Long-term Short-term Happiness
TLDR: I think I always act to maximize my happiness in the present. I believe I make “long-term decisions” because I get immediate happiness from the thought that I’m going to do something that will lead me to be happy in the future.
I think that all my desires reduce to a desire to be happy. For example, I want money to buy stuff and to feel financially secure. If I buy things I want and I worry less about my finances, I’ll feel happier.1
I could give a similar example about anything. I want to eat lunch soon because not being hungry makes me happy. I don’t want to live in North Korea because having freedom of speech and using the internet makes me happy. The point is that I don’t want anything besides my own happiness for the sake of it.
That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people.
That means I don’t take any 100% altruistic action.2 For example, I would donate money to charity to make other people happy, which would make me happy.
I want to be as happy as possible. If I can eat lunch and not live in North Korea, I’ll do both.
I also think I always act to maximize my happiness in the present.
I used to say that I wanted “long-term happiness.” I meant that I wanted to maximize my total happiness over the course of my entire life. But I think I was lying to myself when I said that. I at least didn’t always feel that way. If so, I would’ve been able to never procrastinate.
If I want to be happy right now, I literally want short-term happiness. But I wouldn't tell someone I want "short-term happiness." If I heard that someone only thinks “short-term,” I’d imagine someone who doesn’t plan in advance.
I’m fickle. Sometimes working maximizes my happiness. It can feel good to believe I’m being productive. Other times relaxing maximizes my happiness. Procrastinating makes me happiest when I don’t want to work, but I feel like I should be working.
Sometimes I can’t get myself to feel happy. For example, I may not feel happy as I procrastinate. I maximize my happiness while procrastinating by telling myself, “I’ll still get this work done on time” or “It doesn’t matter if I miss this deadline.”
Even when I’m feeling energized and motivated enough to work, I don’t think I want long-term happiness. The experience machine thought experiment inspired this theory.
I don’t know the exact details of the original thought experiment. I imagine the experience machine as a combo of the perfect drug and video game. It would make me infinitely happy and give me immortality. I’d enjoy the machine so much that I’d never leave, and the machine would never break.
Let’s imagine I somehow had the chance to enter the machine. If I only cared about my long-term happiness, the choice would be easy. I’d choose to use the machine and have eternal bliss.
However, I wouldn’t make that decision based on my long-term happiness. I’d think about the people that care about me. They’d be sad that I disappeared. I’d think about all the sentient beings suffering right now and everyone who could suffer in the future.
So I think I’d resist the temptation to enter the machine right now. But if I was in a bad mood, I’d enter it.
I tell myself I want “long-term short-term” happiness. I don’t think there’s anything special about this term. That phrasing helps me. It reminds me that I have an entire life where I’ll try to be as happy as I can in each moment. Many people may interpret “long-term happiness” the same way. But I’d taken it literally.
I’m defining happiness as a positive emotional state (i.e., a good feeling).