Sunday 10 November 2019

Relativism And Happiness

In human life and in human mind every concept, every emotion, every thought,...actually everything is relative to something else. Well, for meaningful existence of anything we need to understand (or at least know) its context. Nothing is complete and absolute in and of itself. This is what I call as relativism.

It is not often that we let life happen to us, without putting up a question - "why?". The very reason we want to ask the why-question(s): "why is it so...why did you do it...why is it so hot...why me?" shows we need added information to make sense of what we have in that moment.

Through this post I neither intend to explain further about theory of relativism, nor delve into our need for more information, i.e. context, to understand the moment. As I see it, our need for context exists and that's that! However, there is a link between relativism and our happiness, and the intention of this post is to highlight this link.

In my previous post, A Philosophical Question, I had introduced the following equation of happiness quotient (happiness at any given moment):

What I have received - what I expected to receive = Happiness Quotient (H.Q.)

As per this equation, our happiness is dependent on reality (what I have received) and expectations. The bad news is, we can neither be in control of what we receive nor become absolutely expectation-less. The good news is, we can learn to change meaning of reality (by changing its context) and recalibrate our expectations as we live on. The way we can do both (although one at a time) is to learn to better manage our emotional responses to both - the reality we face and the level of unmet expectations. It is here, learning to better manage our emotions that relativism plays a role and that's the link between relativism and happiness.

There is one thing that we know how to do, inherently, is to look for context and reach meaning. 

We love dogs, to the extent to claim that dogs are man's best friend (sorry - human's best friend...hope the feminists would let this be!). Correction, we love pet dogs. If we come across a stray dog, very often the first emotion is not that of love and compassion - it is fear. Pet dogs bring out positive emotions in us and give us higher degree of happiness than stray dogs - where neither the individual dog nor its breed has done anything to us directly (yet!). Context has dogs, whether our own or of anybody else's, are more likely to be better trained and healthier (with all required vaccinations given) than the stray dogs.

However, there are some individuals (might not be many) who find it in their heart to love stray dogs just as much (or more) as pet dogs. There difference is that these people manage to change context in their mind, think of dogs as inherently human-friendly and quickly realise that stray dogs' unreliable reactions (such as biting a human) could be stemmed in its own fear of humans or its experience of being ill-treated by humans in past (relativism!). These people choose to believe that stray dogs, too, need love and care. 

Based on their past experiences, these people also recalibrate their expectations from both, the dog (towards them) and from themselves (towards the dog), leading to a happier interaction than one based on fear and ignorance. Not to say that these people have never been bitten by a stray dog, or never been met by less-than-friendly reaction from one. With experience and will, they have learned not to make certain sudden movements that can unsettle the dog, or that just because the dog lunges at them it is not with the intent to hurt them (relativism!). They have learned to manage their emotional-responses over time, which ultimately helps them recalibrate their expectations for future.

As seen in the above example, it is possible to change context of what we have received, recalibrate our expectations and learn to control our emotional-responses. Whether we manage to change all or just one - it is good to know that we do possess some degree of control over happiness all the time, provided we understand relativism. Relativism at the very least provides fluidity to our understanding of life and thus to our experiences - being rigid is not how we can live this life and be happy.

Looking at life through the lens of relativism helps us acknowledge that the reality we face has more than one perspectives (and thus meaning) - one that we are seeing, experiencing, feeling...and that that other person is seeing, experiencing, feeling, before getting carried away by our initial emotional-response to the balance between the reality we face and what we expected it to be.

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