Have you thought about (HYTA) whether critical thinking can make us unhappy?

Thinking deeply is not an uncommon occurrence. But thinking correctly and logically is rare, and hardest when we need it most. After all, it’s difficult, and sometimes perilous, to break apart and scrutinise our belief systems and moral values. Some people may never put themselves back again.

Yet, I have always considered critical thinking to be the finest battalion of the mind, with skepticism and knowledge as the left and right vanguards, and logic as the sharpest point of the spear. Aligned in such a formation, we save ourselves from some very bad beliefs and make higher quality life decisions.

Without rocking the boat over to either Psychology or Philosophy, the unfortunate consequence of thinking in great logical detail appears to be best summarised by John Stuart Mill as “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.” Those with a widely analytical and curious mind are more likely to feel the backlash of thinking deeply on many issues.

In a study of happiness that was conducted in a monastery, although the nuns were mostly insulated from the outside world, they were among some of the happiest people, and also lived longer lives. Did they know much about evolution or about the absurdities of their religion? I doubt it. A certain measure of ignorance buys one happiness. But was it worth it? I honestly don’t know.

The human mind is peculiar and very, very diverse. If you spend your entire life in the mental cage of a belief system, you will often never discover that you were being cheated of something more. I am sure we have met people who were evidently wrong but in their minds, they firmly believed they were in the right, and no amount of reasoning or evidence will sway them – but they are happy.

To make it worse, logic does not run hand in hand with emotions, and if it has to, almost always finds itself at the losing end. Emotions, especially those related to love, hate and power are some of our oldest and most powerful ancestral tools. The greater the conflict between logic and emotions, the more we douse ourselves in misery.

What then at the end? Is this a refutation of critical thinking? I don’t think so.

Even at the cost of happiness by degrees, thinking well outweighs ignorance. Too many bright human lives have been extinguished by really bad thinking. Whether you pin the donkey’s tail on religion, cults or conmen, there’s no doubt some element of good thinking is needed. Though there are (and were) days where emotions and memories get the better of me, I still like to, at least for now, continue seeing the world clearer.

Perhaps to some people, it’s a price that’s too high to pay.

So have you thought (HYTA) about whether critical thinking makes you unhappy?

4 thoughts on “Have you thought about (HYTA) whether critical thinking can make us unhappy?

  1. The secret of happiness is to never think about whether you are happy or not. The secret of being a happy critical thinker is to think critically about everything except whether you are happy or not, or perhaps you could just use logic to deduce that happiness is a Catch 22 (if you want to be happy you can never be happy) and therefore impossible, or, quite simply, a non-existent.human fantasy.

    1. Thank you for your comment. You are not wrong. If I recall correctly, I remember Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once writing that life isn’t the pursuit of pleasure but the process of flow. (deeply enjoyable activities)

      It does frame life as a journey of meaningful (or ultimately pointless) distractions though. Haha.

      1. Life as a distraction … an interesting idea. If life is purposeful (which I believe) how can it be that there are so many distractions? Have we perhaps invented an imaginary escape mechanism from life called happiness?

      2. Perhaps you are not wrong. Happiness is a state of chemical reward by the brain, and we are, without exception or choice, given an incentive system. Love, family, power and recognition are all organic systems built into us – at least based on our evolutionary history. To most other non-social organisms, they are pointless concepts. So maybe then, all of life is just distractions masquerading as happiness. It’s an effective mechanism because we have no way to resist or change it.

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