TED Conversations

Nicholas Lukowiak


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"What is happiness?"

Some say "ignorance is bliss" others will say "knowing is the ultimate enjoyment."

What do you say?

To me, happiness seems to be an acceptable cognitive bias. We find little joys in the world (through aesthetics) and never really question why they are joyful or beautiful or appealing to us. But why do we never question what we enjoy or what makes us happy?

There seems to be a battle in our minds of 'knowledge vs happiness'

We will sacrifice happiness to know more, and we will sacrifice what we know for happiness... What does this say about us as a thinking thing?

How does one 'know' 'happiness'?
Are you happy with your already knowledge? Why or why not?


One day I was at a Burger King and waiting online to order. The person behind me (about my age - 22) was speaking very loudly and said "I'm just happy, that's all there is to it. I am in a great mood, because I am happy." Or something like that, and I turned around and asked "Or do you think you are happy?" He responded "Wow, that was deep" and laughed and we smiled at one another and nodded and I turned back around to order. As I waited for my food I turned around to look at the person and he was no longer smiling, he was in a deep state of thought and even let the person behind him cut him in line to order ahead of him. He was no longer smiling but had no emotions on his face. I can only blame myself for changing his state of mind, but all I did was encourage him to question his own happiness... Which made him no longer happy...

Once we question (seek knowledge of) our happiness, can we be just as happy after that line of questioning? Can we always be happy while we question our own happiness?

Let's discuss!

* I know I ask a lot of questions, feel free to answer them or comment in a general response!
I've also asked in the past: "What is love?" "What is evil?" And soon "What is respect?"


Closing Statement from Nicholas Lukowiak

I didn't get to respond to a few individuals and if those individuals want - they are more than welcomes to e-mail me to continue. Or anyone else.

So, a closing statement on "what is happiness?" seems humorous! As it should never have a final say, but maybe a simple conclusion.

As my original summary suggested I do think happiness is (at times) a sort of cognitive bias, but that does not suggest I think of happiness in any 'negative' manner. In fact I believe it is a leading factor that guides our general thinking as a spirit, soul and/or mind - as a human being.

From the conversation you will see that majorly happiness was regarded as 1. momentary, 2. involves an idea of enlightenment, and 3. an interpersonal experience. We also talked about happiness involving A. choices, B. self actualization via individuation, and C. social altruism.

My final thoughts: We should all practice hard-hedonism as individuals, philosophers, freethinkers, etc. What I mean by 'hard-hedonism' is that we should lead our lives by pleasure, but to never let pleasure go unquestioned. I think of happiness as something similar to the practice of 'faith' and if happiness is worth having, it can stand-up to the scrutiny of a serious investigation. Find what is joyful, aesthetic, and pleasing in life, absorb it, store it, but do not be greedy and keep it to yourself! If there is anything worth calling 'beautiful' and 'breath-taking' it is worth being shared.

Ultimately, I don't think there is happiness without sharing happiness with others - hence this conversation!
So find pleasure, understand why it pleases you, then share it! Better yet, give it away! Good things should given away at no cost besides the smiles we take on credit!

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    Apr 12 2014: What to you is the difference of 'to be' or to 'think to be'? I may be wrong, but it seems that one negates the other to you in a certain way? If so, why?
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      Apr 13 2014: Explain more; what exactly are you asking? What is the difference between 'to be' and 'to think - to be?'

      I am not 100% clear on what you are asking.
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        Apr 13 2014: Actually I don't know how to re-phrase this pretty clear question ...

        But let me try. As you asked this other person who said it was happy if he instead 'thinks' to be in this state, it seems that there is a difference to you in between both.

        This difference is what I asked for. In short: what is the difference when you ARE happy compared to when you THINK you are happy.

        So far I don't see any difference in between both.
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          Apr 13 2014: There is ultimately no difference, until the happiness is challenged. If there was never a challenge it is only being, after the challenge it is 'thinking' because there is a reflection, there is a need to double-back to the reasons of the happiness.

          To be happy - is a state of mind, but to think one is happy is also a state of mind, but conditional.
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        Apr 13 2014: So your understanding of the term 'thinking' is tied to the process of an active and reflective process, correct?

        Which would make an inner, yet unreflected thought process become what in your view?

        So if was at a grocery store and comparing prices of one brand of noodles to another, my inner dialog of naming out the numbers I read from the price tag, and doing some simple and comparative math, was not considered thinking by any means unless I would challenge this banal inner scene at that very moment it happens?

        To be happy is as conditional to thinking as it is to reflect about it, only its perspective, its viewing angle changed. Because if it wouldn't it would allow 'happiness' to exist outside minds just on its own, which at least so far,I haven't stumbled across such phenomenon. Or if I did, I didn't notice.

        Our minds seem to work sequentially in time and are only capable to be in one single state at the very present, like a mathematical circle touches a plane on just one single spot while rolling on it. This may be experienced differently at times and under the influence of certain chemical stimulants, yet judging from my own abilities I am not capable of any form of thinking, unaware or aware, five minutes back in time, or ahead.

        This overall and unavoidable condition is what does not allow in my view for any unconditional though processes and awareness becomes only a matter of focus.

        Yet happiness seems to be of volatile nature anyway, which may have caused the other person you mentioned to loose it the moment he reflected upon it.
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          Apr 14 2014: //So your understanding of the term 'thinking' is tied to the process of an active and reflective process, correct?//

          Well again your question wasn't very clear - to think about being - seems like an innately active and reflective process. There is of course unconscious and subconscious thinking that can create or effect one's state of mind to be happy (or in general).

          // Which would make an inner, yet unreflected thought process become what in your view?//

          Just thinking (I guess just being), but again I still feel your original questions was confusing. I never heard the phrase 'to think to be'.

          And happiness does exist 'outside of mind' that is why we are able to talk about it. It is immaterial, it has form yet does not have spatial existence. You can witness and see happiness, but not know the essence of it - while philosophers have tried.

          // Yet happiness seems to be of volatile nature anyway, which may have caused the other person you mentioned to loose it the moment he reflected upon it. //

          That was my original 'theme' of the conversation, a long with how happiness may be biased in natural thought.

          What has been your point? Or objection you wish to convey?
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        Apr 17 2014: My point is to understand what to you is the difference between:

        to be happy (to be)

        or to:

        think to be happy (think to be).

        As you turned around asking the guy the latter of the two above, it appeared to me, that to you there is a difference in 'validity' in which happiness can be experienced.

        I also have some trouble now to follow your explanation why happiness does exist 'outside of mind' because we are able to talk about it. Isn't talking solely based on the abilities of minds?

        As much as I am aware of, happiness can be deliberately stimulated within our brains by external stimulation of certain brain regions, which could make us laugh for cheer joy without any other cause than that. What I haven't heard of or found myself so far, is any form of 'happiness' outside of any brain or mind, as for its existence it would need to be contained in 'something' or consist out of 'something' for us to be certain about it.

        Also I assume, that happiness is not an universally valid experience, not even in one and the same mind, although I think that the biochemistry behind it works similar on each members of one species.

        Yet back to my original question, did it never happened to you that you were happy and at the same time consciously realized to be in that very mood at that very moment?

        It happened to me many times, which I would consider 'to think that I am happy', because consciousness to me is a form of thinking.

        Or do you mean by 'thinking to be happy' more in a way that optimism could also be perceived as 'just' a lack of information? Meaning, you may feel happy now, but if you would know more details about what makes you feel happy, you wouldn't be it anymore?

        For instance, one is happy to meet ones girlfriend tonight, but if one would now what she was doing right now, one might feel completely different about it?

        So is the distinction you seem to have to me between 'to be happy' or to 'think to be happy' a matter of context rather than the sense of it?
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          Apr 22 2014: I don't think phenomenology is good exercise in philosophy beyond a psychological attempt to label stimuli and their affects on the mind.

          Yes, happiness exist outside of the 'mind' or else we obviously can not talk about it. It's just immaterial, not material. Emotions exist; we can scan someone's mind when they are experiencing Euphoria. There is no question that 'happiness' is real and affects individuals ability to think, but the question is "how is that universal?"

          What makes us 'happy' or makes people 'happy' is based on a variety of 'things' or 'moods' or 'states of mind' at a given moment in time. Dependency-issues shouldn't be the difference between considering something exist whether something exist 'inside' or 'outside' of the mind. Obviously, if there is an experience to denote, it can be quantified from the internal. More difficultly what is 'externally happiness' is a question and concern of the ancient philosophers themselves (Aristotle being one of my favorites).

          Happiness is not in the 'something' as much as the reaction to 'something' so I can see your confusion there.

          // Meaning, you may feel happy now, but if you would know more details about what makes you feel happy, you wouldn't be it anymore?//

          That is a much clearer question, in which I say yes.

          Where we gain moments of happiness -whether is be unconscious (sociability (band wagon), altruism, optimism, confirmation of current knowledge) -or- conscious (positive emotions) - seems to be from places we often do not investigate in great lengths. "Why question a good thing?"

          And I think when one questions a 'good thing' it does not necessarily lose that quality, but the 'question of quality' is re-investigated in a superposition (a process of metacognition) and even if it does not decay/decrease in the quality of happiness, the quality is still being questioned and during which time is not a pleasant state of mind - since it cannot be pleasant while its bewildered.
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        Apr 22 2014: To me, the experience of happiness is without exception a biochemical reaction within brains, as we would not be able to form it, if certain neurotransmitter would not be existent within us, such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, etc. The stimulus for those transmitters to get produced and injected are numerous, highly individual and situational and can be influenced by our knowledge about things.

        Those chemicals are conditional for this emotion to form and as they get naturally dismantled over time, to reset synaptic connections for further processing, we seem to be able to make and store 'neuronal screen-captures' of this biochemical state, which in itself and when recalled, can cause the reproduction and re-injection of neurotransmitters to experience the emotional response again.

        Both representations of happiness, its biochemical experience as well as its informational image, are tied to matter and its equivalent, energy, such as molecules and electrical neural impulses, which to me makes the concept of the 'existence of happiness outside of minds', another representation of mental imagination.

        The mental concept, that:
        'Yes, happiness exist outside of the 'mind' or else we obviously can not talk about it.'
        would not be existent without the existence of minds, as both, happiness and language are based on minds.

        The biochemical formation of happiness and its informational representation in words are not one and the same, thus happiness can not exist on its own as immaterial felt emotion.

        I can only assume that some schools in philosophy will find their mental constructions by which it appears to be one and the same but then it would only be a matter who follows those line of thoughts and who doesn't.

        As our conscious minds seem to be dominantly serial in time and limited regarding simultaneous emotional responses and cognitive reflections it may be that you refer to our 'focus' when you conclude that happiness 'cannot be pleasant while its bewildered'?
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        Apr 22 2014: On this I could even agree provided, that the level of mental focus on the 'questioning' side becomes that dominant and lasting, that the neurotransmitters which created the former emotional response of happiness get naturally dismantled and therefore begin to fade consequently.

        This is what I call the 'volatile' nature of happiness, nevertheless, at least within me there seems to be times of overlapping of both mental processes, in which I am totally aware about my happiness, its source and at the same time enjoy it while reflecting upon it.

        But there is a reason why our vegetative brain functions, such as breathing, digesting and our heartbeat got mainly disconnected from our conscious brain functions, as otherwise many philosophers would have died the moment they would spend their time and focus pondering about it.

        Quite a clever protective mechanism nature implemented here within us ... :o)
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      Apr 15 2014: what are you asking?
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        Apr 18 2014: Please excuse this late reply on your question.

        In my comment above I tried to rephrase my initial question by adding 'happy' to it, which may help to understand it.

        As happiness to me is exclusively experienced within brains, which does not exclude lateral effects, such as 'butterflies in the stomach', 'tickling in the neck', etc., it is a process of neuronal activity, which we call thinking. Consciously or unconsciously.

        Therefore I'd like to understand what the difference could be in between 'to be happy' or 'to think to be happy', as so far I can not think of any.

        But as you stated, that 'HAPPINESS is not in my VOCABULARY ANYMORE!!' I am afraid now, that the way I rephrased my question may remain unclear to you still?

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      Apr 23 2014: hey Lejan do you think you can teach me how to speak german? and i can teach you italian?
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        Apr 23 2014: Theoretically, yes. Practically, no.

        But to complete your English vocabulary again, you may enjoy the following collectors item I like to return to you. I have two of them, so you can keep it:

        - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - cut here

        Happiness : Enjoyable state of mind and heart

        - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - cut here

        It can be rare at times, yet as this is only temporary, you should keep a close eye on this one to never loose it ever again. It is self-explanatory so you will understand its meaning next time you have it.


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