I shouldn’t have to tell you twice that we are plagued with a plethora of problems. For instance, the climate crisis, the global prevalence of undemocratic principles, and multitudes of tumultuous wars, just to name a few. And you’re but a single person* out of over 7.7 billion. So it’s easy to assume that how happy you are is virtually all out of your control. After all, you didn’t choose to emit unnatural amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. You didn’t choose to systematically disenfranchise the general public via dictatorships and oligarchies. You didn’t choose to send human beings to war against each other, on a mission to take as many other fellow humans off this earth just because of which country they represent. You didn’t even choose where you were placed in this world, the walk of life in which you begin. Clearly, these sorts of things take a toll on your happiness. But they’re systematic issues that require more than just you to solve. What you can change is your own happiness. Because that’s within you.
Introduction Welcome to Chromatic Conflux, New Year’s Eve edition! To round out 2019, I’ll be discussing someone’s treadmill, a philosophical idea that, when executed to full fruition, will actually make you happier come the 2020s** (and come later today...)
What Is Someone's Treadmill?
Someone’s treadmill, in any case, is the idea that when quality of life increases, average happiness doesn't increase permanently, similar to how you only feel when a treadmill's speed goes up or down, or when it accelerates or decelerates.
There is one exception is if quality of life is low enough that basic needs cannot be paid for, analogous to the speed of a treadmill being too high to keep up with; in that case, happiness is markedly lower. Interestingly, there is no corresponding effect when quality of life is very high.
Quick note on the name "someone's treadmill." This philosophical concept is technically called the hedonic treadmill, but for several months I forgot what it was called and couldn't locate it on the Internet. At the time, I believed it was called [name]'s treadmill, along the vein of Occam's razor. While editing this post, I found the correct name on the web, but I decided not to correct this post since "someone's treadmill" is just such a more fun name than "hedonic treadmill," don't you think?
Sidenote: Mission Statement of the Jacob Cohen Empire The fact that the happiness of those who can’t cover their expenses doesn’t fall under someone’s treadmill isn’t something I’ll allude to in the rest of this post. But I do want to quickly write down the #1 goal of a theoretical empire run by yours truly, and what I believe a benevolent government should generally strive for, written in gloriously flowery language. That’s what makes me happy, after all. In order to form the best possible empire, the goal of this government will be to maximize the average happiness of the citizenry, theoretically measured through hormone levels but practically measured through an annual survey of every citizen. Notwithstanding the results of this survey, people who can’t afford their basic expenses–food, water, shelter, healthcare, some amount of disposable income, etc.–are proven to be significantly less happy than the general public. Therefore, this nation’s top priority will be to raise as many people as possible to this threshold via aggressive taxation of the rich, such as a wealth tax with no loopholes. This should have no effect on the long-term happiness of the upper class. This money will be used to establish a program giving the poor access to their basic human needs. Note that this is not socialism - it only proceeds insofar as it allows everyone to meet their basic needs. Additionally, since people have remarkable control over their own happiness, public schools will implement a program teaching students tools to manage their own happiness. Everything else is secondary. The Study Showing This Many years ago, someone*** conducted a study highlighting someone's treadmill. They looked at two groups, the first of which had each won the lottery. These lottery winners were asked to rate how happy they were, and someone took the average. As you’d expect, these people were elated. Someone also looked at a second group–paralysis victims. Each member of this group had just been informed by their doctor that they could not move one of their limbs for the rest of their life. They were asked to rate their happiness as well. This test group was, unsurprisingly, quite depressed. But when the study’s organizers checked back in with the two groups in a year, they found their happiness ratings were virtually identical. If happiness was linked to quality of life, this would be nonsensical. The lottery winners might be the owners of a new car or house, and, if they played it right, still have cash lying around. That obviously increases quality of life. On the other hand, the paralysis victims were still down the use of a limb. Net decrease to quality of life. Happiness equal.
Laugh Tracks I recently discovered a podcast titled the Happiness Lab, which provided an insightful look into the art of crossword composition. (I’m kidding. It‘s about what makes people happier.) One episode talked about how widespread laugh tracks are in TV. If you’re not familiar with the laugh track, it’s a recording of people laughing that was filmed in the 1950s. This recording is inserted after jokes in many sitcoms, such as Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory. It’s not in every comedy, though—The Office and Parks and Recreation, along with many other shows, choose to go without a laugh track. In any case, the podcast explained that hearing other people laughing at a joke makes viewers more likely to laugh. The laugh track provides a sort of permission to laugh at the laugh lines. When viewers laugh more, of course, they’re happier, and so they like the show more. Take The Big Bang Theory, for instance. Someone took a clip from the show and removed the laugh track, which I’ve linked here. The pauses when the actors wait for the laugh track aside, there's a lot more tension, and it's much harder to laugh at the show. Interestingly, the comment section for this video is of the general opinion that this unmasks The Big Bang Theory for what it is–bad writing covered up with a laugh track.**** But to me, this shows me the opposite–that the creators of the show were smart enough to add a laugh track, since that makes it so much funnier.
Happiness Feedback Loops And if dead people laughing can make us happier, imagine what people laughing and having a good time in real life can do. When I project happiness, you’re more likely to be happy, which makes me more likely to be happy, creating a positive feedback loop. In fact, try forcing a smile. It makes you happier. (At the very least, it works for me.)
Conclusion Let’s synthesize here. Someone’s treadmill establishes that grand conditions generally don’t affect happiness in the long-term. But what does? Doing things that we love to do, and in general approaching life with the goal of happiness, makes others happy, forming a positive feedback loop and making all of us happy. At the very least, I hope this post helped make your 2020 vision***** a happier one. —beautifulthorns *Probably. Shoutout to all of you robots, two-headed giants, and spirits of deceased pet rocks reading!
**There was no year 0, so the first decade in the Common Era went from year 1 to year 10. Similarly, the current decade, the 202nd decade CE, goes from 2011 to 2020. (It's by a similar principle that this millennium began on January 1, 2001.) However, it is correct to say that the 2010s are ending, since that's from 2010 to 2019–the four-digit years beginning 201. So that would suggest this is not the final day of the present decade.
However, if I say "a year from today" on February 12, 2019, I'm not referring to January 1, 2020, the beginning of the next year. I'm referring to February 12, 2020. In doing so, I'm creating a "year" beginning today and lasting the length of a normal year. In this sense, the 2010s and the 2020s can be considered decades. But if I say "next year" on February 12, 2019, then I do mean January 1, 2020, since that's when the next default year would begin, so it's technically incorrect to say "next decade."
Counting the decades in that sense is a bit more intuitive given that we're over 200 decades into the Common Era. It's a bit like if we described numbers by adding 1/4 to the value. For instance, if I give you an apple, in that language, I would say that I've given you 1 1/4 apples. If I were to do nothing, I would have given you 1/4 apples. Note that this doesn't actually change any math. "1 1/4+1 1/4=2 1/4" is how someone who speaks this language would say "1+1=2," since in this language, 1 1/4 represents 1. 1, in fact, represents 3/4. So 1+1 in that language represents 3/4+3/4 in ours, and would be equal to what we call 1 1/2 but they call 1 3/4. In any case, if you spoke this language, you might count to ten "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10." Keep in mind that when they say 1, they actually mean 3/4, and so on. If they want to be precise, they would count "1 1/4, 2 1/4, 3 1/4, 4 1/4, 5 1/4, 6 1/4, 7 1/4, 8 1/4, 9 1/4, 10 1/4." That's more precise, but also a bit more confusing. Counting "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10" is like saying "see you next decade!" tonight, whereas counting "1 1/4, 2 1/4, 3 1/4, 4 1/4, 5 1/4, 6 1/4, 7 1/4, 8 1/4, 9 1/4, 10 1/4." is like saying that on December 31, 2020.
You might be confused at this point. If that's the case, don't worry. I'm not saying anything remotely important. ***Could it be the same someone as the treadmill?!? Illuminati confirmed!
****People dislike feeling like they've been manipulated.
*****I've waited months to make that pun.