A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics

What is happiness?  I think anyone who has ever given the question serious thought realizes that there is no one simple answer.

Click though for the full version.

via A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics.

I would say that Amencia’s first example is defective though.  If the man hooked up to the machine is watching terrible things but isn’t enjoying it while it’s happening, then the machine isn’t successful in its purported ability to “to perfectly simulate any feeling” (emphasis mine).

The rest of the dialog does resonate with me, particularly the part about being motivated to do things without necessarily weighing your predicted state of resulting happiness or unhappiness.  For example, many times in my life, I’ve been compelled to understand things, even when I knew that the answer would probably not make me happy, such as understanding how small and inconsequential humanity appears to be to the overall workings of the universe.  You could argue that the satisfaction in knowledge is a type of happiness, albeit an uncomfortable one, but this just shows how malleable and slippery the concept of happiness actually is.

7 thoughts on “A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics

  1. I think as individuals, we can’t really grasp a distinct concept of happiness; it’s just some sort of marketing trope that we are persuaded we should either aspire to, or have daily actualise within us, all the while not really knowing what it means. We conflate happiness with joy, fun, pleasure, gratification and ease of mind; so at best it becomes a mish-mash of ideas as you suggest in your article. At a deeper level, we do understand what contentedness is, and that this is what we truly need as a means of fulfilment. Though once again, we do not know how to approach it; and as no one is selling a curative in any case, we return to the imagery presented to us as a means of attaining our elusive happiness.

    Hariod Brawn.


  2. Hi ‘SAP’, although I didn’t make it half-way through on my first attempt, I revisited(and read to the end) after reading:

    ‘Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life’, Baumeister et al 2013

    Click to access SomeKeyDifferencesHappyLifeMeaningfulLife_2012.pdf

    … and found it made more sense though, like I find much of philosophy itself, philosophical humor may also be a headache-inducer for me 🙂

    Somewhat related, I think I remember something in a post or maybe a comment of yours regarding eudaimonia so just in case:

    ‘Neural basis for eudaimonic well-being discovered’


    1. Thanks amanimal. Interesting links, as always. On the second one, I’m not sure there’s as much agreement about eudaimonia as they assume. It seems like they’re measuring for a version of eudaimonia they defined, but maybe I’m just being overly skeptical.


      1. No, you’re absolutely right, they are. I don’t know much more about it but apparently the Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-Being are widely used and possibly something of an “industry standard”(not the term I want to use but …).

        With something as subjective as “psychological well-being” there’s no doubt differing opinions as to what it consists of.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the cartoon points to a higher kind of happiness that we assume cannot be chemically synthesized, a happiness that comes from concepts of justice and love, for example, which trump the mere pleasure that we assume happens when the chemicals are dispensed. I think the assumption is that the chemical pleasure is something akin to taking some powerful drug. That’s what I imagine anyway.

    But if this is the case, you’re right, the example relies on an assumed imperfection in the simulation. If we assumed the chemical simulation was more than just a drug-like experience, that it actually simulated higher-concept happiness, then would the person sitting in the chair actually see the horrendous things happening before his eyes? Or would he hallucinate?

    I’d say he’d have to hallucinate if we are to assume a perfect simulation, otherwise he’d have such a wild contradiction of his senses that he’d be forced to admit that the happiness he feels contradicts reality, which would make him unhappy. If he’s a rational person, he’d feel that he’d lost his mind, having worse than no external affirmation of his emotions. Unless, of course, we chemically took away his reason as well. Ignorance is bliss?

    Ew. Back to the future, 1984.


    1. I guess it depends on just what is meant by perfectly simulating happiness. If it allows me to watch those horrific events and actually feel horror at any level, then I’d argue that simulation wasn’t perfect. A perfect simulation would involve reprogramming the brain so that those events were inherently happy ones. In a “perfect” simulation, the idea that the victim would later feel horror and agony would be inconceivable to them in the midst of the simulation itself. If, as further contemplated in the comic, the victim is killed before the simulation is over, he should die happy.


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