An excerpt from Mahalonbis’ Distance:
The book Satisfaction by Gregory Berns is a quick and interesting read. There are a few profound nuggets in here, basically, that much of life is centered not on pleasure or happiness, but rather satisfaction. In fact, seeking pure pleasure or happiness is counterproductive, as is obvious to anyone slightly familiar with the virtues of saving, honesty, discipline and hard work. But Berns helpfully focuses on ‘satisfaction’ as the following: that which comes from novel insights (aha! moments). The key is to put one in situations where you are constantly getting aha! moments, situations that are not so difficult that you are clueless (ie, me in a super-string lecture), but not so easy that you see everything coming. Thus, I prefer Jeopardy! to Wheel of Fortune because Jeopardy! is hard, but not too hard, and don’t like Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce novel because they are too difficult to generate epiphanies of satisfaction. He vaguely ties this to ‘meaning’, and I wish he did more there.
I always find it interesting that the keys to life, happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, don’t have majors in college. Why waste time on math or politicial science if what we want is The Meaning of Life, or Sum(Pleasure from t=0 to inf)? Why don’t corporations have ‘departments of maximizing investor returns’? Because life is mainly about means to an end, which however vaguely defined (Subjective Well Being? Satisfaction?) is obviously acheived indirectly. And so with poverty reduction, and all sorts of vice reduction. You don’t give money to poor people to get rid of poverty, nor outlaw guns to get rid of violence. It’s no paradox, just the way life works, which is always a series of indirect proxies for things of interest.