Putting Positive Networks to Work
Michael Bishop (PI) (Philosophy, Florida State University).
Positive grooves are self-maintaining networks of positive feelings, emotions, attitudes, traits, and accomplishments. (Psychologists sometimes call them "upward spirals.") Negative ruts are self-maintaining networks of negative feelings, emotions, attitudes, traits, and dysfunctions. These vicious cycles are explicit in empirical research on depression, loneliness, and anxiety disorders, among others. This project starts with the idea that a person who is happy and flourishing is in prolonged grooves, but not prolonged ruts. I propose to tackle three issues from the perspective of this "ruts-and-grooves" framework.
1. Confusion about what a happy life is can diminish your happiness. There's evidence that thinking about happiness wrong makes you less happy. Two mistakes are common. The first is thinking about happiness as achieving some static goal (like success, money, or fame). This leads to the disappointment trap: Don't achieve your goal and you're disappointed. Achieve your goal, and unless you remain actively engaged with the world, you're likely to suffer the Peggy Lee ("Is that all there is?") problem and (again) be disappointed. The second mistake is hedonism, thinking about the happy life in terms of good feelings. Your emotional system has a function - to prepare you to deal with actual or potential challenges and opportunities - and it can't carry out this function effectively if it's constantly set at "overjoyed." When your life is going really well, you're going to be actively engaged with the world. If you're also expecting protracted hedonic ecstasy, you're going to end up sorely, and needlessly, disappointed.
2. Thinking about happy lives in terms of ruts and grooves has practical advantages. Happy lives take many forms. Everyone's grooves are different. But happy lives typically comprise some combination of grooves involving healthy relationships (a spouse, children, parents, close friendships) and enjoyable activities (raising a family, playing bridge, volunteering at the local art museum). To improve the quality of your life, the ruts-and-grooves framework suggests you first diagnose the grooves that do (or could) make you happy and the ruts that do (or could) make you unhappy; and then prescribe interventions that are likely to work in your particular situation. To formulate a clear and personalized plan, one needs an instruction manual: An account of some common ruts and grooves, how they work, and how we can go about interrupting the ruts and fostering the grooves. Articulating this sort of manual is an important part of my research.
3. A central goal of policy is to establish rules, norms and institutions that promote interpersonal and intrapersonal grooves and that prevent interpersonal and intrapersonal ruts. In recent years, scholars have argued about whether policy-makers should de-emphasize economic policy goals (such as increasing wealth and GDP) and place more emphasis on promoting happiness and well-being. Central to these debates are questions about how to properly measure happiness and well-being; and these debates depend, in turn, on what these goods are. I plan to bring the ruts-and-grooves framework to these debates.