Aug 14, 2022·edited Aug 14, 2022

This was a fascinating article and got me thinking about how happiness is associated with personal morality. If you live within your own moral code does it make you happier?

I am an active church member and belong to perhaps one of the strictest sects in terms of behavioral guidelines. I have seen many people fail to live to the standards and abandon the church because the guilt was making them unhappy. If they adjusted their moral standards to what is generally accepted by society at large, they felt they could find greater personal happiness even if leaving negatively impacted relationships with family members and friends still in the church. From a psychological standpoint, it has been a fascinating phenomenon to observe because few who leave would openly admit they left because they failed to live to the standard. The standard is so high we all fail from time to time, but those who stay assuage their guilt through deity.

I’m sure there are studies on how the use of drugs, pornography, overeating, gambling etc impact one’s personal happiness and I wonder if engaging in these types of behaviors are better or worse for one’s personal happiness depending on the moral standard set when a person is young.

Expand full comment

My opinion is that people are different in terms of needed boundaries of control. What is required for a healthy society in consideration of the actual human condition is an almost infinite number of individual choices contained by a broad framework of moral rules. And some of those choices should be to commit to a more detailed and finite framework of moral rules... because the individual needs it.

Were we break down is when the fight for extremes in demand dominates that everyone either reject all attempts to adopt a common moral framework, or otherwise demand that everyone complies with a strict moral framework.

Expand full comment

Hi Andrea, I am interested to know what part of Christianity you call your own. I think that both the strictness of the code and the means of forgiveness are important in this discussion.

Expand full comment

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have a very strict health and moral conduct code, but also believe God is loving and merciful.

Expand full comment

Great article. This is a very interesting topic, please write more about it. I love your succinct writing and narrative.

I wonder if the positive effect of moral acts fades away faster than that of immoral or neutral ones. In that case, one needs to either regularly engage in intentional moral acts or be reminded of the positive effect of their previous moral acts, to maintain their happiness.

Expand full comment

Rob, the valuing of an immoral act twice as strongly as a moral act sounds suspiciously similar to the behavioral economists’ finding that we value monetary losses at twice the importance of equivalent gain.

I wonder if there is a neurological or psychological root cause of both.

Expand full comment

This is very interesting. I caused me some new brain activity. Thank you.

Love this...

"Morality is necessary for self-respect.

Self-respect is necessary for happiness.

Therefore, morality is necessary for happiness."

I have noted that the political left is terribly immoral these days... seeming to justify almost any bad means to their believed righteous end of political dominance.

And the political left is significantly depressed.

I have previously theorized that depressed people who are social and economic malcontents (considering that this is always a relative pursuit for individuals... for example, elites require elite-level attainment) flock to the left as the left is the side of politics that is never satisfied with the way things are.

But this piece has me thinking that more powerful forces are programming people to behave immorally around their politics, and this is causing them to be depressed as they know they have slipped to being not-good people. And once depressed they become more committed to behaving badly... because they are victims.

It is damn hard to admit that you have slipped to being not-good and do the work to climb back out of that hole and emerge a person of strong and positive moral character. Christianity is an example of something that can help people with this task, but the very people that need the most help tend to also have been programmed to reject religion... especially Christianity. Thus it is easier to find a victim group of like-minded malcontents and join them in protest and rage justified by the collective malcontentedness.

Thus my thinking here is that we need to nip this problem at the source... the forced of power that are corrupting so many people to adopt immoral political behavior instead of striving to become people of strong moral character. This project would seem to be the most egalitarian as it would save so many from a life of depression.

Expand full comment

Great read, thanks Rob!

Expand full comment

That is a very uplifting thing to read. Although it might make some people feel a bit down about being depressed, but better to know it than not to.

Expand full comment

I do not have such an association. It seems weird. Effect on emotions makes it understandable. But I'd interpret "be less moral" as involving reduction of this very effect. I'd have more self-respect if I was less moral in that sense, if anything.

Expand full comment