Monday, April 23, 2007

Blogging Again

It's been a little over a week since my laptop's keyboard had an unfortunate run-in with a glass of port, which has since kept me from blogging. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a wireless keyboard and mouse that seems to have solved the problem, but it doesn't change the fact that it's time to purchase a new computer.

This will be the first time that I've purchased a computer since 1999. I'm currently on my third Compaq, which is the most recent in a line of Compaqs that had a tendency to fail catastrophically in a way that was conducive to receiving a new computer under warranty. I'm not sure what warranty coverage, if any, this Compaq still has, but I'm willing to bet that it doesn't apply to accidental port spills.

While I may have found the least expensive way to secure full health benefits*, Andrea has the best line in on low-cost computers. In a few short days, a new (to me) ThinkPad will arrive.

Here are some of the impressive features that the new computer will feature, relative to the Compaq:

- Computer will not briefly freeze approximately every 7 seconds.

- The music produced by playing compact discs will exceed the noise produced by the CD spinning in the drive.

- The computer's fan will no longer wheeze to life at random intervals and shudder hard enough to vibrate an entire bookshelf.

- The battery will last longer than 0.001 seconds.

- Computer's screen will not lock in place, forcing me to choose between never ever closing the screen again and shattering the screen's hinges.

- Internet will no longer stop working when computer comes out of hibernation, when wireless peripheral becomes too hot to touch, or when attempts are made to access the Internet.


* As far as I've been able to determine, the least expensive way to secure full health care is to take a 1/2 credit correspondence course from a university, and then opt into the student health plan. You get a full year worth of prescription, health and dental coverage for $600, and that includes the cost of the course. Score.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

On Happiness

I just read a really good article about the link between material wealth and happiness.

The crux of the argument is that it's changes to our life situation that we respond to with either happinesor sadness, rather than the life situation itself. Based on my foray into the psychology of rational choice and decision making, there are a number of situations where that's actually the case. For the math geeks, it's the "delta" that causes the reaction.

This makes a certain amount of sense sense, particularly from the material side of the equation. After all, it's not like we're a thousand times as happy as people who live in under-developed nations, despite having over a thousand times as much wealth. Nor are the wealthiest people in Canada 100 (or 1000) times as happy than their poorer counterparts.

However, I don't buy the argument that it's only the change that matters. We also rate our happiness based on our relative achievements (or assets), as compared to those around us. That is to say that someone with $100 to spend when everyone else has $5 is more apt to be happy than someone with $200 who's surrounded by people spending $500.

This may serve to highlight the dark underbelly of the Internet and globalization. Whereas once you could be the best storytellers (or singer, or musician) in your town and make a decent living, now that role is increasingly reserved for a few talented storytellers (or etc.) whose work can be exported around the globe with ease.

In short, all the "small ponds" that the relatively "big fish" used to enjoy inhabiting are now flooding together. For a business-based example, think about all the corner stores that Walmart's put under over the years.

In many ways, our emotions are like compass needles that tell us where we should be going. The compass points towards food when we're hungry and towards bed when we're sleepy. If the needle always pointed towards happy, then we'd pretty much be stuck in the same place, doing the same thing.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we'd probably not still be around. After having outfitted our caves with a few pelts and some mutton, we would've just stayed there forever. That's fine in the short term, but tends to be problematic when the cave floods and the snows arrive. Hence, we have that urge to move ever forwards in our quest towards a better life.

One of the most interesting facts about the human brain is that our mental fuctions are highly localized. That is to say that if you were to lose 10% of your brain, you would not become 10% dumber. Instead, you would lose whatever abilities that 10% was previously responsible for. So, you might lose the ability to control your aggressive emotions or make new memories or tie your shoes or put together simple shapes to make complex objections or any one of thousands of other potential consequences.

All that is to say that our brain is broken down into many semi-separate parts, which all have a specific job to do. This includes the sections related to happiness and sadness. So, in the pursuit of happiness, one should avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket.

Whereas we soon grow complacent with the hardwoodedness of our floors or the number of horses under our hoods that high-powered jobs made possible, we should perhaps ask ourselves if our extra hours wouldn't be better spent improving our relationships with friends and family, reading good books, helping those in need, pursuing unique hobbies that will fulfill our sense of creativity and achievement, and so forth.

In essense, I'm proposing a theory of multiple happinesses (that's so not a word) to stand alongside the theory of multiple intelligences. I'm not even sure what all of these different happinesses are, but I would wager that each have a different half-life, different triggers, and degrade if different ways. So, while the change ("delta") may affect material happiness, I'm willing to wager it doesn't affect social happiness in the same way.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that they fell into the following groups:

- Basic needs happiness: "Happy to be warm and full."
- Social happiness: "Happy to have family and friends."
- Romantic happiness: "Happy to be in love."
- Competitive happiness: "Happy to be number one."
- Creative happiness: "Happy to be creating something new."
- Material happiness: "Happy to have nice things."
- Altruistic happiness: "Happy to make a difference in others' lives."

I could see some arguments for certain mergers (ie. overlap between material and basic needs, social and romance), but overall I think this covers all the bases. Bottom line, your overall happiness depends upon addressing each different type of happiness, and cannot be addressed by focussing on a single form of fulfilment.

I'm interested in what people think about this. Please, post a comment if you're so inclined.

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