Universal Ethics > Research > Happiness > Measuring > In Individuals

Happiness within one person

Each person has motivators built into them, and it is the satisfaction of those motivators over time that produces happiness. The person experiences happiness as a general feeling of wellbeing. So the person has a real sense of whether he (or she) is happy or unhappy, that he can express. However, it is be difficult for the person to explain exactly how happy he is, or why.

It is the nature of humans that much of what goes on in the mind is subconscious. A simple example of that is recognizing a person by looking at their face. At a conscious level, the person just looks and knows who it is. But we know from development of artificial intelligence that the processing required to recognize an object from a picture is extremely complex. That complexity is not evident to the conscious mind, which receives only the result.

The process of measuring things is also hidden from the conscious mind. For example, if you ask a person to touch a beaker of water and then tell you the temperature of the water, they will have difficulty to give you an accurate answer. The reason is that the mind does not include a system of measures that it rates things on, in order for the person to give a numeric answer. He (or she) could tell you if it is very hot, hot, warm, cool, or cold. But if the temperature was, for example, 27 degrees Celsius, they couldn't tell you that.

Nevertheless, the mind can make relative measurements, by measuring one thing against a reference. So, for example, if you give the person two beakers of water of slightly different temperatures, they can hold each and tell you which is warmer.

Despite this problem, there are ways to deal with it. In order to plan activities that lead one to a happier state, here are some methods to use:

Approximate Absolute Measurement

As in the example of measuring temperature, a person can express a level of satisfaction for any motivator on an approximate scale, such as a scale of 1 to 5. Or, to differentiate between undesirable and desirable results, one might use a scale from -3 to +3.

That is the method built-into the Pathways Planner app, except that it uses "traffic lights" to express the level. For example, if a person was to rate whether their satisfaction from having good food to eat, they could rate it as follows:




Suppose a person is provided with a grocery cart filled with food, which is to be their sole supply of food for a week. Then the person it asked to rate how much satisfaction they will get from eating it. Likely they could apply one of the above ratings.

Now, instead of just one cart, give them two to choose between. Again ask them to rate the satisfaction they would get from each cart, on the above scale. If there is a big difference in the contents of the carts, perhaps they would be rated differently, which would make it easy to pick between them. But what if the rating is about the same (eg: green)? Will the person be able to choose?

The answer is that probably he (or she) could, by proceeding as follows...

Comparative Measurement with Adjustment over Time

Because a person can make comparisons more easily than absolute measurements, there is a good chance he can imagine what it will be like to eat the food from each, and to decide which he will like best.

If not, the next strategy to determine a relative rating would be to eat the food from each cart. On the first week eat the food of the first cart, and on the second week eat the food of the second one. If the person notices no difference in satisfaction by that method, the difference is so small as to be negligible, at least insofar as the person can tell from his own senses.

Most people would not conduct an experiment of this sort, but they will make gradual changes over time. For example, a person might buy the same groceries that they usually get, but occasionally try adding some new different foods to the cart to try them out. They may also vary the amount they buy if they find that they didn't buy enough.

In other words, the person avoids "over-planning" what they will buy. They may plan ahead enough to earn money to buy food, and they may plan to buy groceries, and they may even keep an inventory at home of foods they regularly eat. But they will not pre-define the content of their shopping cart weeks or months in advance.

One must also keep in mind also that the need can vary. A person's desire for food can change if they undertake a lot of exercise, for example. This can also be true of other motivators. So if a person plans ahead, they need to allow for some flexibility.

Use a surrogate measure

Another approach to solving the problem is to use an alternate measure. In the case of food, we know that the body evaluates the situation based on whether the food provides adequate energy (because the lack of that causes a sensation of hunger). The body also tests the food via taste and smell. So, one could provide alternate measures, for example, by testing the energy content of food and measuring it accurately according to calorie or kilojoule ratings.

With some experimentation one could determine how much energy content is necessary to sustain a given person with their typical weekly activities. One could also measure things that the human body doesn't detect very well, such as nutrition.

By this means, one might develop a formula that would take a combination of these measures to rate any given "basket of food" into the coloured indicators, in order to predict the level of satisfaction for the person (red, yellow, blue, green...), and moreover to give a more precise comparison between them.

Measurement across motivators

Each person has a limited amount of time each week, and they have to decide how to spend that time to satisfy motivators. How much is to be spent satisfying their need for food, how much for developing or sustaining friendship, how much for enjoying recreational or sporting activity, etc? And how shall they allocate their money across these things?

If you want to calculate an answer to that, you would need to be able to determine the overall satisfaction from different motivators, in order to determine which "package" would yield the most happiness over time.

That's not so easy to do precisely. We can't do a relative measurement between satisfaction of hunger and satisfaction of friendship, for example, so we are back to using the approximate measures of the "traffic lights" for each motivator.

Worse yet, we have the problem that the "traffic light" scores don't add. A person's overall happiness is not equal to the sum of scores that you might assign for each motivational satisfaction.

To illustrate, let's do an evaluation of a person's satisfaction of hunger plus a person's satisfaction of friendship and love

Let's assume that he is a real gourmet and he loves trying different kinds of foods. He buys two or three small shopping carts of food to fill his pantry. Each week he plans multiple delicious dishes and he rates each one of them in the "ecstacy" category (double-green). Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

It might be good, but only to a limit. He enjoys eating, but once he reaches the maximum satisfaction for that motivator, gorging himself with more food won't help. If he goes too far, he might make himself sick, or become obese (which has its own problems).

Now let's try to add on this person's satisfaction from friendship or love. For this example, we'll assume this person is extremely lonely. As he looks forward to his upcoming week of lonleiness, and he rates his "friendship vs loneliness" score as a double-red (misery). That's only one double-red item to look forward to, but with multiple double-greens from delicious meals planned for that same week, he should be happy overall, right?

Not likely!

Loneliness is psychological pain, and it can be just as real as physical pain. People with extreme loneliness have been known to kill themselves, as the only way they can find to escape it.

When a person is in extreme pain, it is like alarm bells going off in their mind. It distracts them from everything else they might want to do, so it becomes really difficult to enjoy anything. Consequently, one double-red for a person can outweigh all the greens and double-green satisfactions in their plan.

So he probably wouldn't enjoy the gourmet food at all, or only barely. He may still eat (otherwise that motivator would drop into the red level too), but more importantly he needs to cure his loneliness.

Recognizing that satisfactions "don't add up", could a person develop a formula to express his overall happiness based on satisfaction of his various motivators? Perhaps, but it would be complex. It would require some conditional logic, to match what is going on in the sub-conscious of the mind. In particular, if a double-red status is present, overall happiness would be closer to the minimum of the motivational scores than to the sum of them.

The difficulty here is that the subconscious mind is a "black box". We don't know exactly how it derives a sense of happiness. So any formula we might devise for a person would only be an approximation.

In practice a person will not attempt to measure happiness. To do so would be a frustrating experience, and that frustration would be counterproductive to happiness! Instead, the person will simply live their life and make occasional adjustments, as they notice that some things tend to make them feel happier. So, if a person is feeling lonely, perhaps they devote more time to doing things with friends or family, and cut back on solo activities. Or maybe they seek out activities where they may have a chance of making new friends

Therefore, the details of how the person can best use their time and money cannot be planned far in advance. The person may need to plan to ensure they will be able to buy food, and leave time for friendship (as examples). But for the distant future the plan would only have goals, leaving flexibility to decide the details as each moment arrives.

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