So I've been rolling a few ideas around in my head for a while now, because I need to write a chapter for a book I'm co-editing (For those of you who are curious).
I've got a few ideas, but I'm not sure which idea I'm going to run with, or if I'm going to need to mash a few of these together. But one I've been thinking about is why bad things are so bad, and good things not nearly as good as bad things are bad.
It might be easier to think of this in terms of money, assuming that money is a good thing. The more money that we have, the less useful it becomes. If I have a million dollars, I can satisfy all my needs, and desires... Getting another million then won't make me nearly as happy as the first million, because the second million would only be going to satisfy more whims and fancies, not necessities or basic comforts. This is known as the declining marginal utility of money, but I think this can be applied to happiness in general. At some point, we reach a pleateau of happiness. Any happiness beyond that is just excessive happiness.... not that we don't want it, but we're already happy. I think this is what Epicurus was trying to aim for in his aim for satisfaction, and in some ways, what the buddhists aim for in relieving suffering.
On the other hand, bad things, don't diminish in badness as you get more of it. Quite the opposite really, they become more tragic and induce more suffering as we pile on the misfortunes. So lets call this the Syngeristic Compounding of Suffering (can anyone come up with a better name for this?). It's synergistic in that it creates more suffering than the sum of its parts, it only happens when "bads" are compounded upon each other (this can be taken in many different ways... they don't have to be compounded next to each other in time necessarily).
This explains why we might want to pass laws that protect minority rights, since minorities in our society are already suffering harms in terms of discrimination. To compound that harm with being victimized in a crime, just makes the crime worse. Maybe a good analogy would be being punched. If I punch you in the same spot twice, its worse than if I punch you twice in different spots. If I had the choice between victimizing two people, it would be worse to victimize the person who was already beaten up, than the one who was not.
I think this would explain why sometimes we believe that it would have been better for X never to have had happened in our lives, even though it leads to a better state of affairs in our lives. Take Cindy Sheehan for example. I'm pretty confident in saying that she would be happier had her son not died than died, even though because he died, she has had doors and opportunities open up to her that she could have never imagined before (and lets simply stipulate that these are good things). Although this is one instance of harm to Sheehan, it is compounded with all of the harms that we experience in life overall and perhaps compounded with the injustice of the war that he was fighting.
So why would Sheehan trade a better life for a less good life? The question forces us to compare the declining marginal utility of happiness and the synergistic compounding of suffering together. This comparison, by its very nature is always going to favor eliminating the SCS, rather than in favor of the DMUH. When people chase after happiness, attempting to maximize their happiness, they inevitably compound their suffering. Thus we get the paradox of hedonism.
I think this is telling of how we should go about living happy lives. Epicurus and the Buddhists are right.