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a note on the pursuit of happiness
august 16, 2009


Ok, let me take for granted the domain of positive psychology, a flourishing academic domain that orients psychology in light of interest in flourishing, in very specific senses.

In particular, character isn’t primarily a matter of normative exemplarity, rather a showing of excellent and admirable individuation, not primarily for direct emulation, but for fruitful influence of another’s own bearing, in light of being an inspiration (not to underplay exemplarity and humble teaching as part of one’s ethic of endless learning).

Positive psychology views issues relative to self-efficacy across one’s lifespan, bringing wisdom of aging well into youth and sustaining youthful creativity in aging better. Feeling for what happens is as important as cognition about what is felt. Emotional intelligence may express a reliabilism—intuition as light of reliable preference, epistemic and ethical—born of growing up well, idealizing an ever-well-growing life that is deliberately gardened in light of designs that are growing, too. Virtues of courage and compassion, empathy and altruism, belong to common lives, as well as to exemplars. Love belongs to our nature, when lived with self-interested fidelity to one’s humanity. Sustainable happiness isn’t a feeling, but a kind of engagement with the world of one’s life, and the life of one’s world. This is the kind of case I’ll gradually make, in my own way, with respect to positive psychology.

Moral philosopher Owen Flannigan endeavors to formalize Aristotle’s advocacy of eudaemonia (flourishing as the telos of ethical life), but in light of contemporary knowledge (practical and theoretical) exemplified by positive psychology, by sketching a domain of philosophical inquiry and endeavor he calls “eudaemonics,” via his recent book, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (MIT, 2007). In light of gaining an abiding sense of “joyful optimistic realism”—let me emphasize that: realism that is optimistic and joyfully lived—he sets out philosophically “to understand the nature, causes, and the constituents of well-being and to advance human flourishing”—teaching through inquiry, learning through living well, I would say. Another philosopher, Evan Thompson (whose Mind in Life, Harvard, 2007, I’ll discuss later) praises Flannigan’s project as “how ethics, brain science, philosophy of mind, and traditions of contemplative self-cultivation together can promote human flourishing and the search for meaning.” I read Flannigan’s book when it first came out. It certainly complements my own endeavors, but I mention it here as example, not influence, in issuing a promissory note about theory of flourishing.

The kind of flourishing I have in mind is no mere humanistic psychology to be given a philosophical correlate. My ambition is high and deliberately idealistic. Gaining durable high happiness is no common happiness like one usefully finds in the flourishing literature about happiness (which I’m eager to also seriously play with). A wholly fulfilling sense of one’s life isn’t possible without articulating its possibility, intently designing to gain the wholly possible and staying true to the virtue of one’s personal best.

In the self-esteeming reflections of solitude, are you easily serene? I am. There’s no way I’ll fully gain the broad sophistication I want, but gaining what I can makes me happy all the same, all the way, neverending. (When I die, I won’t know it’s ended; so there you are now, everlasting.)

Sensual, cultural, creative, aesthetic, intellectual—life with gracious love of uniqueness, variety, and complexity, living artfully “against” (with) required realism and prudence—that’s all I ask.





  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis