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Zero Sum Happiness - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Zero Sum Happiness
Bah. I have harrock's cold. (But I cannot complain about this too much, as it will make him think it's his fault and that's just silly. Plus there's the whole in sickness and in health thing, which pretty much requires some sickness.)

Saw A Man of No Importance this afternoon, and it came with the Bonus Feature of question-and-answer with Terrence McNally. Tirinian even got to ask a question, about (rephrasing) whether happy endings are a more likely convention in musical adaptations than in the things from which they were adapted, and McNally seemed almost defensive (again rephrasing) - it wasn't an oversentimental happy ending! There was a cost to the people involved!

That got me thinking, later - it's like he was saying, it wasn't really a happy ending, because it was zero sum. Alfie ended up happier than in the movie, but the other characters ended up less happy. It wasn't a higher net happiness, just a higher minimum happiness.


I don't think I believe happiness is zero sum, in general, but I do think that there's a constant choice between the end points of "do things which make you happy, even if it makes other people unhappy" and "do things that make other people happy, even if it makes you unhappy." I don't think you can make these decisions in a vacuum, either - it's all about communities, small and large.

A community (whether that be a partnership or a larger social group) needs to behave in a way (through the behavior of its members) as to increase the total happiness of the community; a community which does not do so will fall apart. Now, a community can be robust enough that it can survive having some members who are overall happiness sinks rather than sources - and any community of reasonable size probably will have some - but as long as most people are happiness sources it works out.

So what does this mean for me, as an individual community member? It's a guideline for my total behavior, not any single action. Single actions are good if they increase total community happiness (even if they don't increase my personal happiness), and actions are okay if they decrease community happiness (presumably to increase my personal happiness), only if my overall contribution is still positive. (And if the only way I can increase the community happiness overall is to decrease my happiness overall, then this is a community I should not be in any longer).

Now all I need is a happiness quantometer.

Current Mood: sick sick

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