional state theory of happiness where emotional states are not fully rational states but engage with rational processes.

As part of an account of happiness as an emotional state theory, Haybron argues that happiness is not one thing. Haybron mentioned three key dimensions of wellbeing relevant information: security, opportunity, success. There are also three dimensions of emotional wellbeing: attunement (tranquillity), engagement (vitality), endorsement (feeling happy). On the basis of this, Haybron formulated and is testing a new scale  of emotional wellbeing with six main factors (cheerfulness, vitality, serenity, sadness, lethargy, stress) which tracks positive and negative aspects.

Ultimately, on Haybron's view, happiness is not a choice so we are not responsible for it and should not be praised or blamed for it, but it is strongly tied to agency, being something that we do and reflects who we are.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated.