Wisdom and happiness

As explained in the introduction, the ultimate goal of this book is to help us become wiser, meaning by wisdom the ability to meet our own needs and those of the others in a sustainable way.

This goal is based on the assumption that the satisfaction of a need causes an increase in pleasure or a decrease in pain in their various forms and, at the same time, contributes to the survival of the individual and the conservation of his species. Conversely, it is assumed that the frustration of a need causes an increase in pain or a decrease in pleasure and, at the same time, contributes to the illness or death of the individual and threatens the conservation of his species. It is also assumed that pleasure and pain are symptoms of the satisfaction or frustration of some needs.

In this book, I am not trying to prove the truth of this assumption, either because I do not believe I would be able to, or because it seems obvious to me in itself. Let’s take it, then, as an axiom that is not falsifiable (as Karl Popper would say). Therefore, if this assumption were invalidated, a large part of this book would prove to be unfounded and misleading.

Since writing has existed, media has abounded in recipes for being happy. After all, this book is also a recipe for happiness, this mysterious and subjective state of mind defined in the vaguest and arbitrary ways in both popular and more educated cultures. This is because happiness is not a scientific concept, and everything that is not scientific is to some extent arbitrary (but not necessarily false).

I would define the happiness of an individual as a habitual condition in which his primary needs are satisfied sufficiently before any frustration of them causes physical or psychological damage. By sufficient I mean to such an extent that the individual gladly accepts the life he/she leads and does not wish to change it structurally.

From this definition, I deduce that wisdom, being the capacity to satisfy needs, implies the knowledge of what causes happiness and what hinders it.

Let us ask ourselves then: what causes happiness, what hinders it?

I do not doubt that, given the general interdependence of human beings, happiness depends on the quality of social relationships, i.e. on how much these relationships satisfy the basic needs of the interacting persons, taking for granted that a human being cannot survive nor satisfy his needs without social interactions.

The wise person knows that a particular social relationship can contribute more or less to the happiness or unhappiness of the interacting parties, and knows why. This allows him to make the right choices in the sense of improving a relationship (to the extent that it can be improved) or to replace it with one that is more conducive to one’s own and others’ happiness.

The wise person lives in the present with an eye to the future and chooses every day whether to continue living as he usually does or to change something, especially concerning his relationships with others.

The wise person is always prepared for the next social interactions, knows one’s own needs and desires and those of the others (distinguishing the healthy from the sick ones), knows when to seek companionship or loneliness, knows how to present oneself to others, what to reveal and what to conceal, when to cooperate and when to compete, when to lead and when to follow, what to offer and what to ask for, what to give and what to take, what to accept and what to refuse.

Are you prepared in this sense?

Next chapter: The whole and the parts, chance and necessity.