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Is there a philosophical school of thought that states (to some effect) the level of negative experience for each individual is set throughout a persons life time, regardless of the change in life circumstances? or another way of looking at it - is there a certain size of "space that must be filled" with negative experience?

For example, an individual somehow relieves themselves of a negative circumstance after much work but then another is newly created, filling the space of the last one?

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    Unlikely to be a philosophical school. This theme is for an empirical science as psychology to solve not to philosophy. – Annotations Jul 6 '13 at 23:27
  • @RicardoBevilaqua: I'm not sure if this space can be accurately measured but may still exist... – Greg McNulty Jul 8 '13 at 16:11
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Philosophical school of thought that negative experience levels are set for an individual?

Unlikely to be a philosophical school. This question is for an empirical science as psychology to solve not to philosophy. But it has implications for the "philosophy of happiness", as we shall see.

Regarding happiness, what philosophers can observe before the empirical science is what is dictated by the common sense that happiness isn't pleasure. Pursuit of happiness is not to seek pleasure. Pleasure is satiable but not happiness. If, for whatever reason, one does equate happiness with pleasure, then the paradox of hedonism arises.

The philosopher Henry Sidgwick was first to note the paradox of hedonism. The paradox is that pleasure cannot be acquired directly, it can only be acquired indirectly. If for example you heard that collecting stamps was very pleasurable, and began a stamp collection as a means towards this happiness, it would inevitably be in vain. To achieve happiness, you must not seek happiness directly, you must motivate yourself towards things unrelated to happiness, like the collection of stamps. The hedonistic paradox mean that if one sets the goal to please oneself too highly then the mechanism would in fact jam itself.

John Stuart Mill: One's happiness was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.

Viktor Frankl: Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself.

Nietzsche: One does not strive for joy [...] joy accompanies


Is there a certain size of "space that must be filled" with negative experience?

Although not a topic that is the result of philosophy, the empirical study of happiness can have some consequence for philosophers who like generalizations about the human condition. There may be implications for the philosophical issues of free will, meaning of life, and the ethics of utilitarianism, but these are issues that are beyond the scope of the question. "Space must not be filled" with negative experience. The set point of happiness is more due to genetic characteristics of psychological adaptability to positive and negative events than objective occurrence of events. In general terms the feeling of well-being has a majority of genetic influence and not a decisive influence of the environment:

Happiness seems to be more like a thermostat, since our temperaments tend to bring us back towards a certain happiness level (a tendency influenced by carefully chosen activities and habits). From the empirical point of view, what can be said is that there is the hedonic adaptation, is the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives—despite events that occur in their environment, as much bad as good. The focus of positive psychology is to determine how to maintain or raise the hedonic set point.

Many years of research, however, have proven that a detail of the hedonic theory to be simply untrue. There isn't a neutral set point return after a significantly emotional life event. People are not hedonically neutral, and that individuals have different set points which are, in part, determined by their temperament. For the most part, people generally tend to maintain a happy mood the majority of the time. Individuals may have more than one happiness set point, such as a life satisfaction set point and a subjective well being set point, and that one's level of happiness is not just one given set point but can vary within a given range. Some individuals do experience substantial changes to their hedonic set point over time, though most others do not.

Unlike the happiness set point, which can be relatively stable throughout the course of an individual’s life, the life satisfaction and subjective well being set points are a tad more complicated. For most people, life satisfaction baseline is similar to their happiness baseline. Their life satisfaction will hover around a set point for the majority of their lives and not dramatically change. For about a quarter of the population though, this set point is not stable, and does indeed move. As for the subjective well being set point, long term data show that subjective well being set points do change over time, and that adaptation is not necessarily inevitable. Also, it is possible for someone’s subjective well-being set point to drastically change, in such cases as those individuals who acquire a severe, long term disability. However the amount of fluctuation a person does around their set point is largely dependent on that individual’s ability to adapt. After following over a thousand sets of twins for 10 years, study concluded that almost 50% of our happiness levels are determined by genetics. Our position on the spectrum of the stable personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience) is responsible for how to experience and perceive life events, indirectly also being responsible for our happiness levels.

Evolutionary theory explains that humans evolved through natural selection and follow genetic imperatives that seek to maximize reproduction, not happiness.

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