The title actually explains it all.

If one's goal is to live one's life as a happy person, which I actually want, what would be the best course to achieve that?

I for myself could find myself getting depressed when I think too much about myself and my flaws, which are painfully obvious for one who truly tries to observe oneself, or the world. On the other hand when I do not care I find myself to be way happier.

So what leads to an objectively better and happier life and what negatives do too much or too little knowledge have?

Are there any philosophical treatments of the relation between knowledge and happiness?

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    An insightful and not difficult philosophical book recently published is Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World by Prof. Iddo Landau. Highly recommended. – Eliran Sep 6 '18 at 13:04
  • @EliranH Gonna get a look at it! :) – MansNotHot Sep 6 '18 at 13:25
  • You have to create your own "ought" i.e. Directed toward ends that you think are good. My own personal opinion is that reading history helps to inform us, but this is just my opinion. Even if there is an afterlife, still our life on earth is finite, so the second part of Heidegger's "Being and Time" may interest you. This is basically Aristotle except we must aim toward our own ends, and pethaps not to objective ends. – Gordon Sep 6 '18 at 15:37
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    Thinking about own flaws is not the only type of acquiring knowledge. Except flaws there are many other things to know. – rus9384 Sep 8 '18 at 7:08
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    This is a an odd question The Perennial philosophy is about little else than the relationship between knowledge and happiness. Hence for practitioners it is sometimes called the pursuit of knowledge and sometime the pursuit of happiness, and it is both. – user20253 Sep 8 '18 at 12:15

The question is about the relationship of happiness and knowledge:

So what leads to an objectively better and happier life and what negatives do too much or too little knowledge have?

There are two observations to make up-front:

  1. It is not so important the quantity of knowledge as its accuracy.
  2. Being unhappy may be a good thing if it gets one thinking about how to become happy again.

Steven Gundry illustrates the problem of inaccurate knowledge when it comes to health, which influences happiness at the bodily level, in The Plant Paradox. He offers a diet that focuses on removing proteins called lectins. These are found in whole grains which according to other diets are considered healthy. But is the information he provides accurate? Is his healthy diet better than the various other diets that pay no attention to lectins? Accurate knowledge is more important than its quantity.

Being healthy is not an on-off characteristic. Those who do not feel well will likely be searching for knowledge to help them feel better. Those who do feel fine enough may not be so motivated but accept a sub-optimal healthy state as normal until more serious problems materialize.

The same goes for emotional health. If one is subjected to what may appear to be verbal abuse either from one's family, work environment or the media, this may make one unhappy. That criticism is a kind of knowledge. What is important is not how much of it one receives, but whether it is accurate or not. If the criticism is accurate it should lead to making changes whose benefits can be measured by how happy one is after those changes.

In sum, it is not the quantity of knowledge that is important for happiness. Rather it is the accuracy of that knowledge. Being unhappy is a motivator to find a way to return to happiness that may not be present in those who have learned to tolerate a less than optimal state of happiness.


Gundry, S. R. (2017). The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain. HarperCollins.

  • I like this answer as it rings with me and has a positive note which i could use for myself. Especially the "Being unhappy may be a good thing if it gets one thinking about how to become happy again" part! :) Thanks – MansNotHot Sep 10 '18 at 7:30

There are too many complex variables to make your question answerable. What works for one individual in a particular situation may not work for another.

The maxim ignorance is bliss speaks volumes. As a long-time political activist, I find myself weighed down by the ever bigger socio-political-environmental problems weighing down on us. Although I despise the muddled masses who are addicted to video games and football, I'm often envious of their apparent carefree attitudes.

One problem is the fact that once you learn about something bad, you can't always unlearn it. So if you say "To hell with climate change," I'm just going to party, is that an example of ignorance or escapism?

In his classic work A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold wrote about the penalty of having an ecological consciousness. One person can look at a landscape brightened by millions of bright yellow blossoms and proclaim it beautiful. However, a naturalist might moan, "But those are an introduced species that's wiping out plants that native animal species depend on. And what happened to the herds of bison and elk that once grazed here?"

Leopold isn't generally recognized as a philosopher (as far as I know), but some of his writings are clearly philosophical.

Getting back to your unanswerable question, an important keyword is selfishness. Happiness can be extremely selfish if it comes at the expense of others. Which brings us to the question of responsibility.

What responsibilities, if any, do we have to our families, friends, neighborhoods, communities, countries or the environment? When we embrace ignorance as an antidote to depression, we may be letting all the above down.

In the end, it comes to a question of balance. That can mean pacing yourself. Instead of reading about depressing truths 24 hours a day, set aside a few hours for some healthy escapism. You can also try to brainstorm ways to make the depressing things less depressing.

For example, if you lived in a wretched country where everyone was starving, wouldn't it cheer you up a bit to know there are people in other countries who care about you? In that spirit, caring about others enough to risk putting a dent in your happiness is a small price to pay for that happiness.

I think we can safely say that virtually all philosophers choose knowledge over ignorance. Then again, there are many who delve into such esoteric and arguably pointless questions that we might wonder if they've merely turned philosophy into a form of escapism.

It would be interesting to know if philosophers are generally happier than most people. Alan Watts appeared to be a happy guy, while others are clearly less giddy.

I suspect most have no choice but learn how to live with their passion for understanding.

P.S. Regarding your highlighted question about philosophical treatments, see my comment about Aldo Leopold's comment - which I think speaks volumes. I think Alan Watts had something to say about this subject, though it's been so long since I've read his stuff I can't really remember any specifics.

Also, here's a priceless quote from Edward Abbey, an environmental activist who might loosely be regarded as a philosopher:

Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless.

Which prompts a question: Instead of limiting yourself to either/or questions regarding Ignorance vs Knowledge, try to look at this thing from various perspectives.


Ah, here's an Alan Watts video you might find interesting, though it doesn't really focus on ignorance vs knowledge. However, it focuses on happiness, which is an integral part of your question.


Life has no meaning and soon you'll be dead. Cosmologically in fact very soon.. all of humanity from Bill Gates to the bloke who sold me a can of coke today.. will be a 1cm thin sliver of blackened dtrata. So prioritising personal happiness is probably as rational a decision as any. In Candide.. Voltaire says that happiness comes from physical work The brief respite from overthinking.. worry.. pain and grief that digging a deep ditch by hand brings. I'll give that opinion a 9/10. Clever people over value the intellect and under value viscera. Religion offers many pieces of good advise as to how to avoid confrontation with your conscience in later life.. worth heeding trust me. Be loyal, moral and try to have honour. Not because of other people.. but because when you're older you will thank yourself. Most of all .. understand that happiness is not a reward or a goal.. it is a way of living. You can be unhappy in a bath of champagne... Whilst others without a cup to drink from smile all day long. If you are unhappy now.. you make memories of being unhappy.. those memories drag around with you.. happy memories make present you happy.. so find joy where you can. Get quickly past setbacks.. look for the positives in everything. Most of all.. smile. Even if your teeth are bad and your boss is an ass hat. Smile while you walk. While you sit.. in solitude.. in company. Your body is just a wet.. messy machine.. smiling is the way you make the machine happy.

Ignorance is an unfair advantage when it comes to being happy. See the Lisa Simpson chart of iq to happiness levels. But I'm pretty much a nihilist.. I make Nietzsche look like Norman Wisdom. But knowing nothing matters is cathartic. You need to get right to the bottom.. the black abyss of the despair and futility of it all to realise that is the point.. there is no point.. so why choose unhappiness?


It depends on how you want to look at it.

If you don't think of the consequences, then it's better to be ignorant. Being ignorant grants you temporary reprieve from the dreariness in life. In time, though, the consequences will still hit you whether you like it or want it or not.

I believe that it is better to be knowledgeable. Sure you might give up temporary happiness, but you won't be unhappy forever.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link. Welcome! – Frank Hubeny Sep 8 '18 at 2:25

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