The Carrot of Happiness

The twin incentives for engineering greater human longevity: on the one hand, we have the stick of disease, degeneration, and suffering. On the other hand we have the carrot of a life that in all other aspects generally keeps getting better. Being older brings with it wisdom, knowledge, experience, and perhaps most importantly independence - the ability to be your own person and forge your own path.

Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says:

It is inevitable. The muscles weaken. Hearing and vision fade. We get wrinkled and stooped. We can’t run, or even walk, as fast as we used to. We have aches and pains in parts of our bodies we never even noticed before. We get old. It sounds miserable, but apparently it is not. A large Gallup poll has found that by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older, and researchers are not sure why.

It's because everything except the degeneration improves with time. Getting the most out of being human is a skill, just like any other, and practice makes perfect. I think that this comment from Glenn Reynolds is quite to the point:

Well, I’m certainly happier than I was in my 20s, or even 30s. But I’m not really feeling any physical effects of aging yet. I suggest, however, that this is a good argument for life extension - if people get happier as they live longer, and if that remains true even as their bodies fall apart, they’re likely to be happier still if they remain healthy.

Youth is wasted on the young, as they say - so why not work at making youth available to everyone? It's the horror of the human condition that just as we get to the point of being practiced and elegant, the rug is pulled out from under us. But engineered healthy longevity is a very possible, plausible goal for this present age of biotechnology. Like all good things it requires work to realize: the longer we hang around not working on it, the longer it'll take to arrive.


This argument does more harm than good because the "death is natural" crowd use it to argue against curing aging. Also, it is very misleading, for two reasons:

First, I'll bet that most people 60 or older, no matter how much happier they say they are, would give their entire wealth to be restored to age 18.

Second, the young are mainly unhappy *because* they know they're getting older. It is this, and all the imperatives that come with it, that generates the anxiety which ruins the best years for all too many of us.

Posted by: Will Nelson at June 2nd, 2010 1:40 PM

@Will Nelson: I'd have to argue against that. I believe that the young are unhappy because they have comparatively little power, are in many ways large and small made prisoners by the strictures of society, and lack the means to self-determination.

The old would give their entire wealth to be restored to the body of an 18 year old, true - but while retaining their present knowledge, experience, and social network. Those are important conditionals, for they represent as much or more value than the money.

Posted by: Reason at June 2nd, 2010 2:58 PM

I agree with you about the need for self-determination, but I disagree about the origin of the problem. After all, kids and students are pretty happy despite minimal power and maximal strictures; however, they do have self-determination, and the reason is that they aren't yet locked into a career, saving for that nest egg, and fretting about each passing year in which they aren't doing what they would "really" prefer to be doing (which for most people does not involve making money).

So I guess what I am getting at is that the connection between power, societal position, and self-determination is caused by the aging process and the absolute need to save for retirement. Having self-determination is not that challenging, if you don't have to also work on saving up a million bucks.

Posted by: Will Nelson at June 2nd, 2010 4:06 PM
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