Stumbling on Happiness

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DG : All words are ambiguous, so the important thing is to say what one means by happiness before attempting to analyze it.

And that I do. Indeed, I think he was saying that it is the basic motive that underlies all others. Regardless of what you think you are doing, you are actually attempting to gain pleasure and avoid pain. This is a radical claim that many philosophers and psychologists reject, but I think it is probably right and I explain why in my book.

MJ : You have an extremely interesting explanation for why capitalism exists in Chapter Care to explain? DG : I argue that for economies like ours to thrive, people must work for goods and services. People only work for things that make them happy. So societies have to convince their members that goods and services will do this. I explain that there is, in fact, no conspiracy to delude us.

Rather, the great lie arises all on its own. How this happens is a bit complicated but I explain it in my book with lucid, insightful, and charming prose. You were supposed to say that, not me. MJ : So if capitalism depends on people being deluded into thinking that producing and consuming are routes to happiness and yet the wealthy are no happier than the middle class, which you argue in your book — why do people continue to buy in? Your thoughts? DG : Nothing surprising here. Money makes a huge difference to the happiness of poor people. If you live in a cardboard box under a bridge, money can improve your happiness dramatically.

But once you have a decent middle-class existence — food, shelter, security, and all the rest — money does less and less for you until eventually it does nothing at all.

If a single dollar bill can buy one unit of happiness for a rich person and one hundred units of happiness for a poor person, on whom should that dollar be spent? An orthodox economist has a simple happiness formula: if you buy a Ford Expedition, then ipso facto a Ford Expedition is what makes you happy.

Do economics need to be reworked? If so, how? Economists used to be very fine psychologists Adam Smith was clearly both , but somewhere along the way the field decided to trade a nuanced and realistic view of human nature for the simplicity and precision of hypothetical fictions. Economics is in the process of remedying that, and economists now study happiness, take interest in experimental psychology and neuroscience, and so on.

I hope we will repay that attention by learning some of the lessons they have to teach us and they have many.

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS by Daniel Gilbert | Kirkus Reviews

Maybe next year. When asked days later about the result of their decision, the thinkers were least satisfied. Nonthinkers trusted their prefeelings: if imagining the future made them feel good, choosing that choice would make them feel good, and they were right. Prefeeling allowed nonthinkers to predict their future satisfaction more accurately than thinkers did. When people are prevented from feeling emotion in the present, they become temporarily unable to predict how they will feel in the future. When we ask our brains to look at a real object and an imaginary object at the same time, our brains choose the real object.

Eyes open and looking at something overrides imagining something. When we try to ignore our current gloomy state and make a forecast about how we will feel tomorrow, we find it's a lot like trying to imagine the taste of marshmallow while chewing liver. It's only natural that we should imagine the future and then consider how doing so makes us feel, but because our brains are hell-bent on responding to current events, we mistakenly conclude that we will feel tomorrow as we feel today.

Volunteers in a no-variety group were more satisfied than volunteers in the variety group. Variety made people less happy, not more. Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition. Think about the first time your love said "I love you", versus the th time.

Time and variety are two ways to avoid habituation, and if you have one, then you don't need the other. When episodes are sufficiently separated in time, variety is not only unnecessary, it can actually be costly. Starting points have a profound impact on ending points. Starting points matter because we often end up close to where we started. When people predict future feelings by imagining a future event as though it were happening in the present and then correcting for the event's actual location in time, they make the same error. We don't think in absolute dollars. We think of relative dollars.

If you ask someone to pay an unrealistically large cost "could you commit to coming to our rally every weekend this summer?

Stumbling on Happiness

We end up prefering bad deals that have become decent deals to great deals that were once amazing deals. Realestate people often bring clients to shitholes first, so that the ordinary house feels like a miracle in comparison. People were given the opportunity to bid on a dictionary that was in perfect condition and had 10, words.

Others given the opportunity to bid on a dictionary with a torn cover but 20, words. People care about an attribute of words only when it is brought to their attention by side-by-side comparison. What do all these facts about comparison mean for our ability to imagine future feelings? If we want to predict how something will make us feel in the future, we must consider the kind of comparison we will be making in the future, and not the kind of comparison we happen to be making in the present.

When we start shopping for a new pair of sunglasses, we compare the cool new ones in the store with the old outdated ones on our nose. But a few days after buying the new ones, we stop comparing them with the old pair and the delight that the comparison produced is gone.

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Condemning Thomas Jefferson for keeping slaves or Sigmund Freud for patronizing women is like arresting someone today for having driven without a seat belt in People who don't have dire reactions to tragic events are sometimes diagnosed as having "absent grief". Recent research shows conventional wisdom is wrong, that the absence of grief is quite normal, and most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma. When people are asked to predict how they'll feel if a bad event occurs, they consistently overestimate how awful they'll feel and how long they'll feel awful.

Researchers asked volunteers to write down their definition of "talented", then to estimate their talent using that definition as a guide. Other volunteers were given the definitions that the first group had written down and were asked to estimate their own talent using those definitions as a guide.

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The ones who defined "talented" rated themselves as more talented than the non-definers. Because definers were given the liberty to define the word talented any way they wished, they defined it exactly as wished - in terms of some activity at which they happened to excel. Because experiences are inherently ambiguous, finding a positive view of an experience is done well and often. Racetrack gamblers evaluate their horses more positively when they are leaving the betting window than when they are approaching it.

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Same with voters. People are adept at finding a positive way to view things once those things become their own. We cannot do without reality and we cannot do without illusion. Each serves a purpose, each imposes a limit on the influence of the other, and our experience of the world is inbetween. When volunteers in one study were told that they'd scored poorly on an IQ test, and were then given an opportunity to peruse articles about IQ tests, they spent more time reading articles that questioned the validity of such tests than articles that sanctioned them.

When volunteers in another study were given a glowing evaluation by a supervisor, they were more interested in reading background information that praised the supervisor's competence and acumen than background information that impeached it. Half a group was shown that extraverts are more successful.

Other half shown that introverts are more successful. Then when asked to recall events from their past to help determine which they were, they remembered just the events that support the successful group they were told. We spent countless hours and dollars arranging our lives to ensure that we are surrounded by people who like us, and people who are like us. A question such as "Am I the best lover you've ever had? If we can't find people who are doing more poorly than we are, we create them. Volunteers in one study took a test and were given the opportunity to provide hints that would either help or hinder a friend's performance on the same test. When described as a game, they gave helpful hints. When described as an intelligence test, they gave hindering hints. Although the word "fact" seems to suggest an unquestionable irrefutability, facts are nothing more than conjectures that have met a certain standard of proof.

Stumbling on Happiness Stumbling on Happiness
Stumbling on Happiness Stumbling on Happiness
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