How happy should I be?

by on March 14, 2006 at 7:22 am in Science | Permalink

Sometimes I will pull up to a red light and be, in the middle of the day, the first car in line waiting for the green.  (Northern Virginia, of course, has its fair share of traffic, so this is unusual but it does happen.)  I often wonder: should I be happy?

Under one view, I should be unhappy.  The absence of other cars means the light hasn’t been red for very long.  That suggests I have a relatively long time to wait for a green.

Under another view, I should be happy.  It is a brute fact, carved into "the furniture of the universe," when the light will turn green.  How many cars I see won’t change that.  I should be happy that no cars will impede my forward progress.

Much rests on this question.  I am very happy to have the friends I do.  But exactly how happy should I be?

Should I be happy if I know the answer to this question?  Or would knowing be like seeing no other cars around?

1 TomC March 14, 2006 at 8:13 am

You should be indifferent. The lack of cars to impede you is just as much “furniture of the universe”. So if “furniture” cancels unhappiness then it should cancel happiness too.

2 Matt March 14, 2006 at 8:31 am

What are your expectations? If you are stopped at a red light that you always stop at, being first is the best result. If it is a traffic light that you always zoom through, it’s the worst.

3 Mike March 14, 2006 at 9:18 am

Unhappy if happiness is what you’re thinking about at the stoplight or if your expectations are thwarted by the stop.

Measuring happiness with metrics is a sure way to make happiness disappear. (Though if this is the only thing on your mind at the stoplight, you’re doing pretty well and should be grateful, if not happy.)

Better to be satisfied that you’re on time, you won’t have to wait for people to wake up and accelerate when the light changes, and you have a clear view of the landscape in case you need to make a defensive manuver.

4 ggg March 14, 2006 at 9:33 am

You should be happy. You’re still alive.

5 Devin McCullen March 14, 2006 at 9:53 am

Actually, I’ve seen the timer countdown on lights in Indianapolis, although they’re actually on the pedestrian walk/don’t walk signs. But they’re easily visible from the car if you’re first in line.

I think there are just too many other variables to be sure of happiness one way or the other. But I would tend towards happiness, because when you’re stopped, you have an opportunity to safely adjust your radio/dial a phone number/drink your coffee.

6 Richard Bellamy March 14, 2006 at 10:17 am

Assumedly, by asking the question “How happy should I be,” you are allowing that you can decide how happy to be.

Given that, the answer should be, “As happy as you can be.”

7 Robert Schwartz March 14, 2006 at 11:07 am

Every day above ground is a good day.

Man, you think too much, just try to enjoy life a little.

8 skroah March 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm

You should be unhappy because your a sitting target in the intersection which is probably where the majority of collisions occur. You are likely to be the one broadsided by someone running a red light not the car behind you.

9 Kent Guida March 14, 2006 at 12:40 pm

No one’s happiness should depend in the least little bit on their position in a traffic line. If it does, that person is virtually guaranteed an unhappy life.

10 tdo March 14, 2006 at 1:22 pm

Just how much disutility do I feel in these situations, you ask?

Well, I don’t know, but if you wanted to ride along and periodically take my blood pressure, I think we could find out!

11 Cb March 14, 2006 at 3:09 pm

You should be happy for purely pragmatic reasons. If we assume that you value being happy and that you drive frequently there are going to be numerous stop-light scenarios fulfilling any possible ordinal combination and, as a result, if any particular scenario makes you unhappy you are doomed to be unhappy on a regular basis! Better instead to be thrilled that you exist at a time/place when average citizens (not implying that Tyler is average) can travel from points A to B at average speeds approaching one-mile-per-minute! Accept that a sub-optimal ordinal relationship is bad which is predicated upon the existence of a very much larger good!

12 rmark March 14, 2006 at 4:02 pm

You need a life.

13 Ivan Kirigin March 14, 2006 at 6:26 pm

Happiness shouldn’t rest on a single traffic light.

It should at the least be on how quickly (assuming safety) you get to your destination.

What if you don’t want to get there? The inverse.

This implies that you should be happy if you’re getting what you want faster — or more of what you want.

Friends should be judged on how much they give to you. It is a question of opportunity cost, given that there is a pretty small sphere of friends most people can tolerate.

Would a different set of friends offset the negative aspects of getting rid of your current friends?

14 jon oropeza March 14, 2006 at 11:35 pm

happy that you’re sufficiently unencumbered with worries that you have time to ponder juicy logical trivialities like Should I be happy or unhappy in this situation – which, as I’ve learned, is a sign that you’re quite happy indeed.

15 J. Goard March 15, 2006 at 3:31 am

Off on a tangent, but one you guys’ll probably be interested in:

I strongly believe in jaywalking (my prototype mostly being Davis and Sacramento), in that I trust my senses, my physical coordination, and the laws of physics much more than I trust arbitrary drivers to stop or stay stopped at red lights, or to notice me in the event they are legally making a right on a red. I recognize, of course, that a great density of jaywalking can be extremely problematic, but this possibility seldom arises in Davis, or in Sacramento other than downtown at lunchtime. It rather appals me how readily people trust the light and the law to protect them; it seems that they would rather have broken bones and be in the legal right than be safe while committing a peccadillo. What think ye?

16 Doreuse March 15, 2006 at 3:34 pm

Just be as happy as you like to be. Happiness depends on our intepretation of things, for exemple of the behaviour of traffic lights. And sometimes, it feels simply good to be totally unhappy. After a time, we want to be more positive and happiness takes over … What a very nice text you wrote!

17 Jeff Brown March 16, 2006 at 1:28 pm

This question is ill-defined.

18 PB March 27, 2006 at 10:21 pm

If you have to stop and think whether or not you are happy, then you are not happy. Sitting here in the computer chair, i googled, “Why should I be happy?”. I feel that this pretty much sums up what a waste of a life mine is, and how truly unhappy I really am. I have a lot to be thankful for, I have really no reason to be unhappy. But I am. When I ask myself if I am happy or not, the answer pops into my head at once: absolutely not. I don’t fit in with my peers, because everything they do seems superficial and immature (I know this makes me sound arrogant, and may be I am). I don’t go to parties and I don’t drink, because I fail to see the point. I spend nearly every Friday/Saturday night at home. Hell, I rarely even go out with my girlfriend! All these things make me feel depressed and lonely, yet I see no way out of this situation. Anyways, that’s my rant, and although it doesn’t really answer the question, it makes me feel loads better, which is what I was hoping for. My girlfriend is borderline depressed herself, so I can’t vent to her. Thank you, strangers, for giving me this outlet…and if you have read this whole thing, then you may be in quite the same boat as me.

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