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I love Blue Mt. Dew. That combination of raspberry, ginger and massive amounts of sugar sets my mouth watering and my mind racing pleasurably towards smooth decision-making. I find that sugared-up, whether it be a placebo or otherwise a dopamine reward, I am able to focus much longer on generally unpleasant tasks, like math homework. I know this as empirically tested fact, because I spent the last month testing it.

You see, there’s a life-hack out there which directs us to smell incense while studying to associate that smell with the subject. When we take the test, we simply expose ourselves to that smell, and voila! an instant A. I took this to the next level. For a month and a half, three times a week, I drank a bottle of Blue Mt. Dew during math class. I perched my chin on the bottle and listened to the lecture, to focus on that sweet, nectary smell. I rewarded myself with an ice-cold sip every time I got an answer right. And you know what? It worked brilliantly. It worked so well that I should revise my previous statement completely: I used to love Mt. Dew. Now I associate it with math. I’ve had so much of the stuff that I hate it on that basis alone, and it’s association with math makes me hate math too. I look at an equation now and smell ginger, like i’m having a mild epileptic attack.

But I wasn’t going to let this stop me, so I arrived early for the midterm on Friday and stopped by the student store to complete my experiment. But you know, I go to a small, poor community college, and I had bought every single Blue Mt. Dew they had. They were out, and I took the test while nursing a Coca-Cola because I had addicted myself to massive amounts of sugar.

I told this later to several people and they all said the same thing, “Connor! That’s like something out of Seinfeld! The Big Bang Theory! Friends!” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s because I’m an idiot, and these things happen to idiots.” Because you know, when smart people experiment with their bodies, it’s usually not with unhealthy chemicals and the goal of getting out of studying for a math test. What was I thinking?

Which brings me to my next point: I wasn’t. In fact, I deliberately wasn’t thinking about the possible results of my experiment. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t this be cool if it worked?” If it had worked, I would never think on it again and move on to the next thing. Previously, I’ve done things like draw portraits of my professors while they lecture, which did not help me remember their lectures. I’ve said to myself: “If someone asks you to do something, say okay, I’ll do it later, to see if you remember later to do it.” I never got any chores done. Last month, I tied my shoes by looping the lace counter-clockwise around my finger, and then this month I tied them clock-wise. Why? To see if I could change my habits. What I did not try to do was actually change habits that matter.

While I carry one experiments with my life, I deliberately do not think of other experiments I could be doing. What if I did my homework right after school? What if I didn’t play videogames? What if I go to bed early, get up early, and get to work and school with minutes to spare, instead of a few breathless seconds? These experiments are certainly more important, and furthermore, it’s easy to see potential outcomes. I could have less stress, better sleep, more time for productive enterprises like blogging, and hey, let’s throw a girlfriend in there for good measure.

Those changes seem hard to carry out, but they’re also pretty easy to see. But I’m ready to take this thought experiment to the next level. What experiments, changes in my life, am I really not thinking about? What paradigms do I operate on, and which are negative for me? How about I appreciate my parents more, spend less money, or not even that. How about I achieve a more holistic perspective of human nature, or a deeper peace with my choices in life?

In Seinfeld’s final episode, the show was still about nothing. Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer; they just carry on shooting the shit, while bars close around them and the camera dolleys out for good. There was an odd romanticism in it, like it was where they truly belonged, and it seems that they are still there now, like statues of ogres in Tolkien’s woods. Me, I continue to experiment, scheme, plot for a better life and listen intently to Demetri Martin but I still don’t make changes. Like sitcom characters, I relegate the real issues to the background, in favor of mental gymnastics that distract me when I am the only audience to my own life. I almost wish there was a laugh track to keep me company, to show me when to just laugh at myself, to add meaning to empty gestures.

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Hold it! As my esteemed colleague Phoenix Wright might say.

There is a fundamental flaw in your argument, my friend. Just because we can identify a difference between simple pleasures (those defined by physical phenomena) and complex pleasures (those defined by cognition and critical reasoning), does not mean that one is necessarily better or more fulfilling than the other.

Stepping down off of Aristotle’s pedestal for a moment, I would like to consider the idea that, not only can your every-man obtain happiness, everybody can obtain happiness.

I’m not talking about a eudemonic sense of subconscious wellbeing. I’m talking about consistent and regular contentment and joy.

The thing is, everybody creates their own definition of what makes them happy based on the relative values of that individual. This relativistic values system means that while you or I might see fulfillment in the completion of a long term project, another might see it in a 6-pack of beer. What I am arguing right now is that neither one of these is any more worthwhile or fulfilling than the other.

As soon as we start to assign subjective values to the worth of various pursuits of our time, we are being inconsiderate of the situation and values of those around us. All happiness is subjective to situation and character. It is borderline contentious to say that any pursuit (setting aside the utilitarian sense) is worth more than any other pursuit outside of our own personal perspective.

It’s all well and good to line pleasures up on a spectrum – perhaps from those that are instinctual to those that are intellectual – but that does not create just cause for distinction of worth. It is possible for many things to be different and equitable at the same time.

On a similar train of thought, I’d like to make the distinction between values and happiness. Values (to a certain extent) are the parameters that define what makes us happy, and what we want to strive for. Just as you cannot assign arbitrary values of worth to happiness, you similarly cannot say that any one value is “higher” or “worth more” than another. To be higher implies superiority. We can arrange values on a scale and define them by region, culture, religion etc. But, we cannot assign worth to these values without imposing our own subjective viewpoint onto others.

“What about Utilitarianism?” cry the peanut gallery! “Egalitarianism!”

To this I say, hold your horses. Even as we begin to look at philosophy that considers the happiness and success of all people in mass such as game theory, GDP focus, majority rule (philosophies that I happen to agree with), we still cannot use these as decisive factors in determining the worth of others actions.

Why not? Well, for precisely the same reason that we can’t objectively assign worth to happiness: whether or not you agree with these philosophies is a reflection of your own personal values and cannot be extrapolated to apply to any other person.

In psychology this concept is referred to as relativism – the idea that “points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration” [American Heritage Dictionary].

So where does this leave us? Isn’t relativism a slippery slope towards Absurdism?

Well, no not really. Absurdists believe that there is no humanly obtainable value or truth in anything. Much like with Nihilism, this is a moot point. Saying that everything equates to nothing or saying that everything equates to something is the same thing. In the end, the distinction between nothing, and something (1 and 0) is purposeless because the conclusion that life is meaningless doesn’t make life stop existing.

The point I’m trying to make is not that there is no way to define happiness, or no way to guide people to happiness. I don’t believe that. Rather, I am fighting against the contentious notion that any single person is worth more, is doing more, is living a more fulfilling life than any other person. This is plainly untrue. Money, success, intelligence, accomplishment, physical fitness or any other arbitrary value we assign to the worth of someone’s life are horrible indicators, because they are relative to our own personal perspective. Aristotle may have believed himself to be above those around him. I, however, reject that notion.

[This post is a response to the previous post]

I figured I’d make a general response to your reflections on the blog first, Connor, before I delve into the rabbit hole of what makes me happy.

I agree with your observation that sequential planning has been somewhat absent from our posts (mine as well, not just yours). I also sympathize with your sentiment, however, that you’ve found a sense of consistency in your writing style from this. To a lesser extent, I have as well.

Much as it behooves me to talk about how our readers perceive this blog (especially since we appear not to have any), I think that it’s important to recognize how our posts look as a body of work and not just standalone pieces.

That being said, the primary reason I continue to write on this blog – in addition to all of the excellent reasons you mentioned – is because I feel like we really have something unique in our dialogue with one another. I also tend to believe (perhaps somewhat egotistically) that these conversations are interesting and dynamic in a way that will be entertaining for other people.

I think that if we focus primarily on our discussions and contentions as two friends debating topics, then the flow of the blog will start to develop on its own.

Hopefully. I think it’s a nice ideal, at least.

I definitely plan on sticking to the blog to the best of my abilities. To explain why I feel this is so important to me, I have to summarize my last week of experiences. In a word: Crazy.

Starting at a new school in a new city has been absolutely the coolest, busiest, scariest, and hardest thing that I have ever done. There is so little around me that has any sort of formal consistency that I feel inclined to cling onto the pieces of my old life that I still have available to me.

Am I suggesting that this is something we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives? No, it probably won’t be. But, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. In any case, with the way that people are running around campus like lunatics right now, long and meaningful conversation is somewhat difficult to come by.

Anyway, that’s why I want to continue writing the blog. As far as I’m concerned, the added benefits of writing experience and mental organization are just a bonus.

But, on to your question: What makes me happy?

I hope you don’t mind if I respond, first, by immediately returning the question. What makes you happy? I don’t agree that one’s own personal happiness is something that is easily identifiable. If it were, therapists would surely go out of business. I’ll make an attempt however.

As I write this, I am currently sitting on a bench at the duck pond in the middle of UNM campus. It’s very peaceful – students are in classes, there’s the sound of flowing water, I’m surrounded by beautiful weeping willow trees. It makes me happy to be here, away from the noise. Serene.

Plenty of things make me happy. Food makes me happy. Listening to music makes me happy. Sex, alcohol, exercise, sleep, friends, conversation, books, movies, and video games all make me happy. But, these are all fairly simple pleasures. I think most people could identify these fruits of life that are unquestionably enjoyable. I believe, however, that you meant a deeper and more abstract definition of happiness. That’s quite a bit harder to answer.

I get enjoyment from accomplishment, from winning, from creating, from affirmation. I’m happiest when I think that I’ve done something unique or special; when I get confirmation from others that I’m good at something. I’m happy when I discover something, when I solve a puzzle, or when I finish a book. But can I tie all of these things into a general philosophy for happiness? No not really.

It’s easy to identify what has made you happy in the past and much, much harder to determine why they made you happy in the first place, or whether these things are a valuable use of your time.

I love feeling like I’m on the top. It’s one of the things that make me such an ambitious person, but that’s not necessarily the end all of what it takes to make me happy. I can find many instances when losing or being proven wrong has actually resulted in a better experience or more long term happiness than I would have received out of being the alpha.

Similarly I can’t justify saying that my current definition of happiness is fleshed out either, because there is still so much that I have to experience in my life.

Then we also have to consider all of the things that don’t explicitly make me happy, but are very important values in my life such as finishing school, getting a good job, being successful, and starting a family. Those things don’t necessarily fit into my personal definition of happiness either.

In the end, that leaves me back where most people are. I know pretty much what I want out of life and why, but I can never be sure that it’s really what I want. I can never be sure that my reasons and justifications for what makes me happy aren’t just shallow constructs of outside factors of my life.

In many ways, this is what I meant when I talked about abstract concepts defying definition. Similarly, abstract and complicated motives and emotions inside of us also defy distinction. I don’t believe that anyone can ever find a true sense of inner equilibrium.

That’s ok though. As I once expressed to our old friend Shiloh, when he was having hard times, “You will always be a different person than the person that you want to be”. In other words, no matter who you are or how much you improve your life, or your personal situation, you will always feel like you aren’t living up to your own expectations. This is because people have near limitless potential.

To leave with a good thought – I think life would be boring if it weren’t that way. In fact, I’m glad. To me, not being able to define myself and what makes me happy means that I can always shoot a little higher, always be a little happier, always do a little more. I’ll never be at the highest point of where I’m going to be, and that means I’ll always be looking up.