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How to Measure Your Pleasure
Imagine a summer meadow. Gloriously lit sky reigning over the beautiful green grass. There is a gentle breeze blowing and the soft rustle of leaves.There is a hint of a fragrance in the air, without overwhelming the senses. In the distance there is a steady trickle of a stream. On the meadow, there is the sound of children playing. Their laughter is carried through the breeze and reaches our ears.
Pure, untainted, effortless laughter that can only come from being blissfully happy.
When was the last time you felt that way?
And what, dear reader, was it that made you so blissfully, unconditionally happy?
The quest for happiness could be a fulfilling one. Or it could be equally elusive.
We've all been happy, some more happy than others. We've all been happy for various reasons, and sometimes without any reason at all.
As GK Chesterton said, 'Happiness is a mystery, like religion, and should never be rationalized'.
If the definitions of happiness are so subjective and elusive, how on earth are we going to measure our pleasure? Can we actually calculate happiness?
Much as I admire Mr Chesterton, he is not going to stop me from attempting to discuss happiness with you, dear reader. I know with that image of a summer meadow fresh in your mind, with the secret of calculating happiness close by, you're going to follow me.
Your curiosity has already been piqued by my promises.
Come, then, step in.
What makes you Happy?
Like those children in the meadow, there have been many occasions where my happiness has exceeded my expectations. As a father, husband, son, brother, physician I have had the privilege of giving and taking happiness from many acts.The question that was asked by our co-creator bravewarrior was ' Setting the world and your obligations aside, what makes YOU happy?
Yes, whenever I have answered this question before, I related to external factors. Never have I considered much about my internal factors, a measure of my inner happiness.
There are many pursuits that bring me happiness in solitude. ( Don't be naughty, that's not what I meant!) And certainly writing, creating, sharing is one of them. perhaps the one that gives me great delight.
Being curious, learning new things, taking the time to appreciate nature and humanity's many achievements in art and science and then writing about them is certainly my pleasurable preoccupation.
My restless mind contemplated happiness and began to wonder if there was anyway we could measure it apart from those boring questionnaires. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon the Felicific Calculus.
Mnemonic Doggerel by Bentham
Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure—
Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:
If pains must come, let them extend to few.
Let's for the moment imagine happiness as a measure. You could plot it on a scale from utter despair to extreme ecstasy. But how do we calculate pleasure? More importantly how do we reconcile the fact the same activity that can cause mild annoyance in one person can cause intense happiness in another?
Enter Jeremy Bentham, an 18th century English philosopher and social reformer who founded the theory of Panommion. In this greatest happiness principle he says that 'the measure of right and wrong is the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.
To assist his philosophy of utilitarianism, Bentham came up with a formula for calculating happiness.
Bentham's formula takes into account the following measures when calculating pleasure from an action - he called it the Felicific Calculus:
- Intensity: How strong is the sense of pleasure?
- Duration: How long will the sense of pleasure last?
- Certainty: What is the likelihood that pleasure will happen?
- Propinquity: How quickly will pleasure arrive?
- Fecundity: What is the probability that the action will always cause the same pleasure.
- Purity: What is the probability that the pleasure will remain pure and not mixed with pain.
- Extent: Just how many people will this action cause pleasure to?
My Happy Place
I have always wondered why writing gave me so much pleasure. Like many of you I too have many roles, Father, Husband, Son, Brother, Physician, Employer, Leader, Teacher. These roles give me a lot of responsibility, happiness and sometimes pain. Much as I appreciate and value these roles, when you strip away all that, edit out all those external factors that make me who I am, there is still one activity that I keep returning to that makes me happy unconditionally.
That is of course, writing.
If I apply Bentham's formula to this act:
The act of creating something from pure thought and writing it down does give me intense pleasure ( Of course there may be other activities where the intensity of pleasure could be much higher.... but stay with me on this)
When I write something I love, the Duration of pleasure that follows is for posterity. There are poems, stories and articles that I've written I am very proud of. Every time I think of them, re-read them I am happy - the pleasure continues forever.
The Certainty of pleasure from my creations is fixed. I have no uncertainty over a good piece of writing. It always makes me happy to create.
The pleasure of writing is immediate. As soon as a sentence or a string of words arrive on my screen or paper, fresh from my cerebrum - heck, they give pleasure even as they arrive. Propinquity indeed.
Every piece of writing that I create gives me the same pleasure - Fecundity in action. Of course some more than other. The beauty is even those where others may question the quality of - even those that I wrote in my formative years of varying quality gave me pleasure as I created them. Why else would I have continued this pursuit?
The pleasure from writing is pure and untainted for me. I am fortunate not to torment myself over the process of writing or the subsequent editing, I enjoy the process and view it as growth, a journey to excellence, but always a pleasurable act in its Purity.
And finally the act of publishing it here in hubpages or in the pages of a magazine, a book, a radio play, the response I receive, the feedback, the positive comments - they all show me the Extent this pleasure can reach.
The art of crafting words that seep through other peoples minds and make them sigh with pleasure is magical. Whether read by one other, a thousand or a million, the extent of pleasure from writing cannot be disputed!
The Secret of Happiness?
There are many who propose to know the secret of happiness. There are religious, philosophical and psychological explanations as to what makes us happy.
Scientists tell us that it is all in the brain chemistry. Religion tells us it is in the pursuit of God. And depending on what philosophy we choose to follow, there are a million explanations to happiness.
One thing I am certain of. You know that meadow where the sun shines, the stream flows and the children laugh ... that meadow sprung from my mind, my imagination. There are many more happy places that reside in my mind that I can call for. Sometimes I choose to shut these out and look at reality with all its light and shadows. Sometimes I open these doors wide, enjoy the experience and invite my readers in too. And it is my choice.
To me happiness is a choice I make. I choose to seek out my inner self, my inner landscape and fill it , paint it with happy images. Reading and writing has always helped me to expand this landscape.
I am happy that I write.
I am happy that you read what I write.
© Mohan Kumar 2012
Beethoven: Ode to Joy
© 2012 Mohan Kumar