Friday, November 23, 2012

Daniel Haybron's Affective Ignorance

Daniel Haybron
Danie Haybron's book The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being includes many new aspects of happiness. I must admit that I have never really thought about happiness in such detail before my philosophy of happiness class. For this, I am very grateful for enrolling in it. My journey as a student of philosophy would remain in many ways all the more incomplete.

Near the beginning of chapter 10, Haybron provides a definition of affective ignorance. He claims that "Our powers to assess our own happiness - specifically, our affective states... are weaker and less reliable than we tend to suppose" (200). Affective ignorance manifests in "... two sorts of epistemic failure" (ibid.):
  1. Ignorance about our past affect. (Past affective ignorance)
  2. Ignorance about affects we are currently experiencing. (Present affective ignorance)
I specifically want to address past affective ignorance, for reasons I will explain. I seem to be well-attuned to reflecting upon past affective ignorance because of my lifelong diagnosis of panic disorder. (For those of you who do not know the potentially devastating symptoms, check out this link.) It seems rather paradoxical that I can write about past affective ignorance and still classify it as such. However, I will attempt to keep true to Haybron's definition.

My reminiscence of my past experiences were brought about when Haybron writes about the negative impact of distressing emotional states: "Presumably being tense, anxious, or stressed detracts substantially from the quality of one's experience, even when one is unaware of these states" (203). My panic disorder, in past instances, definitely brought about this detraction of my experience. Now that I have matured and have learned to cope with the symptoms of my disorder, I can now reflect on how they negatively affected me in the past. I felt alone and fearful, wasting away in my thoughts of self-pity and restlessness. Even after I was officially diagnosed at the age of 8, my realization of my disorder did not seem to have any major effect on how I experienced the pains of anxiety.

I now know, after quite some time, that my experiences of panic drastically took a toll on my experience of happiness and contentedness. I realized that pity is not promised to those who share such ailments as mine. The ability to overcome my distress, I later discovered, depended on my own perspective of life. Happiness seems elusive only to the extent in which someone fails to adhere to perspectives of positivity.

Easier said than done. 

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