Monday, February 9, 2009

4 Kinds of Hamburgers

According to Tal Ben-Shahar, author of the excellent book "Happier," there are four kinds of hamburgers I can eat. Each of these hamburgers represents an approach to happiness. See which approach you use!

1. Tasty Junk Food Burger. This is the kind of burger that yields present benefit, in that I would enjoy it, and future detriment, in that I would subsequently not feel well. This fits with the hedonistic approach to happiness. Hedonists live by the maxim "Seek pleasure, avoid pain" focusing on enjoying the present while ignoring the negative consequences of their actions.

2. Tasteless Vegetarian Burger. This burger is made with only the healthiest ingredients which will afford me maximum future benefit, in that I would feel good and healthy, but present detriment, in that I would not enjoy eating it. This burger fits with the rat racer approach to happiness. The rat racer subordinates the present to the future, suffering now for an anticipated gain.

3. Tasteless and Unhealthy Burger. This is the worst of all kinds of burgers - it tastes bad and is bad for you. This corresponds to the nihilist approach to happiness - present and future detriment. This is the person who has lost the lust for life, someone who neither enjoys the moment nor has a sense of future purpose.

4. The Tasty and Healthy Burger. This perfect burger is the best of all worlds; tasty and healthy. This burger exemplifies the happiness approach to happiness! Happy people look for present and future benefit. Happy people live secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring them pleasure in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future.

No one wants to be a nihilist (and not get any pleasure) while the hedonistic approach has only short term effects (and long term drawbacks) . Being a rat racer may seem like the best way to go except that when rat racers finally achieve a big goal they usually only feel relief (the pressure is now over) as opposed to happiness. Rat racers, confusing relief with happiness, keep on chasing bigger and bigger goals, hoping the next one will make them happy but only feeling worse about their empty achievements.

Instead of asking if we should be happy now or in the future, the happy person asks "How can I be happy now and in the future?" While present and future benefit may sometimes conflict - because some situations demand that we forgo one for the other - it is possible to enjoy both for much of the time. Happiness can be best described as trying to spend as much time as possible engaged in activities that provide both present and future benefit. This formula of Ben Shahars's which I've shared before then is:

Happiness = Pleasure (positive emotions in the present) + Meaning (future benefit of our actions)

So what kind of burger do you usually eat? How can learn better to make choices that will result in you doing actions that will benefit both your present and your future? What changes do you need to make in your life to make that happen? And what's holding you back?


Terry L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry L said...

I see your vegetarianism for the month is wearing on you! :) All this talk about burgers is making me hungry!

Of course now metaphorically speaking, I am usually in the tasty junk food burger category. Sometimes I end up with a Tasteless unhealthy burger without realizing it until I've already paid for it. And I always end up eating it anyways.

Funny now that I read this, its true metaphorically and literally as well... :)


netablogs said...

Perhaps the tasteless vegetarian burger is only tasteless because it is so different from what has been ingested for so long. In the long run, it becomes tasty, especially because of the beneficial results of eating it (and losing the flavour of what was once considered 'tasty'). It's like getting out to do a training run when one really feels like vegging in front of the big screen TV. Once out and running, the person knows she has made the right decision, and the endorphins kick in.
Just a thought. :)

Mark said...

I have to say that I sample most of the burgers quite often (except for the Tasteless/Unhealthy one). For me the application is disciplining myself to find and put time into activities that will make me happy in both the present and the future. But I'm improving!

Aneta, although that doesn't help the analogy, I do agree with your hypothesis (Gandhi found the same thing actually).

And Terry, yes, I do see the irony of talking about burgers during my experiments with vegetarian diet.