Episode 3 - The Future of Happiness (Transcription)
Mattimore: Welcome to hence the future podcast. I'm Mattimore Cronin.
Justin: And I'm Justin Clark.
Mattimore: And today we're talkin about the future of Happiness. So first, let's start with a definition - what is happiness? I love the definition that Tim Urban puts forth. He's the creator of the Wait, But Why blog and he defines happiness as equaling reality minus expectations and to me that's such a beautiful equation because it rings so true. You can have a great reality objectively. You can be a multi-millionaire who has a giant yacht giant, house, nice family loving wife everything that you would objectively associate with happiness.
Often times these people are anxious depressed. They they want any bigger house. They want an even bigger yacht. They're not satisfied with what they have. Maybe they have a drinking problem and they get caught in the classic thirst trap of always wanting more and always comparing themselves to the next hear of people in society and then you take someone on the complete opposite side of the spectrum someone like, let's say, Gandhi who only had three possessions to his name in the whole world. He had his cloak his staff and his sandals and even though he had so little as far as material possessions, he was happy because he was filled with a profound sense. Of self-worth and purpose and he was near starvation drinking nothing but lemon water for weeks and months on end as part of his protests, but he had happiness because he knew that his life had value and I think that really gets to the core of of what it means to be happy is having some level of enlightenment where your expectations are in line with what's really important.
And also having a profound sense of self-worth and having meaningful relationships and I think these aspects really get at the heart of what it means to be happy.
Justin: Right and it's definitely a multi-faceted issue too and I like the the definition put forth by Tim Urban and I kind of viewed this problem a little differently and looked at Maslow's hierarchy of needs and just to give a quick overview to those that aren't familiar with it; the base layer of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is the physiological needs. So do you get the nutrition you need? Do you feel like you're actually healthier and are you actually healthy and then the layer above that is safety needs. So are you emotionally safe? Are you physically safe. And then the next layer above that is loving and belongingness needs. So this is all about relationships and then above that you have esteem needs. So how do you actually feel about the work you do and do you feel valued and then finally the last layer is self-actualization needs and this is actually feeling like you have a sense enlightenment I know there's a spectrum of Enlightenment like Gandhi, for example that Mattimore was just talkin about he was probably on the very high end of Enlightenment,
Mattimore: Right and it is difficult to be happy. If you don't have those lower needs met first. And that was something I noticed when I was looking at the survey of the happiest and unhappiest countries in the world.
So there are clear commonalities between the happiest countries and also between the unhappiest countries respectively. So on the happiest country side, we see countries like Denmark and Norway lots of Nordic countries, and if you look at the social policies there everyone has their basic needs taking care of.
So, every citizen in Denmark gets free healthcare, free education, they actually get paid to go to college and so all they really need to focus on is following their dreams and achieving their life goals. And because they have this safety net, they don't have to worry about staying in some job that they hate or doing things just for the sake of survival. Whereas if you look at the complete opposite side of the spectrum. You see countries like Syria, Togo, Tanzania. These are countries where the lowest level of needs are not being that it's a daily struggle to survive. You might be shot you might be bombed. You might just not have enough food on the table. You might not be able to provide the medicine that you're sick child needs. And it's really tough to be happy in those sort of environments. And another commonality is they have lots of corruption. They have government corruption. The elections are sham, and so it's hard for them to make progress.
Justin: Yeah. One of the sad things too is there are very few countries that offer a complete safety net. Even for the very lowest level which is some sort of Universal Health Care and I mean even here in the US you have that need met for some people that can afford good health insurance. But you also have a lot of people that can't and I know there was an attempt to offer universal health insurance and there were issues with that because it was almost like a Band-Aid to a very broken system already. But there are a lot of countries that could use help even at this very basic level.
Mattimore: So I guess one question just thinking about the future is do we think that the world is going to go more in the direction of Denmark and Norway where all the basic needs are met for everyone in society, or is it going to go more the direction of Syria, Toga, Tanzania where the needs are not being met, corruption is higher and to me if you look at the actual net results you see things like: actually really positive trends over the long period of time so we have the lowest infant mortality rates that we've ever had. We have the lowest crime rates that we ever have had. We are seeing lower poverty rates than we've ever had. So and this was a lot of what Steven Pinker talked about in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. He argues that we're actually living in the best time possible to be alive. There's no better time to be alive than now and part of the reason that people don't realize that and they think that things are terrible is because. The news industry is so focused on the outrage culture because that's what gets clicks, focusing on all of the murders that happened is standard practice for any news channel, but no one talks about the murders that didn't happen.
Justin: One of the other interesting things about this issue is even even if we're living in the best time. It doesn't necessarily mean that people are the happiest because if you look at some indigenous tribal cultures, I know there have been several studies of tribes down in the Amazon where they are just living Blissful lives, even though it's a difficult and they have a lack of technology and lack of understanding of how the modern world really works they're actually some of the happiest people and in this is a this is just an interesting case study when looking at happiness because it's not necessarily about technology. It's about what is your purpose? What are the relationships you have and in tribal tribal cultures? Everybody is extremely close, you know, everybody you have ritualistic practices that kind of for males. Maybe they go out on a on an individual hunt the the elders tell them to go bring back a jaguar and they go out with nothing, but I don't know a spear and they have to come back alive with a jaguar or don't come back at all. And this is just one of those huge growing experiences and Sebastian Junger wrote a book called tribe. That was all about this sort of happiness.
Mattimore: Yeah, Yuval know her or he's written about that to where he argues that nomadic cultures were ctually a lot happier than agricultural cultures and even industrial cultures and it's only until recently that we've actually surpassed the level of quality of life that we used to have when we were nomadic and I think this gets back to the whole reality minus expectations equals happiness because when you're just all pretty much on the same plane as far as income, you all share whatever you get you go out in the morning. You hunt you come back at like 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Once you've killed something and then you just sit around the fire. You cook you laugh you eat. That's a pretty good life compared to toiling away all day every day on your farm and eating only grains and breaking your back and not having as close relationships and looking at the king who is taking so much wealth compared to what you get and you see that comparison and it makes you unhappy relative to them. So I think that the income inequality is another really big issue.
Justin: Right and that kind of makes people feel psychologically unsafe and that's still one of the base layers of the hierarchy of needs too
Mattimore: Rrite every indicator we have right now, especially in the west is that income inequality is growing at a rapid clip and so because the media and social media they tend to focus on the very top celebrities and the top business people and we like to heroize these key members of society. That's who we tend to compare ourselves to you know, girls tend to compare themselves to the cover models on magazines not to the checkout clerk working at CVS. So income inequality is going to be a big challenge for us achieving greater happiness in the future.
Justin: What do you think might be one of the solutions to this?
Mattimore: So to me the the best solution is actually following the the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in Buddhism. So just to sort of summarize it the first Noble Truth is that all life is suffering or all life is enduring the second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by three things by greed and desire which is represented by a rooster by ignorance or delusion, which is represented by a pig and by hatred or destructive tendencies, which is represented by a snake. So, you can probably imagine people like this in your own lives people who are too greedy to desirous people who are just ignorant and delusional, where racists comes to mind. And people who just are hateful and destructive Tendencies to me this like like people on the left who just demonize anyone on the right, like that's what comes to mind for me for those types of people.
Justin: And vice versa.
Mattimore: Yeah, it's on all sides, but. Everyone has certain elements of those three Tendencies and if we can just get rid of those that's the first step and that's actually gets that the third Noble Truth, which is that to get rid of suffering, you need to get rid of attachment. So part of why Gandhi strategy of only having three possessions in the world. I'm just drinking lemon water and living a very simple life and focusing on his purpose. That actually led to greater happiness than always wanting the next cool tech gadget the bigger better house all of that. And then the fourth Noble Truth is to get rid of these attachments, you must follow the middle way. Buddhism actually does not advocate for giving up every possession that you own and living like an ascetic. It actually advocates for a middle path. So don't be too frugal but also don't be to spendful, don't be overly lustful, but also don't be a complete celibate, you know, so it's like with every aspect of life just take the middle path is the best way forward. So the question that comes to mind next is will people in the future be able to follow the middle path and with with all that they face as far as technology and income inequality and the other challenges we've talked about.
Justin: Yeah, that's a hard question. You almost always find the truth somewhere in the middle, but it seems like with the trends right now people are jumping to the extremes and not the middle path. People at least at least from what I see here in the US and I know it's different in some other countries, but everything is black or white there's no middle ground. And I think that's that's a huge failing. Maybe maybe this is partly due to Media, but I think it's also partly due to human nature to just jump to an extreme and not look at a more nuanced approach to whatever it is and in this case, happiness.
Mattimore: So now let's talk about the worst case the best case and the most likely case. As it relates to overall human happiness in the next 20 to 40 years. What do you think is going to be the worst case scenario or maybe a couple different worst-case scenarios?
Justin: Yeah. So I I kind of thought of two. The first one that I thought of is a system where there's no support structure like a UBI which would take care of income whenever automation is really prevalent and we lose a vast majority of jobs. And then also another support structure might be health care and there are other support structures like mental health and whole bunch of other things a lot of this has to do with the culture of wherever you live, but f there are no support structures and people start to lose even their jobs, it seems like we might just have a completely lost generation and I know people talk about the the useless class of people that might be a little too old to be retrained to do anything else and we also probably need to detach from the notion that work is our life's meaning, but that's that's a whole other podcast that will be coming up eventually. That would be one worst case where there's no support structure everyone feels disenfranchised and it's just an overall bad situation. Kind of like the the movie or the book 1984 that might be sort of where everything goes even though there are kind of support structures, you still feel psychologically unsafe because you're always being watched.
Mattimore: Yeah, I could see those two scenarios. To me, I think if we give people a support structure you can get that can go really wrong. And if you don't give people a support structure that can also go really wrong. Although the latter might be more of a danger. So if we give people a support structure, but then let's say it's like sort of like ready player one where there's the Oasis and everyone just spends all their time in the Oasis, which is basically a virtual reality game where they can derive their sense of self-worth where they can make connections with people, you don't need to have any money to do this. Your basic needs are taken care of as far as your. Food and basic education through VR all that kind of stuff, but then it leads to this profound feeling of emptiness because you're not having your real human to human connections. Everything feels somewhat fictional and I think that is one way the pendulum could swing the other way is which actually seems like the trend we're going towards now is not having Universal Basic Income or any sort of safety net. And if that happens, it would be like Occupy Wall Street times a million because Occupy Wall Street was the 99% protesting against the one percent which I've heard from one author calls it the war on normal people which are basically people that don't have an equity stake in a company that is going to succeed in the next 20 to 40 years, and that would just create protests riots and the good the only good thing about it swinging in that direction is that it would trigger such a big social upheaval that there would likely be some political reaction assuming our Democratic systems are still in place to where we would provide said support structure. So those are the two worst case scenarios in my mind. So let's talk about. The best-case scenario now. What is the best case scenario for happiness? Is it just everyone walking around like the Buddh?, is a technology advancing so much that it disappears that we are able to have profound human connections? Almost like going back to what we were in our nomadic days, but having the benefit of the safety net as well with all of the modern amenities that we enjoy.
Justin: Yeah, that's actually kind of what I described as the best case scenario that there are all the support structures in place and the purpose of these support structures would be to increase the total amount of Freedom humans have and we kind of touched on this in the Future of Intelligence podcast, but if everyone was free to do whatever they want and also encouraged because that's important then anyone can do whatever it is that makes them happy because no two people have the same definition of Happiness.
Mattimore: Right other advancements that are that could play a role here our advancements in psychological medication or you know anti-depression medicine has helped so many people that if we can really understand the neurochemistry of what makes certain people depressed without changing who they are fundamentally in any way that would make them not want to take that medication. That's another way that we can advance and have greater human happiness. But we also want to be careful in that regard because one example that I forget who it was that said this but one potential really bad possibility with A.I. Is if we program A.I. To optimize for happiness and they basically plug us all into a machine where they just flood our brain with dopamine and serotonin and we basically just go into this blissful psychedelic trip that's completely separate from The Real World for the rest of our lives. Yes, that is sort of happiness and pleasure but it's not the higher pleasures and it's not the higher happiness that enlightened people like the Buddha had so I think to get that really ideal best case scenario it requires people to be enlightened and for reality to be better. So people's expectations to be in line and for reality to be better and I think that is possible with how widespread information is now. You know people who can now read the great works of all the great minds throughout history and having access to education and every other safety net is very possible in the next 20 to 40 years.
Justin: Yeah, and this is all assuming the information is actually correct because there's a lot I mean everyone knows who's living today knows that there's a war on information and there's good information and there's bad information and it's not even just the 24-hour news cycle. That's an issue here. It's even. Reaching into scientific publications, like what is a healthy diet? Nobody actually knows but a lot of people like to claim certain things like veganism or even the carnivore diet now is purported to be one of the healthiest diets you can eat. It's it's just a very nuanced thing to find correct information and hopefully in the future there are artificial intelligence applications that can actually tell us what the correct information is for us individually because it might be different from person to person.
Mattimore: Right, part of what gives me hope when I look at our own generation Millennials and the younger generation Gen Zs, it seems like we really value experiences more than material wealth, which is a really good step in the right direction. Millennials nowadays are willing to spend money on yoga retreats or backpacking throughout southeast Asia or going to some lecture with the person that they really admire whose book they they love but they're not as willing to spend on things like Fine China. Some people I know like they their parents cannot give their China way to their kids because they just simply don't want it. They don't give a shit they'd rather they'd rather just get a track and spend out on some amazing experience that they can live with for the rest of their lives and they can fill them with happiness every time they remember it.
So I feel pretty optimistic in this regard, especially given how likely it is that we are going to see some sort of universal basic income either before it gets really bad or after it gets really bad in response to that. You know, Occupy Wall Street times a million. So as far as the most likely scenario because that's what we should discuss now I actually think the likely scenario is that human happiness is going to go down up until we have this Safety Net in place. And then it's going to go up to the highest levels we've ever had once we figure out how to give everyone what they need while still maximizing human freedom and human safety and those other needs that Justin talked about.
Justin: Yeah, so what I was thinking for the likely scenario is actually not too different from where we are now because even with a UBI or Universal Basic Income, I think people might still have issues finding happiness and that's just one aspect of happiness. And it's one of the lower levels of happiness.
I still think there's an aspect of human nature here that will make people expect more than what reality is and in general there will be some extremely happy people and some extremely unhappy people. I hope it's swings more towards the extremely happy people and I hope there are more people that go towards that end of the spectrum, but I see it probably remaining relatively constant because I don't see human nature changing fundamentally unless there are extreme changes in the culture of humanity really.
Mattimore: Right. I mean it's it's definitely human nature to always compare yourself to the tech CEO who's taking vacations on the moon and who's owning a bigger and bigger chunk of the world every day and there's always going to be those people at the very top who you're just like: "oh man if I only have that life", but if you're able to realize that that's not what makes you happy that what makes you happy is really the human to human connections and the feeling of self purpose in your own life that if you realize that that's what really drives stable happiness over time, then I think we can see a really great outcome. So I think now is a good time to talk about. How we can make people aware of the changes that're going to are going to happen as it relates to happiness how we can have people see them as opportunities and how we would like people to take action giving this information.
Justin: Okay. So one of the cool things that I think is happening right now, um, Is it sort of a point of contention among some people but I think it's really important and this is the fact that there are a lot of researchers focusing on the use of psychedelics to treat depression anxiety and even other forms of disease like PTSD, epilepsy. There's there's just a lot of stuff going into psychological health for people that are already well. It's almost like optimizing and the Psychedelic research was kind of shut down in the 60s, I believe and just now finally after 40, 50 years. People are actually starting to have the conversation again.
Mattimore: Right and I think part of the reason that psychedelics are so effective is that it makes you look at your life in a different way. You view your life in the lives of those around you through a new lens and that gives you some perspective on what makes you truly happy, what makes you truly sad and what you can do about it. So as far as being aware of the changes. I would first ask yourself. When are you the happiest happiest?
So what point in your life for the happiest? Maybe it's right now at this point in your life, and that's great. That's how both Justin and I feel that we keep getting happier the more that we learn in the more that we grow. But specifically when in what circumstances in your life, are you the happiest and for me it's when I'm living the most in the present.
When I'm at a concert and I'm totally wrapped up in the music and I'm feeling all the good vibes of all the people around me. That's that's when I'm the happiest. I'm the happiest also when I'm in a flow state of just doing really good work for a mission that I care about. That's what I'm the happiest. So, any sort of State like that where you really have that feeling of connection and that feeling of purpose and you're living in the present. To me, that's when you are the happiest you can be. But you don't always only need to be aware of what makes you happy. You also need to be aware of the trends that are taking place in the future.
Be aware that income inequality is going to increase in the next however many years and be aware that a lot of people will fall into the trap of comparing themselves to the people at the top highest level of society.
Justin: There's this really good book called Flow by Mikhali Csikszentmihalyi. Don't ask me to spell it but it's the book is called Flow the Psychology of Optimal Performance. And he talks about this study that he ran over the course of I think over a decade where he looked at when people feel the happiest and he was following people like janitors like mechanics and any sort of tradesmen and he found that some of these people were the happiest people in his entire study. Way happier than executives and people at in the 1% or even higher and this goes to show that it's not all about your job your socioeconomic status. It's about just being in the present and feeling in a state of flow and there are other ways to look at this then flow, this is just one example to show that it's not all about your socioeconomic status.
Mattimore: Yeah and part of the challenge and the modern way of living is that. We are so attached to our phones and technology that it's hard to be in those states of flow. When you constantly have notifications when your your boss, you know at all hours of the day is reaching out to you and you can never just be in your own space. So I think part of how we can all improve our state's of flow and our own happiness is by disconnecting certain times of the day and when we are doing really good work or when we're somewhere that we love to be like if you're at a play or if you're at a movie or a concert just put your phone away or put it in airplane mode so you can really live in the present.
As far as the opportunities of what's to come they're actually the flip side of technology is they're putting more and more features in technology that help you be mindful and help you be happy. So Apple in the latest worldwide developers conference. They came out with all of these features that help you track how much time you're spending in different apps and they can actually notify you to stop using an app if you've already gone over your daily limit. Similar to like calorie counting but more for like minute counting for how much time you're using in in these different apps and meditation apps; they might seem like an oxymoron, but they actually do have some very cool meditate guided meditations that you can just for five minutes a day. As soon as you wake up before you go to sleep or whatever works for you. You can just put in headphones close your eyes and just be mindful for five minutes. And I know Sam Harris is coming out with a meditation app. So I would say notice the opportunities of how technology can also help us be more Mindful and more happy. Personally I like to unplug for periods of time.
Justin: Yeah, and that's probably good for everybody honestly.
Mattimore: And so finally just take action is how we always end the podcast so take action in your own life to be happier. And I think the best way to sum it up is by following the middle way.
So whenever you're wondering what path you should take in life. So I think that's it for today's podcast. If you enjoyed it, you can rate and review the show on iTunes or wherever you may happen to be listening to the podcast. If you have questions for us or a topic that you'd like us to discuss you can go to our website Hence, The Future and enter a suggestion into our suggestion box.
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Mattimore and Justin