Is being interesting more important than being happy?

Vimspot asks:

2 things I'd love you to elaborate on (though perhaps you left them as cliff hangers for a reason):
1. You once said being interesting and responsible are more important values than happiness. Could you elaborate on why you think that? http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/12/gretchen-rubins-the-happiness-project.html

It's more interesting if you get only one of the two queries, even if it makes you less happy. 

There's also the value of being interested.

"Happiness" to me sounds boring, as if the person has a limited imagination when it comes to wants and an inability to be frustrated by the difficulty of creating new peak experiences. 

"Responsible" is the right thing to do and it usually carries with it some sense of fulfillment. 

"Interesting" helps other people expand the horizon of their wants, since you show them some new goodies on the table.

Viewed as a signaling problem, "happiness" fails when it comes to credibly demonstrating the possession of some extreme quality or another.  The busier people are, and the higher wages are, the more important it should be to signal extreme qualities to command the attention of interesting others.

What does the word "important" mean anyway?  It presupposes the value judgment in question.

Penelope Trunk has interesting posts on this topic:

People with interesting lives do not get offended that they cannot be happy. Happy people are offended that they cannot have interesting lives.

Comments

Tyler,

How much should you take what you think of a person's complete insanity into account when using research they produce?

I can't help but think this is more of a definitional problem than anything else. From my perspective, I have no reason to believe that a happy person can't be interesting. However, if you define 'happy' as 'not interesting', then I guess I'm definitionally wrong.

Being interesting is 1000x more important than being happy for men seducing women.

Do you agree that there's a distinction between the happiness the happy idiot experiences and the happiness of eudaimonia the flourishing man of virtue attains?

I've always seen happiness as belonging to the man Aristotle encourages us to be in the Nicomachean Ethics.

She has got to be putting us on.

By the way, I take my own advice and try to focus efforts on being interesting (and just hoping to end up happy).

I am an investment banker, so to compensate for my uninteresting job, I play the banjo, make fancy cocktails, go sailing on a small boat in the winter, live in Brooklyn, and read Marginal Revolution.

Not all of those make me more interesting to everyone, but usually something sticks.

@ cynic

ever met a libertarian?

If there is a way to limit my imagination to increase my happiness. I will go for it.

Tyler,

I really don't know what to make of this post. In my mind, it demonstrates pretty clearly why economists shouldn't attempt to practice philosophy any more than we should attempt to practice aeronautics. As a previous poster pointed out, your definition of happiness implies boredom, which would seem to imply unhappiness and, therefore, a contradiction. You then advocate responsibility because it generates a subjective sense of fulfillment, which sounds suspiciously like happiness. You also argue that being interesting "helps other people expand the horizon of their wants." Is this supposed to have some intrinsic value or is it only valuable in terms of making these other people more happy? A similar question could be asked of "signal" you argue happy people fail to send.

I find it surprising that an economist would make these kinds of mistakes when utility theory is explicitly utilitarian (i.e. all things possess only instrumental value in so far as they allow us to gain utility or happiness).

Yes, you're exactly right. I was in fact thinking exactly about Tyler's post as being self-referential. I just draw different conclusions, (about whether that makes him a particularly cool/interesting/valuable person for doing so), since I have a different value system.

Yes, if you have a popular blog, you can make contrarian posts, and bask in the glowing attentions of those impressed by your panache in challenging conventional thought, those marveling at the apparent depths that separate you from everyone else.

But stirring up a passing public interest is a poor proxy for actual depth. In this case, it doesn't seem like Tyler bothered to think through how signaling extreme qualities manifests itself, before advocating that there's more value in it than seeking happiness. Maybe it is a superior goal for him, but I think the induction step from good for Tyler to good for "The busier people are, and the higher wages are," fails badly... I find the whole post an unintentional self-parody of the shallowness of pursuing attention for its own sake.

well I find it fairly obvious that the ideal situation is one in which every ember of a group seeks to make others happy. this works much better because in my experience making others happy requires far far less effort than making yourself happy.

Happiness is not a static state. See http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/03/02/the-moment/

It used to be the case that you signalled how interesting a life you lived by showing how little you worked. I guess it was inferred that you had time for cultural and leisurely pursuits. Today people signal how interesting they are by how much they work at some "big" job.

So, for example, Larry Summners (reportedly) sleeps little, lives on diet coke, and works like crazy. Yet to me he seems like a boring and insufferable person.

A higher frequency of having positive emotions is one of the main facets of extraversion (measured on personality tests). So this is all just a way of introverts crying sour grapes about not being more extraverted.

Quick quiz: who's more the exciting, interesting, life-of-the-party (no matter what sort of party) type -- introverts or extraverts?

Finally, having a higher frequency of positive emotions doesn't mean you have a lower frequency of negative ones. This is shown by psychology, where the personality trait neuroticism carries negative emotions, and is independent of extraversion, so that people come in four types: high/low E and high/low N.

But if you got out more, you'd know lots of people who are not happy often and not interesting either, not happy but are interesting, happy but not interesting, and happy and interesting. Introverts bias their view of the world first by not meeting a wide variety of people, and even then discarding the two types of people who prove their sour grapes argument wrong.

Since the traits are independent, there is no trade-off between happiness and being interesting, fun, exciting, deep, etc.

I admit an inability to picture a happiness vs. interesting trade-off.

""Happiness" to me sounds boring, as if the person has a limited imagination when it comes to wants and an inability to be frustrated by the difficulty of creating new peak experiences."

Happiness only sounds boring if you are already sufficiently happy. Water sounds boring unless you are sufficiently thirsty.

Recent insipid popular books on happiness, which recommend cleaning out your closets and other such exciting stuff, help it to sound boring.

Or perhaps happiness seems boring because it is "normal": http://ahappinessexperiment.wordpress.com/2010/02/14/the-anna-karenina-problem/

Happiness is something you do, not a state of bovine contentment. See: Aristotle's concept of virtue.

I have to say that I think the goal of being interesting is aiming pretty low. Clearly, if that's your goal you have an external scorecard, rather than an internal scorecard. In other words, you may be trying too hard to impress people about things that are only "interesting". Also, "interesting" is a pretty weak sounding descriptor. It's often used to describe something that is not very important, or is even trivial.

To the extent that you are appropriately concerned about the opinions of others, I think the thing to seek is love from those you care about. You usually get that by being responsible, and perhaps to some degree by being happy.

Also, some of the great things that come from living are things that are exciting and/or physical. If you have an engrossing sport that you love, and have to some degree mastered, then I think you should count yourself very lucky. Skiing, surfing, windsurfing, there are a lot of others. Now, if you can share those with people you love, that's higher up on my internal scorecard than being “interesting†.

It doesn't really sound like you learned how to be happy, and then gave that up because you'd rather be unhappy and interesting. It sounds like you're not very good at being happy.

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