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How do you determine which values to live by?

Hi Sebastian,

Found your blog a while ago via HN; you seem like someone who has either though these questions through carefully, or would like to.

You mention "good" a lot in your writing, and allude to values which you ostensibly find good. How do you determine which values are the ones to live your life by, and having determined them, at least in part, are they set for life? If not, does changing them devalue them?

Unless you base your values on those of some specific culture or society, you are picking and choosing anyway. Why not just become a complete hedonist? Even if you delay gratification, you are still a hedonist if what you do is for yourself. And if not for yourself, for whom?

Staying consistent and meaningful in any sort of value system other than hedonism seems impossible. The sole value you might take could be happiness–"whatever makes me happy is good"–and the only problems you might have would be balancing short-term satisfaction and long-term satisfaction. That is unsatisfying to me from a philosophical angle, and a pragmatic one: because it's not how society likes us to think, it is harder to get along with the rest of the tribe.

Happiness and Satisfaction

On Tynan

Seven years ago, I wrote a post called "How to Be Happy. Always." It's pretty poorly written, but starts off with an important concept-- we live in a society where happiness is the number one priority. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one really questions that, but maybe we should. Is happiness really the best goal we can come up with?

In the time that's elapsed between when I wrote that post and now, I've thought a lot about happiness, and I still think that maximizing it is a bad idea. But before I get into that, let's talk a little bit about what happiness is.

Happiness is an good state of mind. It allows you to be optimistic, to see the good in people, and to be productive. On the other end of the spectrum, when you're very unhappy, you have a lot of barriers between things like productivity and socialization. Clearly, being happy is much better than being unhappy. It's important to be happy. Is there such a thing as being too happy? I don't think so. I've never seen someone make a mistake because he was just too happy.

So what's my problem with maximizing happiness, then? Well, it's the method, mostly.

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