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In Philosophy, a thought game exists called "The experience machine" {1}. In summary, it's a machine you plug into that enables you to always experience positive events, and never negative ones.

One of the common arguments not to plug in to this machine is that if you never experience lows, you can't appreciate heights, since they would become the norm. This line of reasoning is known as the Hedonic treadmill.

In Positive Psychology the concept of a Baseline level of happiness {2} exists. It has been shown {3} this baseline can be raised, or lowered, but the research i know of does not discuss the effect of removing negative experiences to increase the baseline. It focuses on other factors, like intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, and so on.

Knowing about baseline happiness, and the trend to fall/rise back to it; what would happen if you never had negative experiences? The argument against using the experience machine basically assumes the baseline would plummet if there are no negative experiences, or at least become quite low.

My line of thinking, and hypothesis is that there is no need for negative experiences in order to appreciate positive ones. Since, if you don't experience anything negative for a week, you can still experience joy that week, a month.... a year.. a life? If you are never unpleasantly hungry, you can still appreciate a good meal.

Now to the actual question(s):

  • Is there any research that shows the effect of "lack of negative experiences" on the baseline level of happiness?
  • Are you better able to enjoy nice experiences in the light of negative ones?
  • Is there research on the relation between the two?
  • Has this research ever been applied in Philosophy to try and answer the Experience machine puzzle?

{1} Nozick, R. (1977). Anarchy, state, and utopia (Vol. 5038). Basic Books.
{2} Brickman & Campbell (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. New York: Academic Press. pp. 287–302.
{3} Diener; Lucas, Scollon (2006). "Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill: Revising the Adaptation Theory of Well-Being". American Psychologist 61 (4): 305–314. doi:10.1037/0003-066X61.4.305.

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Interesting question! You mention in Positive Psychology it has been shown the baseline can be raised or lowered. Doesn't that relate to some of your questions? In what way does the research you do know about fall short? –  Steven Jeuris Feb 12 '13 at 10:32
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The research i know of does not discuss the effect of removing negative experiences to increase the baseline. It focuses on other factors, like intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, and so on. Updated in the post. –  Wouter Feb 12 '13 at 10:38
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