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My happiness is better than yours (emotional relativism)

sdrawkcaB emaNsdrawkcaB emaN regular
edited October 2007 in Debate and/or Discourse
So, this has been making me think recently -- the idea of whether or not people's emotions are relatable. I guess it sort of corresponds to the argument over whether or not people are essentially the same or irreconcilably unique.

Let us assume, however, that any person discussed at least has their basic needs met, as the evidence does show that a lack of such necessities does negatively and significantly influence one's happiness.

Let's take a look at depression, for example. I've never personally experienced any kind of trauma in my life. No kind of abuse, no kind of physical assault, no kind of significant poverty -- nothing of that nature. I went to private school for six years, and I'm currently supported by my parents while I attend college. And yet I spent a year to a year-and-a-half of my life battling for my sanity daily, and spending a good amount of nights on my roof, trying to decide whether or not it was high enough to kill me if I jumped. Presumably, depression and contemplation of suicide is about as low as one can go, in terms of sadness (short of actual suicide, but then they can't report back to us). But what is my sadness compared to someone who's actually suffered trauma? Who's actually had a hard life? What about the person who becomes depressed and contemplates suicide because of abuse they suffered? Is my sadness less intense? Less valid?

If I were to place my depression on a happiness scale from 1-10 (10 being ecstatic joy, 1 being extreme depression), and put myself at a 2, and so does someone who was raped, is that because I simply don't know what a 2 really is? Or is my emotion just as intense, but because of my life experience, can be provoked by relatively tame causes (not having friends and reading too much Nietzsche). Are we experiencing the same emotion, just brought on by different causes? Or are we experiencing two completely different levels of depression?

We often imagine ourselves in the position of others, and exclaim things like "that would be worse than death." Being paralyzed is a good example -- people will often and without much thought declare that it is surely a fate worse than death. And yet the paralyzed don't go and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers. In fact, they tend to commit suicide in smaller proportion than the non-paralyzed population. We often forget, when contemplating such possiblities, that in a different situation, we would be shaped by that situation. Our frame of reference would be different. We would not be the exact same person feeling the exact same way we do now.

This seems to support the idea that perhaps people do feel the same kind of emotion, but one's frame of reference dictates what experiences will elicit what emotion. Perhaps then each peak and valley of emotion is equally valid and intense, but merely brought on by different events due to different frames of reference.

And yet it seems rather counter-intuitive and arrogant for me to assert that my cliche, white middle-class problems are as valid as people with what I instinctively want to call real problems.

This, though, is rather discouraging, as there seems to be an implication that I will never be able to fully understand or relate to someone who has experienced true happiness or sadness, and vice-versa.

We assume that the lives of others in other cultures are inferior to ours -- that they bring less happiness, and what happiness they have is meager compared to that we can experience as individuals in a free, capitalist, economically powerful nation.

It seems especially relevant in the context of globalization -- there is certainly debate as to whether or not the Third World can ever meaningfully "catch up" to the First World without a corresponding decrease in the material excess we enjoy in the First World. The idea being of course that we have merely pushed all the nasty externalities of commerce off on other nations -- they have not been erased from First World society, only transported. Thus, without sacrifice on the part of the First World, it would be impossible for the Third to truly achieve equality. Of course, this too is up for debate, but it seems to me that indeed the first world will at some point have to suffer for the rest of the world to benefit as we have from human advancement.

Many of us fear this, but is it reasonable? Are we merely poor predictors of our happiness? Are the troubles we experience in the first world as grevious as those experienced in the third (again, assuming basic needs are met)? If so -- if one set of troubles will always replace another, and people are essentially similar -- then it would truly not be so bad for the first world to make such a sacrifice, even at the expense of our First World culture.

And if there is one thing to be sure of, it is that such a transition, such an equalization would ensure that more people will have their basic needs met -- the one difference that results in a measurable effect on happiness.

And yet, while such a stance may be beneficial in the context of encouraging global economic equity, it challenges certain beliefs of ours -- for example, that freedom of religion will result in greater happiness, or that being middle-class will result in more happiness than merely having one's needs met.

Arugably, such hardships -- economic and cultural -- could lead to more focus on the present. Essentially, the argument being that when one is busy doing, there is no time to be anxious or depressed about what one might do. Candide might be an example of such an argument, in that by the end of the book, the characters are forced to toil, because even after the horrors and traumas they have been exposed to, a life of leisure is ultimately unsatisfying, and they must work to keep their minds occupied, for the sake of their contentedness.

I'm not really sure what my take on all of this is, or even that I've expressed it properly. Part of me wants to believe that ultimately I can relate to any other human being, that I share their experiences, that really, all walks of life have their hardships, and the only way to truly make onself happy is to focus on the present, and make the best of it -- to focus on outcomes is to set oneself up for disappointment. This appeals to me, for obvious reasons.

But on the other hand, intellectually, it seems disingenuous. A justification for my privileged life in the face of suffering elsewhere in the world. A presumption that I can understand the lives and feelings of others. A tool to rationalize the suffering that will (in my opinion) likely result in the First World when we can no longer sustain our system of exporting externalities.

So, uh, have at it, I guess.

sdrawkcaB emaN on

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    redxredx I(x)=2(x)+1 whole numbersRegistered User regular
    edited October 2007
    you know, here is the thing. All that shit, it's chemical. If you've got a lot of serotonin in your system, and your probably going to be feeling pretty happy. Have a lot of dopamine, probably feeling rather pleasant. Not to make it seem trivial or anything, but there is a physical component to emotions or at least how we experience them.

    Based on that, emotions really do have an upper and lower bound. You can only feel so shitty. Of course, that would also mean that the emo little kid is suffering emotionally as much as the starving kid in Africa. Which would explain an awful lot, as pathetic as that would be. It's not really behavior I believe should be reinforced by recognizing.

    redx on
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    djklaydjklay Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I think that emotions are only relative to yourself. I always had a theory during my depressions, that no matter how bad I felt, the only reason I felt this bad was because I knew how happy I could be. Without relative ups and downs I'm not so sure emotions have much meaning overall. To compare your emotions with someone else is an exercise in futility, there are too many outside factors when trying to compare someone's mood with yours. Sure there can be a ballpark, but say you're clinically depressed, feeling socially outcasted and you got no one, can you compare that with someone's mood who has to search for any food they can find, hope they get water and is always sick? Both may be miserable and want to give up but who feels worse? I don't think you can say, which would mean it's only relative to yourself really.

    djklay on
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    blizzard224blizzard224 Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I realise it may not be exactly what you were getting out, but it's what I connected with, I think you make a good point (assuming I haven't misunderstood and it is indeed one of the points you are trying to make) about just how invalidating it can be to be a depressed upper-middle class spoilt white-boy.

    My story is very similar to yours, I wouldn't say I was raised with a silver spoon, but I was given a beautiful childhood by two loving parents and everything I could ever want to be happy.... but as soon as I hit my teenage years, I basically wasn't. I'd put on this persona of the happiest brightest person you've ever met, the person I thought that i should be given my circumstances, my beautiful friends, my wonderful house, everything - and then I'd go home and drink a litre and a half of wine every second night just so I could sleep through the feeling of wanting to kill myself. I swear the only reason it never happened is because I couldn't bring myself to do it to the people around me. I basically felt that I had absolutly no right in the world to feel like this, as everything around me except me was perfect, I didn't want to be just another whiney middle class white boy, so as far as anybody knew, I wasn't. School was unsatisfying, I could pull A's and A+'s without even studying, friendships all felt... disconnected (the only real relationships I ever actually had were with my actual girlfriends, they were the people i came closest to actually confiding in as well) and no matter how much I tried, and how much I pretended, I don't think that back then I ever was truly happy even when I was aorund my family either.

    A lot of it, for me, came back to the fact that my life was (and still probably is too much) revolving around finding my 'soul mate' - my perfect partner. I dont' know why exaclty it's something that is so important to me, but it's basically, even now, all I really want out of my life. I don't think this is a particually healthy way of thinking, though maybe it only isn't so for me because I haven't, and probably won't for a long time, find that person. I'm a lot better now, i can enjoy myself around friends and will probably one day soon be able to fully be honest with some of them, I'm getting there, but I still have what I consider an unhealthy... core of my life, trying to find this one perfect person, the line of thought brings misery in it's path, so I avoid it generally, but I'm not always able too.

    To bring this back to the OP, the only point I've really made here on topic is the fact that feeling your emotions are not relativly as valid as others often only intensifies them.

    Anyway, I've produced a rambling couple of paragraphs that are only loosley connected to the OP, but sometimes it's nice to get these things written out, so I hope I haven't inconvenienced the thread too much. :P

    blizzard224 on
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    Raiden333Raiden333 Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    lots of stuff

    My god, that sums up how I've felt for the past couple years better than anything I've ever explained to anyone. I hope you're able to find your mate someday, because I know exactly what you mean (though I use pot instead of alcohol).

    Anyway, as for the topic at hand, it's hard to say. I would probably feel a lot better right now if I had never had a wonderful loving relationship back in high school, but I would have never experienced the relationship itself. I think getting the downs with the ups is worth it in the end.

    Raiden333 on
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    sdrawkcaB emaNsdrawkcaB emaN regular
    edited October 2007
    blizzard -- man, I know exactly what you mean. That's always been kind of a big thing for me, too. Maybe not the "soul-mate" bit, but definitely that desire for intense, reciprocated feeling invested in another person.

    I'm trying to break myself of that, because it makes me so outcome-oriented that I end up hanging way too much significance on single instances of failed attempts at relationships.

    Also, yeah, this is starting to drift pretty far off topic but hey, it's still interesting. :)

    sdrawkcaB emaN on
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    AibynAibyn Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    redx wrote: »
    you know, here is the thing. All that shit, it's chemical. If you've got a lot of serotonin in your system, and your probably going to be feeling pretty happy. Have a lot of dopamine, probably feeling rather pleasant. Not to make it seem trivial or anything, but there is a physical component to emotions or at least how we experience them.

    Based on that, emotions really do have an upper and lower bound. You can only feel so shitty. Of course, that would also mean that the emo little kid is suffering emotionally as much as the starving kid in Africa. Which would explain an awful lot, as pathetic as that would be. It's not really behavior I believe should be reinforced by recognizing.

    Aibyn on
    "Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil...prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun. Eat leaden death, demon..."

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    blizzard224blizzard224 Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    suilimeA wrote: »
    blizzard -- man, I know exactly what you mean. That's always been kind of a big thing for me, too. Maybe not the "soul-mate" bit, but definitely that desire for intense, reciprocated feeling invested in another person.

    I'm trying to break myself of that, because it makes me so outcome-oriented that I end up hanging way too much significance on single instances of failed attempts at relationships.

    Also, yeah, this is starting to drift pretty far off topic but hey, it's still interesting. :)

    Mm, I mean exaclty the same thing actually. I've taken to using the word soul mate just for lack of a better 1-word way to describe it - come to think of it I don't think I really even believe in a soul mate in the traditional sense, I think there's probably more than 1 person on this earth who can make me blissfully happy.

    At an age where a vast majority of people are looking for something pretty casual out of relationships, it makes it really hard to just have a normal one on one relationship. I can't help... trying to deduce whether this girl is someone who I can spend the rest of my life with, and while I'm pondering it I can actually have a pretty normal relationship. But if I reach the conclusion that they're not, I find myself unable to go on. No matter how much I try to convince myself that it's stupid and that I should just try and have fun in the now... no dice.

    Try breaking up to a 17 year old girl and offering the reason that you "can't imagine spending the my life with you". Dosn't go down particually well.

    It also has a way of making a relationship breakup particually devestating, and dont get me started on what it's like if they end it. =.=

    blizzard224 on
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    DodgeBlanDodgeBlan PSN: dodgeblanRegistered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Aibyn wrote: »
    redx wrote: »
    you know, here is the thing. All that shit, it's chemical. If you've got a lot of serotonin in your system, and your probably going to be feeling pretty happy. Have a lot of dopamine, probably feeling rather pleasant. Not to make it seem trivial or anything, but there is a physical component to emotions or at least how we experience them.

    Based on that, emotions really do have an upper and lower bound. You can only feel so shitty. Of course, that would also mean that the emo little kid is suffering emotionally as much as the starving kid in Africa. Which would explain an awful lot, as pathetic as that would be. It's not really behavior I believe should be reinforced by recognizing.


    I had no idea my emotions were totally random.

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    Low KeyLow Key Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    redx wrote: »
    you know, here is the thing. All that shit, it's chemical. If you've got a lot of serotonin in your system, and your probably going to be feeling pretty happy. Have a lot of dopamine, probably feeling rather pleasant. Not to make it seem trivial or anything, but there is a physical component to emotions or at least how we experience them.

    Based on that, emotions really do have an upper and lower bound. You can only feel so shitty. Of course, that would also mean that the emo little kid is suffering emotionally as much as the starving kid in Africa. Which would explain an awful lot, as pathetic as that would be. It's not really behavior I believe should be reinforced by recognizing.

    I don't think so. Base emotions are recognisably the result of simple neurochemical transfers. What we measure when we discuss a life's happiness and satisfaction is far more complicated. That depression can legitimately occur even in the absence of external causes is more than enough evidence to demonstrate that the mental products of neurochemical imbalance as compared to hardships and suffering can not be equated. Neither can they be completely separated.

    There are more complexities to the psychological state than we understand or can begin to describe.

    Low Key on
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    YumcakeYumcake Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I had a philisophical and moral dilemma that caused me a great deal of distress.

    How do you judge the morality of an action that would alter your ability to judge it?

    For example, a strict fundamentalist should loosen up and try new things and experiences...from the perspective of a more loosely defined moral base. The same change viewed from the previous state, the strict fundamalist would see loosening up as an erosion and a betrayal of their current moral base, i.e it's "wrong".

    So the same change viewed from the past and from the future has opposite conclusions. So then morality here is just depedent on the when of the action, not the what.

    However, this isn't a chicken and the egg scenario. Why would the fundamentalist loosen up in the first place? It's a betrayal of what he views as right and wrong. He's being advised to do what he knows to be wrong, like say, killing your mother. He should never change his morals in the first place, what else would define you if not your values?...Still, are his values correct? Are they superior? This leads to the next part:

    If he ponders the moral relativism from his side and the other for too long and weighs them both to be of equal value, he will end up in another famous philisophical lesson. A starving man has a delicious meal on one side, and an equally delicious meal on the other. If they're both just as good why chooce one over the other? The starving man dies trying to choose the superior selection. Obviously, either would be just as good if he would just settle on a decision and eat rather than starve on mental acrobatics.


    So the end result is, /don't screw with relativism too long/. Consider the options and choose, only spend time pondering the subject when the time spent has a productive return. It's unadulterated pragmatic advice, but at least a pragmatic philosophy gets shit done.

    Yumcake on
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    ViolentChemistryViolentChemistry __BANNED USERS regular
    edited October 2007
    DodgeBlan wrote: »
    Aibyn wrote: »
    redx wrote: »
    you know, here is the thing. All that shit, it's chemical. If you've got a lot of serotonin in your system, and your probably going to be feeling pretty happy. Have a lot of dopamine, probably feeling rather pleasant. Not to make it seem trivial or anything, but there is a physical component to emotions or at least how we experience them.

    Based on that, emotions really do have an upper and lower bound. You can only feel so shitty. Of course, that would also mean that the emo little kid is suffering emotionally as much as the starving kid in Africa. Which would explain an awful lot, as pathetic as that would be. It's not really behavior I believe should be reinforced by recognizing.


    I had no idea my emotions were totally random.

    What does this have to do with the quoted text, which incidentally makes no assertions as to the nature or lack of causal forces behind said chemicals?

    ViolentChemistry on
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    OboroOboro __BANNED USERS regular
    edited October 2007
    Barring exceptions of malevolence, we are not responsible for the emotions of anyone but ourselves. The people-pleaser yes-folk in our generation are just as bad as the sociopaths and misanthropes-- not in a sense of how they hurt other people (necessarily), but in how they hurt themselves.

    For some reason, first-world cultural indoctrination hammers guilt into kids' minds. A lot of teenagers and otherwise reach a point where they no longer feel they are entitled or allowed to feel how they do-- and because those feelings happen beyond their control-- it sets things off into a self-destructive loop. This is bad.

    You are entitled to your feelings, and no feeling-- no feeling-- is in of itself bad. Are you feeling suicidal? I sympathize, but I don't think it's a bad feeling. You are entitled to it, and it will be unfortunate if you act on it, but that feeling itself is innocuous. That feeling itself is just human.

    You are entitled to your actions, so long as they are conducted in a state of sanity and so long as you are willing to accept responsibility for the consequences. Does wearing your $200 outfits to school that didn't cost you a dime upset the rabble? You are responsible for your own emotions-- if the rabble being upset upsets you, then wear different clothes or pursue another solution. Don't, though, change a damn thing just because you want to please the rabble. You are not the rabble.

    You are entitled to what is given you, and you are entitled to give as you please, so long as you are-- again-- conducting this in a state of sanity and willing to accept foreseeable consequences.

    We've had a lot of threads like this in the past, and I've used a lot of words that sent those threads derailing: "foreseeable consequences", "responsibility", "entitled". This isn't a brief post, but it's meant to convey a worldview of appropriate brevity-- a brevity and pragmatism that, like the person above me suggested, means you just need to not consider a lot of this.

    Might that other person who is depressed have had a shit lot dealt him that you didn't? Well, how would it change things if he did? If he didn't? Would it make either of you feel better?

    When any person feels less than their best, shouldn't the prerogative be to feel better?

    Oboro on
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