Is it better to be a Socrates disatisfied or a satisfied Homer Simpson?

In another of the New York Times editorials on “Happy Days,” Paul Bloom (Yale Psychology Professor and author of Descartes Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human) ponders on the famous passage from Chapter 2 of Mill’s Utilitarianism: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates disatisfied than a fool satisfied.”  The article starts as follows:

Is it better to be a happy pig or sad Socrates? How should one choose between happiness and other values, such as wisdom, morality, and piety? You have an angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other — who do you listen to?

One of the insights of modern happiness research is that these are questions we often don’t have to answer. While happiness can clash with other ideals, the surprising finding is how often they go together. One usually doesn’t have to decide, for instance, whether to be happy or to be good. We are constituted so that simple acts of kindness, such as giving to charity or expressing gratitude, have a positive effect on our long-term moods. The key to the happy life, it seems, is the good life, a life with sustained relationships, challenging work, and connections to community. You can be happy Socrates.

But what about short-term pleasures, like eating cake, drinking beer, or having sex? Here there is often a clash. These feel good, but if your long-term goals have to do with dieting, sobriety or chastity, you might regret them later. So there is a different dilemma: Do you live a good and happy life or do you satisfy your immediate appetites? Is it better to be Happy Socrates or Happy Homer Simpson? …

Read the rest of it here.

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