Although there may at least initially appear to be something inconsistent in being happy with one's life at one time and being sad about one's life at another time even though nothing has changed with respect to one's life, provided that one is not happy and sad about one's life in the same respect, there is no paradox--neither a logical paradox nor a paradox of rationality--in such a case. For it is plausible that there could be aspects of one's life about which one had reason to be happy and other aspects of one's life about which one had reason to be sad, and so, depending on which aspects of one's life one focused, one could be happy with one's life at one time and then sad about one's life at a different time, even though nothing had changed in one's life between the times in question. While there is no logical contradiction here, however, such a situation could suggest that one hasn't fully integrated one's attitudes towards the various aspects of one's life. I am inclined to think that the persistence of such opposed attitudes reveals ambivalence about one's life, ambivalence of the sort that can only be resolved by reflecting on one's life and trying to integrate its different aspects into a whole. Such ambivalence does not, in my opinion, manifest any irrationality, and although I am inclined to think that ambivalence is natural and perhaps even maybe the human condition, it may nevertheless be symptomatic of some deeper dissatisfaction with one's life as a whole which thereby merits attention.
What a wonderful question! You are right about there being a long tradition of sage advise on moderating desire. There is an excellent review of this tradition in the west along with some very insightful observations in the book Emotion and Peace of Mind by Richard Sorabji (Oxford University Press, 2002). He considers philosophical projects of moderating desires and the more radical projects of seeking the complete eradication of passion/desire. Not all philosophers have cautioned us about acting on passion; Pascal, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others seem rather immoderate in their advice and lives. But in any case, I suggest that the case for moderation goes hand in glove with the case for the virtue of integrity and freedom. Having sufficient self-mastery and self-understanding to know when one's anger is way out of proportion to the event at hand seems essential for personal integrity. Similarly, one may lose one's ability to think freely and deliberately about one's action if one is consumed with a passionate, but blind lust or jealousy or an unchecked seemingly limitless desire for drink and drugs, and so on. So, I suggest the good of moderation is as important today as in the teaching of the ancient Greco-Roman moral philosophers. In any case, check out Sorabji's fascination book. Good wishes, CT
Here's one way to respond. If one were to suppose, with Kant, that human dignity is intinsically valuable, and that lying to another--even if that lie would promote the other's happiness, say by sparing that person a harsh and painful truth--does not respect that person' dignity, by failing to--in Kant' terminology--treat that person as an end-in-itself worthy of respect--then one might therefore conclude that one has a duty to tell others the truth, and, since, again according to Kant, duty does not admit of exceptions, one cannot compromise that duty in any cae whatsoever, regardless of the consequences of so doing.
Of course, this response presupposes some very strong claims about the nature of human beings and the significance of duty. Implicit, too, is the assumption that morality is more intrinsically valuable than happiness. This is not to say that Kant, or a Kantian, wouldn't recognize the significance of promoting the happiness of others--if I remember correctly, Kant does so, explicitly, in Groundwork 1--but rather that the demands of duty, for Kant, take precedence over promoting the happiness of others.
If, by contrast, one took the maximization of happiness as the basis for deciding which acts are permissible, one might have reason to tell a lie in order to promote the happiness of another. (Although it's not clear that in the case under consideration, even a utilitarian who takes as her ultimate end the maximization of happiness would endorse lying. Her reasons for so doing, of course, would differ significantly from that of the Kantian, and, I must confess that I find the Kantian approach more intuitively attractive than other alternatives.)
I'm not sure that the goal of procreation trumps all others for human beings, so I can't accept your premise here. But I'm afraid that the world is in fact such that there are certain things that are beyond our powers that have an enormous impact on our "quality of life." I understand that it grinds against our need to feel in control, but I think a person who lives in abject poverty and can do next to nothing to help his or her family and friends, is more poorly positioned to lead a full life, than someone born in better circumstances. And if having friends is an important element of a good life, and I think it is , then being good looking is probably an asset. Of course, a person who relied on this quality too much might not develop sufficient depth to develop powerful relations but that is another issue.
This interesting thought experiment and associated questions deserves a substantial response. Alas, for now, I can only suggest that you read Robert Nozick's discussion of happiness and the "pleasure machine" thought experiment, a nice discussion of which was offered in the New York Times by David Sosa here.
Yes, Buddhism suggests that we need to detach ourselves from our cravings and anxieties in order to escape from our suffering. The practice of meditation is designed to help with this process. By engaging in the focused breathing or other methods of meditation, you begin to learn to control the mind's tendency to wander and obsess. Instructions for a pretty simple type of meditation can be found here. But like any other practice, it is best learned from an expert and by repetition.
One might also argue that the practice of philosophical thinking in general can help one overcome our transient worries and anxieties. By carefully reflecting on whether these worries are rational and on how one can best address them, one can reinterpret them in a way that should dampen the emotional reaction to them. Here, reading the Stoics might help. I also just read Ecclesiastes (from the Old Testament) for the first time, and enjoyed it. While it has a depressing edge to it, Solomon also argues that the best we can do to live a good life is to love one another, work hard at something we enjoy, find pleasure in this love and work, and make the most of our limited time on earth.
Other panelists might have more suggestions. I hope this helps.
You are looking for a job that satisfies your three criteria (1) you love it (2) you can devote yourself to it and (3) you get rich. This isn't a mathematical puzzle with a definite answer; just like your search for the perfect mate, it may or may not exist i.e. is is contingent on the jobs available to you.
Obviously you are putting a good deal of effort into your search, and I wish you good luck. It might be helpful to read a basic book on figuring out what career is right for you (like What Color is your Parachute?). But perhaps you have tried this already. Here are some further ideas.
You may not have met your perfect job yet because there is no job that satisfies your three criteria. One option then is to create your own job (find a niche and be self employed). Another option is to relax some of your criteria. "Getting rich" is overrated as a source of happiness (see recent work by Daniel Kahnemann, described in the NYTimes this week, which suggestions that about $75K per household, happiness does not increase). Some people are more fulfilled by the combination of a job and hobbies (or more than one job); perhaps the second criterion could be weakened to "you can partially devote yourself to it." Some people have a single mission, others have multiple (one is not inherently better than another).
I don't think you need give up the first criterion i.e. that you love it (so long as you aren't unrealistic about love--but it sounds like you have a realistic view of romantic love, so perhaps you have a realistic view of love of work also).
I think you are right to take issue with your friend. On his or her account, the only person in the world who can legitimately complain is the person who is worst off in the world. Of course, we should be grateful for many things in life - but life is also filled with a great deal of sadness and pain - and we would be better off if we could share our pain and sorrow together rather than to have to listen to the blather that "it could be worse." And it will be worse someday. The fifth acts is almost always bloody and degrading.
I can't think of any uniquely philosophical answer to this one. Does it follow from the fact that 9999 people out 10000 would prefer to lose a pinkie rather than their eye sight imply that there is more pain in the latter than in the former? But then what would we say to that one person who wanted to hold on to her pinkie? That she was wrong to choose her finger over her sight. That she made a misjudgment about pain? I don't think so. There does seem to be something intrinsically subjective about these judgments. Might we be able to make them inter-subjective? Not sure.
I know that there are people in psycho-physics working on scaling issues. Linda Bartoshuk is doing some brilliant research in this area. There is a profile of her work in the June 18 issue of Science.
Thanks for your very well put and honest sigh of a reflection. It does sound as though you are bored and detached. You say that it is hard to care - which is right to suggest that caring is an activity-- not a feeling that washes over. Could you make stronger efforts to care, to get involved? I've often found that Pascal was right - going through the motions can lead to authentic feelings.
I'm in the same time territory and sometimes I think that there is nothing to look forward to - nothing good at least - just losing people I feel as though I can't live without, the body breaking down, not being taken seriously, the nursing home. I think it is a scary period. Not that this makes any difference, but it has also struck me how much being in the present, in America at least, depends upon having a future, a dream. It is as though for us, no tomorrow means no today. Sad. And at a certain point our future does in fact become pretty narrow and, well, terrifying.
I just try to care - to be as kind as I can, to soften my spirit, but this approach has been something that I have gotten from yoga, not from western philosophy. Indeed, I think that the Socrates guild has encouraged us to think that there is no wisdom in the body and movement. And sometimes just moving the body - taking long walks will move the spirit. I would try that when the great numbness comes over you. all the best, Gordon