is a website, where we're trying to present our view on certain popular aspects like the need for privacy, problem of discrimination, immigration, or platforms moderation vs freedom of speech. We want each article to be rooted in some basic values and axioms. We have recently started and here is a link to our first article, which is on happiness and which is a foundation for further articles.


Origins of Happiness

We may only expect that as with everything else, evolution is to blame. Evolution means survival of the fittest and in the current world it seems that strong, effective societies are the fittest entities. That would lead us to a presumption that our happiness was formed in such a way to support an effective society. For example being kind to other people seems to have a strong positive correlation with happiness, but it also allows a group of people to work together much more efficiently. Similarly with morality, conscience, or the desire to be useful, or the importance of relations. We have law and police to enforce some basic socially acceptable behaviours, but that surely would not be enough without the bottom-up force of people trying to be decent to each other. On a related note, we should mention that as the strength of a state grows as compared with the strength of a single person, that bottom-up kindness becomes less applicable, especially in a totalitarian states, where there is no freedom left to a person, so also there is no space for any kindness or unkindness. If we reach that point, then our happiness will no longer play any role in evolution and may disappear as a whole concept, even in our subjective perception of it.


A Difficult Start

It is disproportionately difficult to take the first steps in self-reflection. And once that process starts, it becomes much easier to make progress, reason about our own lives and intentionally improve over time. That creates a situation where some people get entirely isolated from this process, not even knowing that they could improve their lives, or not even realising that they are in fact unhappy, even though they really are. They would be seen as angry, or unsocial due to their nature. Typically, these individuals would attribute this state to external factors, like their specific life situation, unhelpful colleagues and relatives, or dishonest politicians. Sometimes, they may even hold the conviction that everyone is plotting against them, which in turn makes them an easy target for manipulation. It is a difficult problem. Leonard Cohen sung once: "Those who earnestly are lost are lost and lost again". To address these affected individuals, a whole domain of "painkillers" has been invented - solutions targeted at providing short-term relief, like positive affirmations, redirecting negative thoughts to the external environment, or ignoring problems by diverting attention to activities like watching TV or playing endless video games. Despite offering instantaneous alleviation, this approach is doing us a disservice as it further conceals the real causes. The only hope we can imagine now is a cultural shift, where self-reflection becomes more common, almost an obvious topic.

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The "Origins of Happiness" excerpt had rather a lot of ill-founded statements and obviously invalid (and/or very grossly misstated) arguments for them. I didn't read much further into the next excerpt before downvoting.

I certainly didn't click through to the site as I don't expect the author chose the worst sections to quote, so I expect the rest is at least as bad.

Ordinarily I would just downvote silently and move on, since there was just too much to unpack for a constructive discussion on improvements. However, in this case the author specifically noted the downvotes and asked for comments. I certainly won't give a complete coverage of what I found objectionable, but here's a very brief list of just the first few that occurred to me while reading:

  • How does evolution go backward in time and downward in scope from fitness of current societies, to evolution of happiness in humans at least tens of thousands of years ago (and almost certainly millions of years ago in pre-humans)?
  • The argument jumps between happiness and kindness with just a passing mention of "correlation". If kindness is the relevant factor for evolutionary fitness (disregarding the first objection), why should it be correlated at all with happiness? If you're trying to blame happiness on evolution, it's not enough to say that there is a correlation, you have to provide a mechanism by which evolution caused the correlation.
  • Where is the evidence that people with less kindness necessarily form less effective societies that fail to survive?
  • Large states extinguishing both kindness and happiness is just stated as a fact. Where is the evidence?

... and so on. On reading more deeply and carefully, I found only more problems and none of the original issues I had were resolved.

Thank you very much for the in-depth comment, it is indeed very helpful for me to hear. Let me try to address your points:
- "How does evolution go backward in time..." - I don't think it does. Let me try to explain the mechanism:

(1) groups of people, whether families, tribes, villages and then larger ones have existed for pretty much as long as human species (even down to pre-humans). We called it a "state", as it is the current incantation, but generally speaking a system of cooperating groups of people has perhaps always been stronger than individual people, hence I think it did have as much impact on human evolution as individual fitness;
(2) individual people's traits are evolutionally encouraged partially directly (how well people are progressing in their own society) and partially indirectly (via their society - how well their society is doing as compared with other societies) and the latter part plays a role in choosing such individual traits which are helpful for the state;
(3) states are currently the strongest actors, which means that nowadays they dictate the rules of further evolution in many aspects;
(4) happiness (which is explained earlier in the article) is strongly connected with a goal function of individual, which means that it drives which behaviours are displayed by an individual (those behaviours which bring happiness) and conversely, which behaviours are not displayed even though they could give that individual advantage over their peers within society (e.g. cheating, lying - assuming that they are undetected)

To summarise, we think that the social traits have always been a crucial fitness factor of the groups and via them, indirectly also a crucial fitness factor of individuals, while happiness (as the goal function) is necessary to give incentive to those social traits.

The above reasoning is a general expectation of evolution behaviour, which can be mitigated, by many factors, e.g. emigration to name just one.

- "The argument jumps between happiness and kindness..." - kindness is an example of such a trait which is expected to allow a society to function more efficiently than one consisting of unkind individuals. This is only an expectation (or our own observation) and is not meant to be a definitive claim, rather a hypothesis, or prediction. I think the reasoning from above point does include the answer to what sort of mechanism would cause kindness to become a crucial fitness factor of an individual (assuming that kind citizens really make society work better).

- "Where is the evidence that people with less kindness necessarily form less effective societies that fail to survive?" - completely agree, there is none in this article. It is a hypothesis, which we would expect to see only from intuitive observation, but it would be a very interesting area to dive into. To be fair, kindness was only used here as an example to reason about what might happen to traits which are helpful to build effective societies.

- "Large states extinguishing both kindness and happiness is just stated as a fact. Where is the evidence?" - please note that we didn't say "large states", but "totalitarian states" and there is a fundamental difference. From large states we might only expect large power, but the story with totalitarian states is more complicated. An individual has a certain degree of freedom, where they can be either helpful or unhelpful to the fitness of their society. That means, that society which has only useful citizens is stronger than one where all of its citizens try to cheat on it. However, with time, the society can evolve in many different directions - one particularly bothering is totalitarian state, which does everything it can to limit the freedom of an individual. Once that freedom is limited, the state is resistant to a citizen trying to be dishonest - they are immediately brought back to order. That in turn means, that the old mechanisms which generated usefulness to the state are no longer needed. And as it happens, that old mechanism which generated usefulness was an individual's desire to be useful. That desire will no longer be needed in a totalitarian state. The more we look into that, the more similar desires become less and less relevant, as generally, the concept of a human choice was removed. That would mean, that the role of happiness in a totalitarian state would be diminished. Please note, that I don't mean that a state wouldn't care for citizen's happiness, but I mean that the whole concept of happiness (understood as a goal function of an individual) would be less relevant.

As for the evidence - you are right that there is none in this article. This is because we are making a hypothesis - something that stems from studying theory of systems, the mechanisms of evolution of societies and forming anticipations, rather than an empirical study, e.g. surveys in totalitarian vs non-totalitarian states, which, if we could get our hand on, would surely be very interesting, but we expect it to be hard to gather.

"... and so on" - if you could please provide more arguments, I'd be genuinely very grateful, as the ones you listed so far were very useful for me.

Thank you.

We expected that there may be some minor things that people will not like about the article, but the current negative karma suggests that we have misjudged it. Since this is our first article, it would be especially helpful to hear your comments.

One note, the first sentence of your quoted excerpt was ungrammatical: "We may only expect that as with everything else, it is the evolution to blame." 

"The evolution" doesn't really make sense here. A grammatically correct sentence would just say " with everything else, evolution is to blame". 

Thank you! I've updated the article.