Bovine Free State Times

The BFST is a centrist arena for the slaughtering of sacred cows. Its purpose is to use satire to make clear the absurdity of many facets of the world that we live in. It exists to spread the memes of cheerful nihilism, which Lucky Strike believes is the only rational way to approach life on Earth. Email us abuse and/or suggestions at: bfstblog@gmail.com

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Location: New Zealand

A bipedal primate whose cognitive capacities are insuffient to answer the questions that are generated by life on Earth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

HAPPINESS: OFTEN IMPLIED, SELDOM UNDERSTOOD

Try telling a computer how to be happy. It will fail to succeed in this task: even if it understood what you were asking it to do, it would have no idea how to actually do it. This situation is quite similar to the one we humans find ourselves in: we want to be happy, but have very little idea about how to achieve this. We're given an almost incomprehensible task and have to discover for ourselves how to complete it.

Our condition is not endured without some obvious clues. Everyone with greater intelligence than a mildly retarded vegetable understands that not eating or sleeping will result in seriously decreased happiness, as will massive physical injury. For the 99.99% of the population who don't find themselves in this pitiful position, the way upward is much murkier.

Psychology can act as a very dim candle in this very thick fog. An investigation of the research into what creates human happiness will find two items scoring at or near the top of the lists of the most important factors: good relations with friends and family. Increased wealth is an important factor for the poor, but amongst those in the middle class or higher, the correlation between increased wealth and increased happiness is almost insignificant. People seem to be dimly aware of this fact: everyone seems to know someone who is rich but not particularly happy. I'd be willing to bet that most of these wealthy unfortunates had poor relations with their friends and family.

Western (but not only Western) society puts a high emphasis on material wealth, but not an especially high value on good relations with your nearest and dearest. Economists and politicans battle and debate in the public arena, figuring out ways to squeeze as much productivity as possible out of the workers and the infrastructure, but seldom is happiness mentioned. Economic data is tabulated, analysed, crunched and processed, but who keeps track of how many times you went to the cinema with friends in the past year? Or how many times you called your parents? And why is this data uncollected?

Or more practically, why do we continue to work 40-hour weeks, when we could produce as much in 35 hours now as we could in 40 hours back in 1995? Were we not wealthy enough then? How wealthy do we have to be before we decide that these five extra hours a week with friends and family are worth more than the money earned from spending them at the office or the factory?

I don't believe that the citizens of New Zealand in the parallel universe where they work 35 hours a week might lie on their deathbeds thinking "Damn. I wish I'd spent five more hours a week at work instead of with the people I love."

I believe the answer lies with the nature of government. Governments understand economics, but they don't really understand happiness. Happiness is very hard to measure and quantify, unlike economics. Therefore, their action and new ideas are generally in the area of economics, not happiness. The politicians would have to watch New Zealand look worse and worse in the area of Easily Measurable Information, as our GDP per capita shrank by around 12.5%. They would have to endure the humiliation of representing a bunch of lazy buggers. Foreign politicians would turn their noses up at these Antipodeans, as our power and influence in the world, based as these things are on economic output, declined. And if there's one thing politicians can't abide, it's a decline in influence and power. And I think that's where the answer to why we work so damn much can be found.

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