A l’il more thought on ‘Happiness’…

A couple of months back, I had shared a video of Daniel Kahneman talking on his study on Happiness or rather the effect of remembering self and experiencing self on happiness. Further to that, I am now sharing an insightful and a very well explained post from David McRaney’s blog: ‘You Are Not So Smart’.

Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

NOTE: The post below is entirely from http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/03/02/the-moment/ and hence full credit goes to it’s author, David McRaney.

The Misconception: You are one person, and your happiness is based on being content with your life.

The Truth: You are multiple selves, and happiness is based on satisfying all of them.

Have you ever been so sick you spent a week on the couch?

What do you remember from that period of time?

Mostly nothing, right?

All throughout your life great big patches of experience are tossed aside and forgotten. You turn around sometimes and think, “It’s March already!?” or “I’ve been working here for five years!?”

To understand the difference between experience and memory, you first need to understand a little bit about self.

Your sense of self is just that – a sense. A figment.

The person you imagine yourself is really just a narrative, a story. You tell this story to yourself and to others differently depending on the situation, and the story changes over time.

For now, it is useful to imagine there are two selves active at any given time in your head – the current self, and the remembering self.

The current self is the one experiencing life in real-time. It is the person you are in the three or so seconds your sensory memory lasts, and the 30 or so seconds after that in which your short-term memory is juggling all your senses and thoughts.

You taste the ice cream and it is good. Then, you remember you tasted the ice cream. Then, in five years, you have no memory of tasting it at all. Sometimes, rarely, something else happens which prompts you to move the memory into long-term storage.

Think back now to all the times you have tasted ice cream. How many true memories do you have which aren’t just dreamlike wisps? How many stories can you tell about tasting ice cream?

The remembering self is made up of all those memories which have passed into long-term storage.

When you replay your life in your mind, you can’t go back to all the things you have ever experienced. You can only go through all the things which went from experience, to short-term memory, to long-term memory.

So, going to get ice cream is not about building awesome memories. It’s about being happy for a few minutes. It’s about gratification. The happiness derived from such an experience is fleeting.

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman has much to say on this topic.

He says the self which makes decisions in your life is usually the remembering one. It drags your current self around in pursuit of new memories, anticipating them based on old memories.

The current self has little control over your future. It can only control a few actions like moving your hand away from a hot stove or putting one foot in front of the other. Occasionally, it prompts you to eat cheeseburgers, or watch a horror movie, or play a video game.

The current self is happy experiencing things. It likes to be in the flow.

It is the remembering self which has made all the big decisions. It is happy when you can sit back and reflect on your life up to this point and feel content. It is happy when you tell people stories about the things you have seen and done.

Kahneman proposes this thought experiment:

Imagine you are preparing to go on a two-week vacation. At the end of this vacation, you will drink a potion which will delete all the memories from those two-weeks.

How will this affect your decision? Knowing you won’t remember any of it, what will you spend your time doing during those two weeks?

That weird feeling you are having thinking about this is the conflict between your experiencing self and your remembering self.

The experiencing self can easily choose what to do. Sex, skiing, restaurants, concerts, parties – all of these things are about being happy during the event.

The remembering self is not so sure. It would rather go to Ireland and look at castles or drive from New York to Los Angeles just to see what happens.

It turns out, based on his research, there are two channels through which you decide whether or not you are happy.

The current self is happy when experiencing nice things. The remembering self is happy when you look back on your life and pull up plenty of positive memories.

As Kahneman points out. A two-week vacation may only yield a handful of life-long memories. You will pull those memories out every once and a while and use them to be happy. There is a serious imbalance between the time you spend creating these memories and time you spend enjoying them later.

The current self doesn’t like sitting in a cubicle. It feels caged. It could be doing something fun.

The remembering self doesn’t like not having enough money to build new memories, so it is willing to grind away and delay gratification.

“Happiness is something you achieve, a constant thing. A constantly turning over thing, like a small plant that has flowers constantly blooming and dying on the same stem. It’s not like you achieve happiness this one time and it just stays with you forever. You don’t bake a cake because a cake makes you happy, you don’t bake that one cake because you baked this cake or bought that car you wanted to get. You’ve always wanted this car, you got the car, now you’re happy forever…no.”

– Maynard Keenan

Life for you and many others is full of conflict between these two selves over how best to be happy.

Kahneman’s research suggests that happiness can’t be all one or all the other. You have to be happy in the flow of time while simultaneously creating memories you can look back on later.

To be happy now and content later, you can’t only be focused on reaching goals, because once you reach them, the experience ends.

To truly be happy, you must satisfy both of your selves.

Go get the ice cream, but do so in a way which is meaningful, a way which creates a long-term memory.

Grind away to have money for later, but do so in a way which generates happiness as you work.

If you live for the moment, for pure gratification, the moment is all you will ever have. You won’t be able to sit in a rocking chair and tell stories.

But, at the same time, if you think happiness comes at the end of a process, as some achievement or status or possession, you will be miserable both before and after the pursuit.

All the thinking it takes… to feel ‘Happy’

Sometime back I had posted some of my general thoughts on Happiness and am now sharing a video of Daniel Kahneman, eminent psycologist and Nobel laureate, that shows some serious study on the effect of remembering self and experiencing self on happiness… and well by the end of it, it also breaks the long-sold notion that ‘Money can’t buy happiness’ because the result that came out of a Gallup survey, discussed in the video, proves that money (income) does actually buy happiness and lack of money (income) can possibly make one feel miserable… hmm, most of us will very well agree to that, won’t we? 😉

Daniel Kahneman has a well-acclaimed book, “Choices, Values and Frames” to his credit which he has co-edited with the late Amos Tversky. I haven’t read the book but from the summary and reviews read about it, it seems he shares the example of patients undergoing colonoscopy from his book in this video.

So, enjoy the video… you may find the talk interesting and have your own thoughts on agreeing or disagreeing with his theory

Hey, ‘Happy’ness dropped in to say Hi…

My friend and I were chatting about my recent Blogology craze … we both love to write but have strikingly different styles and choice of topics – she specifically loves writing poetry, penning human emotions and personal lessons in love and life … while I am yet to discover that something ‘specific’ for myself 🙂 …  I guess my mind’s still that unfocused teenager who can’t stick to one thing yet when that focus sets for a while, an urge to explore every detail gets in 😀  …  so, while I was thinking of what to focus on next, that I would enjoy writing about, among a bunch of options dancing in my head, I happened to ask her – ‘Any suggestions on what to write next?’ and pinggg came her reply – ‘Write on friendship,.. love,.. happiness,.. contentment’ … not a surprising answer from her – well, I told you, these are her favourite topics 😉 but then I thought – why not? ..and I chose to share my thoughts on Happiness … ‘coz ultimately we seek the rest of them all to finally derive Happiness – we want friends to share some happy moments, want to be loved to feel happy and contentment also is sought to feel happy … so happiness it had to be 🙂

I was spending a while with myself mulling over all that could make me happy and some super big things I saw 🙂 – I saw success, I saw fame, I saw lots of moolah (hehehe), I saw name and then I stopped … and turned back in my past … I started thinking of all that has truly made me smile or laugh till now and I felt moments – a naughty friend pulling my pony tail and me responding back with giggles; a fun piggy-back ride from papa; dancing to Govinda numbers; winning discounts while shopping; getting a word in crossword puzzle; laughing my heart out while reading a scrapbook; a sudden one-off interesting conversation with a stranger in the train 🙂 ahhh, they kept coming and I happily got lost in them … well yesss, success, fame and money did feature but they were also coupled with their short life and side-effects 😉

When I come to think of it I feel these unnoticed small happy moments actually come with a motive – a motive to make you happy not only when you live them but also when you cherish them. The best thing is that unlike success or fame, they remain unaffected – no change can change them – they are here to stay – in that very unexpected moment and in your memories.

This actually made me curious – I started observing others more keenly – trying to catch a moment of theirs when they smiled 🙂 … I also tried to make friends share their off-the-cuff unexpected happy moments through a thread on facebook … Those few little happy moments that I caught told me more about happiness than all the big things I wished for to make me happy 🙂

I have learnt … Happiness loves to come in small surprise packages, often when not expected 🙂 and even if you don’t come across a single happy moment in your entire day, have a look around – a child’s face or an sms or a book or a TV show may just effortlessly get that smile on your face 🙂