Tag Archives: Satisfaction

Happiness engineers

If you work at Google nowadays you eat the healthiest food, work out and take naps whenever necessary. Your bosses will avoid conflict situations for you, encourage you to meditate and do whatever else is in their capacity to keep you as an individual happy. Why? When you are happy, your products are better.

In some advanced farms, cows are being trained to choose the timing of their milking by themselves. The machines they use for this system measure milking frequency and milk quality for every cow individually, and continuously adapt the cow’s diet to make her milk as nutritious as possible. The philosophy: every cow has innate needs satisfying those results in happiness and great milk. Such farms save human labour hours because no one has to force the poor animals into milking machines.

Have you ever heard of Plant Lab? This organization advocates that plants don’t enjoy growing in nature at all. The constant combat for light and nutrients and the irregularity of the weather make them stressed and weak. After long-lasting experiments, they have concluded that plants prefer stable, controlled conditions with purple light, the perfect amount of nutrients and a warm gentle breeze . In their arrangement, plants grow faster, are more nutritious and are more resistant to bugs. In fact, their defence systems become so effective, that if you take a seedling out of Plant Lab into the field, you don’t need to add pesticides for a whole month.

These are just three examples of how the performance of living beings is being optimized with support of knowledge and technology.  By paying more attention to the individual wants and needs, providing not more than the necessary, the boss spends less and gains more. The workers are happy. That’s a win-win, right?

Something in that construct itches me, but it’s not easy to place. Perhaps it is the fact that it emerges out of the industrial paradigm, out of the reductionist idea of beings as objects with on/off switches. By taking the experience of this being into account, by listening to it, one respects it in a different way. The reductionist paradigm meets the holistic paradigm, lifting society to an unprecedented state of enlightenment.

I haven’t convinced myself yet. Is it the idea of domineering? By giving someone precisely what he wants, one can control him entirely and use his energy at will. It increases the power of industry owners and mankind in general to a new level that can become scary if the power is in the wrong hands. Then again, if need satisfaction becomes the status quo, the owners are replaceable.

What itches me most, I think, is the fact that over my lifetime, I have learned to appreciate adventure and uncertainty. I have learned that longing for something for a while can deepen satisfaction in life. Perhaps I am afraid that if this trend continues and the emotional turbulence stabilizes, we will forget the beauty of suffering. Yet we luxuriant people have already long forgotten that.

I might just be old fashioned.



I’m walking with my bike in the hands, about to cross the De Cleqstraat. A young man nears on foot from the left.

He has pitch black hair, neatly combed and worked to the right with gel. His thick black glasses, dark eyebrows, dark eyes and half shaven black beard give him a typical contemporary “Amsterdam intellectual” look. He’s tallish. On his chest, a nonchalant bright bleech-yellow blouse. His pants are turquoise, equally light-hearted and very adequately adapted to this summer’s morning. On his feet, not-quite-flip-flops, appearing as if they cost him a couple of hundreds of euros. I’d classify him as a semi post-hipsterist or the like. One thing I know for sure: I hate this man.

Traffic law in Amsterdam belongs not so much to the strongest as to the one with the best ability to combine what’s spatially possible with what’s socially acceptable and -when cops are around- what’s allowed. In other words: because it’s common knowledge that if you spend half of your day biking around, you want to get home as soon as you possibly can, you can bend the rules as long as you keep smiling. Fellow road users can therefore count on courtesy beyond the written rules, especially when that is assumed to benefit both. It’s giving and taking so to speak. A game with ethics, really. And of course, one gives a beautiful young lady more than a cranky old bastard.

So this semi post-hipsterist, let’s call him Lord Adolph, is heading towards me from the left, say on a meter. We are in a dubious traffic situation. He’s determined to cut me off. Gentleman as I am, I shortly stop to let him pass. No thanks, no smile, not even a glance… nothing. Slightly frustrated, of the opinion that one second was more than enough and eager to forget him as soon as possible, I take my next step. My bike scrapes his heel.

I turn my face towards Lord Adolph and watch him turn his. His dark eyebrows point downward. “O sorry, man!” I say with an innocent tone “that was not my intention”. As his face contracts further, I feel relief for not having to hear his voice.

A myope at a hundred meters would have perceived the grin on my face by the time I crossed the street. Of all the accidents I caused, I don’t believe any has left me feeling this satisfied.