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Terrains of Demons & Sirens

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

I propose that happiness is externally reactive and joy is internally learned. Newborns cry when they are hungry and smile when they are fed. From unhappy to happy based on external conditions that inform states of unpleasantness or pleasantness. Joy, however, requires complex biocognition designed to engage agency. A move from self adjusting to circumstances, toward adjusting circumstances to self. Happiness is determined by external conditions, whereas joy is accessed from within, independent of what occurs outside of selfhood.


Because of the transitory nature of happiness, cultural editors compensate for the loss of control by imposing tribal rules that are gradually assimilated to keep us within the pale. While happiness requires external conditions mostly dependent on collectivist goals (group acceptance, validation, rewards), joy seeks individuation (introspection, agency, outlier consciousness), no longer serving the tribe.


We can further differentiate happiness from joy by examining their respective terrains. In biocognitive science, rather than modifying behavior, we recontextualize the terrains that maintain behavior. The terrain of happiness is pleasant vs unpleasant, whereas the terrain of joy is worthy vs. unworthy. Thus, happiness seeks pleasure, and joy explores meaning. Although, at times, happiness and joy can converge to serve collectivist as well as individual needs, their ultimate goals require deciding between tribally determined happiness or individually defined joy.


The conflict between externally prescribed happiness and internally discovered joy, breathes life to demons and sirens that function as tribal advocates: demons to dissuade with fear, and sirens to seduce with pleasure. Consequently, the terrain of happiness is fueled by motivation when confronted with prescribed unpleasantness and admonitions for disapproved pleasantness. In my view, motivation is a manipulation to entice behavior that would not take place without being motivated. A methodology fit for rats.


When we explore individuation, however, motivation is replaced with self-discipline driven by determining the worthiness of the individual and the significance of the goal. We transition from pleasant/unpleasant to worthy/unworthy. From happy compliance to outlier joy.

More to come...


Terrains of Demons & Sirens

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