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Optimal Happiness


Techniques Happiness > Optimal Happiness

Maximizing the peak | Minimizing the lows | Raising the average | So what


What is the most effective strategy for being happy? You can raise the top, the bottom or the middle.

Maximizing the peak

Maximizing the peak happiness has two sub-strategies: staying high longer and making the peak experience higher still.

Staying high

One way to increase overall happiness is to stay happy longer. Once you get happy, find how you can stay happy. For example, if you like going to watch football, go early and leave late. Games on TV also work like this when they bracket the match with commentary, interviews with players and so on, hoping to stretch the enjoyment of their audience.

Some narcotics work this ways, for example preventing the reuptake of pleasure-related neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

Higher peak

It is the 'peak' experience that people often seek and remember, with intensity valued above duration. Immersion and risk-taking are two common strategies to increase peak happiness.

It is why skiers go down the faster black runs and drug addicts take hazardous concoctions of narcotics.

Sports TV also seeks to amplify the experience with enthusiastic commentators, close-ups of the action and so on.

A problem with this strategy is that the first high is often the best and subsequent highs are seldom as pleasurable. The key word is thus 'higher' and the person taking this strategy may seek every more hazardous ways stimulating themselves sufficiently.

Minimizing the lows

The problem with peak strategies is that our bodies tend to balance out the chemicals, and an intense high is likely to be followed by an intense low which is as painful as the high is pleasant. Manic depressives thrash against high and low boundaries and may need to take drugs that flatten the whole experience.

Maybe a better strategy is seeking to minimize unhappiness rather than to maximize happiness. As with happiness, there are two strategies:

Minimize duration

Depression and general unhappiness can be a trap. When you get unhappy, your demotivated state prevents you from climbing back out of the hole. And the longer you are in it, the harder it is to get out again.

A strategy here, then, is that when you become unhappy to find ways of reducing the period of unhappiness. When you are feeling unhappy somewhere, leave. If doing something makes you unhappy, do something else.

It can be good to cathartically wail and cry, temporarily increasing the depth of unhappiness so you can get it all over and done with, so you can move on. People who suppress expressing their negative feelings may well be unhappier for longer.

Reducing depth

Unhappiness and depression can be a spiral, as you fall into a deep 'slough of despond'.

As well as getting out sooner, depth of unhappiness can be reduced by such as reminding yourself that there are many whose lots in life are far worse than yours. You can also look up at the sky and realize that you are but a grain of sand in the infinite universe.

Raising the average

A kind of combination of the above and maybe an optimal strategy is to raise the overall average happiness. If you can be a happier person overall, maybe with not so many high points but with certainly less lower points then this can be a quite satisfactory arrangement.

In fact a state of serene tranquillity was highly prized by Epicurus along with many current philosophies and religions. If you can smooth out the bumps, with a gently increasing level of happiness, then perhaps you will be the envy of many of the great and the wise.

See also

Epicurean pleasure


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