Archive for January, 2005

Is a drug-induced sense of well-being the same as “real” happiness?

I think the likelihood of something like this happening is quite high. I also think it might be sooner, rather than later.

If you could take a pill that would make you feel happy, would you really be happy? Would you care? Is there really a difference?

What a great question!! Actually there are already a wide variety of measures that can get you close to the happiness pill: Sleep, exercise, beer, leisure, and sex to name a few.

But with a cool pill, even in the absense of all those things, even if everyone on the planet hated your freaking guts….you could still be happy.

That is bad news….for civilization. If people could be happy doing anything, then they would do everything. Cause and effect could be decoupled. You would no longer have to take prudent action to make yourself happy…you could do anything under the sun and it wouldn’t make any difference….you’d have a smile on your face all the way to the end of the world.

Or maybe if everyone got happy, they’d all want to do good things?? When we are happy we feel nicer, and more inclined to treat people with respect. Maybe the world would be a better place if we all got drugged up on happiness. Imagine being stuck in a traffic jam all morning yet showing up to work with a wink and a smile! Maybe it would be like one big Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

And productivity?? Economic output would plummet. People use money as a surrogate for happiness. They buy stuff to make them feel better temporarily, to alleviate the anxiety of life….but that is only if life makes us anxious. No need to buy our happiness when we can swallow it in pill form….although I bet the pills would be expensive.

Or maybe productivity would go up? Recent business research shows that happy, positive people are more engaged and creative in their work. Maybe we’d all get rich? Although I’m unsure what we’d need all that money for if not to divert outselves from our unhappiness.

I think we’d spend it on video games….and in these video games people would be really unhappy. It would be novel and entertaining to us. Regardless, if we were all happy weekly status meetings at the office would be alot easier to sit through.

You know what I really think would happen?? I think the brain would revolt. It wasn’t made to be happy all the time.

And I know this is an imaginary drug. You could make it non-addictive…and non-damaging, right? Wrong. I don’t think we have the wiring for that. If a pill makes us happy, then two pills would make us happier. Sound familiar? We already have happiness pills….most of them are illegal and come from Amsterdam or Colombia.

If we were happy all the time, the part of the brain that makes us happy would get tired and unable to sustain the effort of all those endless days of smiles, candy canes, and bunny rabbits.

And in some sense happy is just the absense of negative emotions anyway. If you were always happy, I imagine you wouldn’t be quite so happy about it. Happy is a better than average mood. How can we be better than average all the time?

And besides, being happy all the time isn’t all its cracked up to be. Who doesn’t enjoy waking up in a shitty mood and drinking oneself into a stupor of self-pity?? I know I do!!!

I’ve spoken in the past about the quest for happiness. I admit it amuses me to think about. At the risk of appearing narcissistic, I will quote myself on this matter:

This brings us to today, where it is assumed that happiness is a birthright. It is no coincidence that unhappiness has increased as a result. As I have found through experience, thinking you must always be happy can itself become a source of unhappiness when you find it is impossible to attain, thus believing that it is some defect in yourself or unfairness of the world that is impeding your eternal inner peace.

As far as the question of whether or not I would care that my happiness was fake: Although I have no experience in this matter and it is purely a mental exercise…I would say it wouldn’t much matter to me.

I could sit peacefully on the hillside enjoying the view (which might be of a trash dump for all I cared) while the non-pill-users could get together an angry support group to protest the “reality cheaters”. Misery loves company. Thats why people keep telling me to get married I figure.

As far as whether or not there is a difference between “real” happiness and pill-form happiness: I think not. Only the unhappy would be troubled by such a question.

What do you think? What would happen if they came out with a happiness pill? Would you take it?

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Not many people can review their own thoughts like I can. I have nearly a decade of personal journals and saved emails.

My first saved email at my Yahoo account is from 1998 to

i got this new e-mail address that i can access from anywhere, so I don’t have to have my own computer. you can write me here when I’m in taiwan, or even when i’m travelling if i happen to stop by an internet cafe. call me a fool; i’ve got some news about myself and some young girl that i work with that might interest you. alright, i’m out,


Hey, in 1998 webmail was still pretty new. I seem pretty amazed by it. I have no idea who the “young girl that i work with” is. My memory isn’t what it used to be….and it was never that good.

I remember Billy Joel was talking about playing his old songs live and needing the sheet music. Sometimes he’d read words he’d written and think, “Man, that’s pretty good. I forgot I’d written that.”

That’s the way I feel. I forget some of the stuff I said altogether and with other stuff I think, “I couldn’t have said it better myself…” But I guess I did say it myself.

Here is an excerpt from an email a year later, when I was about to leave Taiwan. I must’ve had a fever or something. I seem sort of frantic.

i am really sick now….the phone went out today and i have spent all morning trying to get it fixed so i can make calls about my tickets and such….the apartment is empty….the flowers are dead in the corner…my eyes water all the time…i think i’m still going into work just because i figure i don’t care and it can’t get any worse…emily asked me some questions about the apartment today when i went to dropped off the homework in Tanshui…the guards want the money for March (fat chance they get that..hehehehe)and she said something about my chinese roommates needed to call about when the lease ends…i don’t care anymore…i think its gonna be ok. maybe she is suspicious…i hope it keeps her up at night…..i’ve taken care of the major things except keeping my bags somewhere. India may be off again because the taj mahal is fucking far from katmandu…maybe i’ll fly..or i’m thinking about going to angor wat in cambodia, but there is civil war..and its hard to cross overland….I spent all day yesterday running around taipei looking at travel books, and cameras…only to buy nothing, all sick, raining….i drank some Starbucks and i think it threw my brain into delirium…i was walking around reminiscing about when i first got here…fuck…..i’ve been here too long..

Man….those were the days…sort of. I was very sick, but somehow I’d worked myself up into a mad pulse of energy….sickness be damned. I had my eye on the goal: Escape. Like the Millenium Falcon from the exploding Death Star.

Fast forward about two years and I wrote this email from Spain. This one is a little different. I not only remember it, but reading the words now makes me remember how I felt, where I wrote it, the day, and what happened after I left.

What an incredibly brief and wonderful focal point this was. It takes the sum of a person’s life to occasionally make one feel that at that moment you are better at being you that you’ve ever been before.

my life just changed again forever…i love it…its quite a long story, i´ll tell you when i get home, but this place has been every bit as good as groningen as far as just having fun, and the life and mood, of course everything from now till forever will far short of holland as far as personal growth and just being at that age, but all the people here are at the age we were then and i saw it happening, the way it is changing their lives, the way they will always remember salamanca, its a beautiful thing…i haven´t been this happy in…..a long time….i´m the funniest i´ve ever been…i laugh all day every day, and there are all these people that laugh with me…..i met a girl even…that is too long to give account of now, but for me to really like a girl after so so long just seeing them as the opposite sex suprised even me, i didn´t know i was still capable. Unfortunately i didn´t meet a friend like good ol´ Pete, but i feel blessed for what i have had. I made A´s and B´s in my
classes..which suprised me too, because i haven´t studied any, unless you count speaking bad spanish, wasted, to some girl at a club at 5 in the morning as practice. I got in at 7am last night, 8 the night
before….i´ve been partying like a rock star, and its been such fun. I´m going to shave my head and catch a bus to morocco tonight at midnight…me, the journal, a few books, and the thought that I´ve done the best i could here…I´m content…I´m younger than I´ve ever
been. For me to say I´ve been lucky is almost blasphemy because i know little of it has been luck, but I´ve been lucky still. Its so hard to recover from the time of your life. the years keep rolling
by, and there is so much for me to miss, because there has been so much for me to love.


It took only a few minutes to write that, but in a hundred tries and a year of revisions I’d never get even close to saying it again quite as perfectly.

My life has come together like that so well only a handful of times. It is the hope that one day I can revisit that feeling that wakes me in the morning.

I always find it really interesting to go back and look at what I was thinking at a certain time. I wouldn’t guess anyone else would though.

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I’ve already written my next entry, but I always promise myself not to post after I’ve been drinking.

I always end up rambling about nothing and it makes no sense. I’ll clean it up and it’ll be online by this evening.

On another note, I’ve decided to move out of my apartment complex and move in with someone I know that has a house nearby. I’ll end up saving about 300 bucks a month. Thats a lot of money.

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I could say a bunch of crap about the history of Peru, the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, the mines of Potosi, or the jungles of Bolivia…I’m great at looking up all that information….but I don’t feel like it.

I haven’t the slightest idea why I picked Peru. I also thought about Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua….I also wanted to go back to Eastern Europe…but decided at least I want to go somewhere I can brush up on my Spanish a bit.

Although that is largely wishful thinking. I’m sure spend most of my time talking to English speaking travelers and use my Spanish to say things like, “Cuanto cuesta?” “Donde esta el bano?” and “Otra cerveza por favor”…..and perhaps a few less well known phrases like “Quieres acostarse conmigo?” “Creo que me voy a desmayar. El cuarto esta girando.” and “Come mi culo”. Learning a foreign language in the United States is largely a waste of time…at least as far as practicality is concerned.

Another thing that is largely useless in the United States is knowledge of geography. Where is Iraq? It is in the Middle East. Where is the Middle East? Just left of the Far East. It doesn’t matter anyway. It is just some far off place where people make our Gap jeans and drill oil from the desert to fuel our traffic jams.

That last comment was brought on by the large number of people that have responded, “Where is that?” when I told them where I was going.

Here is a map of Peru in relation to the rest of S. America. If you don’t know where S. America is, it is just south of Central America, which is not coincidentally located Centrally between North and South America. If you don’t know where North America is…..then it is unlikely you have the intelligence to read what I am writing.

You can look at the pictures though:

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I’ve planned a lot of trips in my day. Actually, I’ve gone on a lot of trips in my day. Sometimes they are haphazardly planned….but not always.

I’m probably going to take 3 weeks off in March or April and go somewhere foreign. That really doesn’t narrow it down much. It is fairly difficult to look at a map and just pick someplace to go.

You’ve got to ask yourself a lot of questions: Is there anything to see? Is it safe? Do I need a visa? Does it have tourist infrastucture? Has the government been overthrown lately? Is it the rainy season? Is it expensive? Are there any necessary vaccines and/or medicines to take? Can I get a cheap plane ticket?

It is a bitch to track down all that information. It was easier in the old days. Or at least is seemed that way. I never really had to pick destinations out of a hat like this. I travelled in Europe because I was already living there. You can’t miss in Europe anyway. If you’re already in SE Asia (which I was), go to Thailand. It is the backpacker capital of the world. Living in Israel?? Go see Jeruselum or take a trip to the Pyramids. Who doesn’t want to see the pyramids?

What I’m doing is like throwing darts at a map. And, seemingly, I’ve already been to many of the can’t miss travel spots. I’m running out of places…sort of.

I could always try to get to like Papua New Guinea or something…but I’m not so sure being surrounded by a bunch of midget cannibals with plates in their lips shooting frog poison darts at me sounds like fun.

Maybe I’m getting old though. Travel is always a mixed bag like that. You want to go somewhere exotic, but not too exotic…otherwise you’ll die of cholera in some backwater swamp in Sri Lanka.

Its just that the “exotic, but not too exotic” countries are always changing. It is those countries with a rich history that are past third world but not quite modern that are still happy for the tourists but have not yet realized that they’re all super rich by their standards and so should be swindled out of everything they own…along with a couple of other balancing acts….if you can find somewhere like that….you’ve found a backpacker’s Mecca.

Too many tourists and the locals are jaded and dishonest. Too few tourists and there is likely no infrastructure (and probably a good reason why no one is visiting). Too poor and they’ll rob you at knife point in the streets. Too rich and it isn’t an exotic travelers destination anymore (not to mention it is really expensive).

It all seems sort of ridiculous doesn’t it?

I figure this will be one of my last backpacker-like vacations anyway. It is really tempting just to pay a lump of money and have someone do all this for me and have no decisions nor worries for the entire trip….all guaranteed safe and stress free.

That used to never tempt me. But money is very good at eliminating these types of hassles….and now I have money, so why not use it?

Besides, we get more cautious as we get older. I don’t know why really. Maybe we were just dumb when we were younger. Maybe we realize that the percentages are bound to catch up with us eventually. Probably the more things we are responsible for the more things we realize can go wrong.

Whatever the reason, living here in the US lulls me with its comfort and safety. I would hate to be kidnapped in some S. American jungle. It would be humid and I’d likely be tied up…no bed, no computer, no hot shower. That sounds like such a hassle.

Maybe I’ll just stay in my apartment for 3 weeks in my pajamas, drinking beer, order pizza after pizza, and play Xbox over the Internet until I waste away into nothing.

That would require no planning at all.

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