April 5, 2010
Suppose humans were born with magical buttons on their foreheads. When someone else pushes your button, it makes you very happy. But like tickling, it only works when someone else presses it. Imagine it’s easy to use. You just reach over, press it once, and the other person becomes wildly happy for a few minutes.
What would happen in such a world?
You could imagine that everyone in the world would be happy just about all the time. People would make agreements with each other to push each other’s buttons on a regular basis, thus guaranteeing the complete and utter happiness of all humans.
No, I can’t imagine that either.
The first thing that would happen is that we’d create some rules of etiquette saying you can’t press anyone’s button without explicit permission. That makes sense, since sometimes you need to get some work done, and happiness can make you lose focus. You wouldn’t want people making you happy against your wishes.
The next thing that would happen is that people would realize they can sell the button-pushing service. People would stop giving it away for free. You’d be begging people to press your button and it would just seem pathetic. You might get some takers for a brief button-pushing fling, but it would get tiresome to push another person’s button every few minutes all day.
Perhaps some people would give their button-pushing services away for free, to anyone who asked. Let’s call those people generous, or as they would become known in this hypothetical world: crazy sluts.
Button pushing would become an issue of power and politics within relationships and within business. The rich and famous would get their buttons pushed all day long, while the lonely would fantasize about how great that would be.
I can’t think of any imaginary situation in which long term happiness could come from other people. The best you can hope for is that other people won’t thwart your efforts to make yourself happy.