Sometimes things work just because ‘You’ want them to!

Ever wondered why sometimes you no longer feel that sick once you’ve met the doctor… or remember those younger days when you fell down and got hurt and mom said, “Don’t worry baby, this pain will go away in just 2 mins” and what the hell – that pain actually did run away into nowhere…. and well, precisely in 2 mins.

Now think further… did you end up liking a song that you didn’t like initially ‘coz all your friends insisted it’s a great song?… or has plain, normal coffee tasted richer and smelled more aromatic just ‘coz the ambiance was great and the coffee mug was really cool?

I’m sure you have experienced at least one of these instances if not all… we all have… ‘coz we all have trained our minds to experience what we expect or want to expect.

It’s called the ‘placebo effect’ – an effective practice of years and basic requirement for homeopathic medicine to work… an option often tried out in clinical trials…  and an effective tool for marketers and advertisers to convince us.

The human brain, however remarkable, can be easily fooled. We are driven by emotions and so can be easily pushed towards making us want something, whether or not we really want it.

But well, it’s not a bad thing after all (though, there have been quite a lot of controversies surrounding placebos). Infact I feel it’s really good to be fooled sometimes if fooling our brain’s gonna do some good in return. Let’s look at where all, in my opinion, a “placebo effect” can be/has been created and helped:

Prescribed Placebos

Well, well… seems like a familiar zone? If not, it will – if you know that most of your homeopathy medicines have been nothing but sugar pills. Moreover, the trick is that you have convinced yourself that homeopathy takes time to work but it’s effective and will have no side-effects.

Hmm, knock, knock – Obviously, sugar pills aren’t going to have side-effects unless you are allergic to them. Secondly your own body’s working for you so it is going to take a while longer to heal. But all this healing was taking place while you were happily believing that those interesting sweet pills are busy curing you.

Well, that’s it – you believed. And that’s exactly what your doctor may have wanted you to do – Believe that you’re going to be okay with those teeny-weeny sugar pills.  End result: In most cases,  you did get okay.

Treating cold and cough, I guess works in a similar fashion – you are prescribed antibiotics which are supposed to attack bacterial infections not a viral infection like cold or cough. But voilà – the credit always goes to the antibiotics.

Hmm, now we know why doctors are rich

Well, who said Placebos are safe?

This works great, according to me, unless of course people aren’t duped for long in case of serious medical cases that needs attention from actual medicines.

Placebo Therapies

Reiki, magnet therapy, aroma therapy and like – don’t these work hard towards one main principle?… that’s – Making you feel good.

You are told, you’ll be cured… the kind touch or wonderful smells or objects that you don’t much understand creates an aura that pushes you to believe that you’re in for good… you believe the therapy will help and just because you believe in it, it does help. Well, with the amount of money you end up spending for these therapies, they better help.

Placebos building path to divinity

Ever realised that all those incense sticks, bells ringing, soothing candles, melodious chanting, swaying with music, holding hands and even pin-drops silence could actually be a way to get you more involved in the (religious) activity and strengthen your belief in prayers or your faith. If you haven’t realised, then think about it next time when you are in that environment.

Prayers can work wonders

But there’s nothing bad about it at all unless it turns you into a fanatic who opposes other faiths. We pray but believing in our prayers builds in positive energy and can actually push us to work towards making things happen. The best part is it often dissuades us to give up.

Drive in a placebo effect and make selling easier

It’s not news for Indians to know that hair oil acts as a good conditioner for hair. But say, with Mr Amitabh Bachchan and Mr Shahrukh Khan telling us that jadibutiyon wala ‘Himani Navratna Oil’ helps ease out tension and stress and makes us thanda thanda cool cool, we may end up believing that this particular brand of oil has more benefits. The strong smell of the oil on application may aid our belief further and we feel it really works. Though ultimately what may happen to relax us is actually a head massage irrespective of the oil used.

Advertising hair oils with added benefits is just one mere example but creating a placebo effect via advertising has been an age-old practice and the trend’s never gonna go.

Now, unless we aren’t going to be fooled into buying something super-drastic, I guess we can live with this selling game.

So, if you wish to share one of your experiences where you believed in something and it worked for you, do share.


Brushing up my culinary skills with Dhansak

Some of the best years of my life were spent studying and inculcating the best behaviour, lifestyle and virtues at my Parsi school, J B Vachha High School. We vachhaites fondly call it JBV. My alma mater is an only girls school so involving all the so-called girly learnings in the extra-curricular activities was a give-in. However, ‘cooking’, which was one of those activities, somehow never-ever managed to capture my interest. Well, I wouldn’t say I’m a bad cook but I simply don’t like cooking – and this repulsion towards cooking invites a regular weekend ranting from my mum that’s ignored quite shamelessly 😛

Now, for a change I gave in and decided to treat her and the family by cooking Dhansak for Sunday lunch as it would help in treating us to a meal different than other regular cuisines cooked at my place and also relive my days at JBV. For those who aren’t familiar with this popular Parsi dish – Dhansak is ideally a non-vegetarian wholesome meal which is a combination of Persian and Gujarati cuisines. It is usually accompanied with brown rice and salad but since my dad’s advised to avoid rice, I replaced rice with some delicious parathas that I had learnt from an office colleague, Seetha. Now, despite the fact that cooking isn’t really my mode of enjoyment, being the chef for a day (ahem, a meal) was a completely pleasurable experience. No point in not sharing some good vibes … so below is a basic, easy recipe for Veg Dhansak and Seetha’s Paratha’s for those who sail in the same boat as mine and for those who unlike me just love cooking…

Veg Dhansak

Ingredients – to cook for 4 people

2 tablepoons of oil

1/2 cup of toor dal (split pigeon peas)

1/2 cup of masoor dal (red lentils)

1/2 cup yellow or green moong dal (split golden / green gram)

Note: One’s free to use more variety of dals, if one wishes to

2 cups full of nicely chopped vegetables that includes brinjal, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes and green capsicum

Note: Again, one’s free to use more / different varieties of veggies here but brinjal and pumpkin’s a must

1/2 – 1 cup of chopped methi leaves (fenugreek leaves)

1 big finely diced onion

1 or 2 finely diced tomatoes

1 teaspoonful of ginger-garlic paste

Masalas (quantity is flexible to suit your taste):

Red chilli powder (approx. 1-2 teaspoons)

Turmeric powder (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)

Dhana-Jeera powder / Cumin-Coriander powder (approx. 2-3 teaspoons)

Garam Masala powder (approx. 2 teaspoons)

Sambhar Masala powder (approx. 1 teaspoon)

Salt (approx. 1 teaspoonful)

Directions for cooking Veg Dhansak

Step 1: Mix all the dals (lentils) together and wash them thoroughly till the water seems clear. Leave them soaked in water for around 10-15 mins.

Step 2: In a pressure cooker, add the dals, diced vegetables and fenugreek leaves together with around 4 cups of water and cook for 3-4 whistles or till the dals completely get cooked.

Step 3: Heat oil in a pan. Add diced onions and sauté till pink. Then, add ginger-garlic paste and allow it to be fried for a few seconds. Follow this by adding diced tomatoes and keep sautéing till they start breaking a little. Add all the masalas and salt and mix them well with the onions and tomatoes that are being cooked. Finally, add the mixture of cooked dals, vegetables and fenugreek leaves to this. Cook the dish by stirring it for a few minutes and voilà your Dhansak is ready.

Step 4: Garnish the Dhansak with some finely chopped coriander leaves.

Dhansak curry should ideally have a thick consitency. Non-vegetarians often add mutton or chicken to this preparation. I made an extra quantity of Dhansak without onions, garlic and potatoes as my mum tries to follow a jain diet. In a strict jain preparation, one can choose to add raw bananas in the veggies and perhaps some broccoli too. The best thing about Dhansak is that you can customise it according to your taste / choice of dals and vegetables.

Seetha’s parathas


1 teaspoon of oil

Wheat flour, Nachni flour (red millet flour) and Bajra flour (pearl millet flour) in 2:1:1 proportion

A fistful of finely chopped fenugreek leaves

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon of red chilli powder

2 tablespoons of curds

Salt to taste

Directions for making Seetha’s parathas

Step 1: Mix all the ingredients (except curds) well with 1 teaspoon of oil, add curds and then knead it with water to make the dough. The dough should not be very soft or very hard but just right to be able to roll parathas well.

Step 2: Make ping-pong ball size of lumps of this dough and roll them in round parathas

Step 3: First put these rolled parathas onto a pre-heated tawa and allow it to turn slightly brown. Flip the paratha to its other side and yet again allow it to go slightly brown. Now, add some oil and press and flip both sides of the paratha to cook it completely. The hot Seetha’s parathas are now ready.

My report card:

Papa: “It’s very nice…”

after a while: “It was really very nice… I really liked it”

still after a while: “Oh, it was yum, beta. I really enjoyed it”

Aww, I love you popsy 🙂

Mamma: “Hmm, it’s turned out pretty well”

Yeah mamma, I do have the potential to match your cooking skills at times and yes, I ain’t absolutely lazy 😉

Brother: “I like the parathas but this Dhansak is okayyy”

Well, considering my brother never liked Dhansak, I would like to believe okayyy = good 😀

Do try the recipes yourselves if you like to and hope you enjoy eating them.

This is what I served

If I break what I resolve, blame it on my brain

We have entered the year 2011… some of us in a l’il tipsy state after an overdose of alcohol on New Year’s Eve, some with an air of drowsiness after a late night of talks and babbles with friends and some with a fresh start coupled with best efforts to begin their New Year on a good note. No matter how each one of us decide to embrace the first day of the year but often the first thought of the year consciously or sub-consciously that occurs to all of us is – “I resolve to achieve XYZ in this Year” … a list of New Year resolutions soon occupy our mental space or get jotted on a blank page. Some vow to quit smoking, while some commit to lose weight and some decide to finally kick out their laziness… (Well, I’m barring a few who resolve to stay exactly the way they are 😉 )

Alas, just a few days pass by and we find it hard to keep all that we resolved for the New Year. The cigarette seems more tempting than ever before, the cake wins over the salad and lethargy sets in, like forever. As time passes by, the New Year’s resolutions become no more than a distant memory and by the end of the year, we end up cursing ourselves for not sticking to what we resolved.

But here’s the thing – more than ourselves, it’s our brain that’s to be blamed. It makes us lose both the will and the power in all our attempts at willpower and makes temptation win.

Now to explain – We are creatures of habit, good or bad. We have been wired to get attracted to immediate rewards even if they are smaller than the rewards that we can achieve after a waiting period. Saying ‘no’ to immediate rewards is a test for our willpower, which most of us often fail.

As per the scientific study that investigated the mechanisms of addiction, the brain area – prefrontal cortex (located just behind the forehead) is largely responsible for willpower. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions like keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Now in addition to that, asking it to lose weight or quit smoking, etc. is often asking it to do one thing too many.

Often most of us end up doing something even if it’s not the right thing for us, say gobbling up a cake when we have promised to be on a strict diet. The 3-minute sinful indulgence feels more rewarding than a slimmer figure which seems too far-fetched in that particular moment. Now, even when we promise ourselves, yet again to stick to our diet, the indulgence has all possibilities to recur in the future. That’s because a pleasure-sensing chemical named dopamine conditions the brain to want that reward again and again – reinforcing the connection each time – especially when it gets the right cue from our environment.The diagram below explains it further:

Now, it hasn’t been a new discovery for us that more often temptation wins over willpower, except of course most of us weren’t aware of the scientific mechanism behind it. But what makes this study useful is how we can apply it for our betterment. The trick is to train our minds for acquiring rewards after a waiting period. The task is definitely not an easy one and yes, even scientists who recognize the scientific mechanism can fall prey but such a habit can at most be successfully inculcated in our kids. They can be trained to resist an impulse or build their willpower against superfluous immediate rewards. This conditioning can help them ingrain a better lifestyle and make them better achievers in future. A long-known Marshmallow study by Walter Mischel helps us understand that. In the study, a group of four-year olds were made to sit in an isolated room and given a marshmallow. They were told that they could either eat the marshmallow right away or wait for 20 minutes after which they would get two marshmallows. Most kids ate the marshmallow soon after they were left alone with it while few others waited for 20 mins to get one more. The kids who ate the marshmallow immediately were considered to be oriented towards the present while the other few were considered to be oriented towards the future. When these children were interviewed again when they were 18 years old, there was amazing difference between children who could delay gratification and those who couldn’t resist the immediate temptation. The former scored better in their SAT scores, coped better under pressure and were self-reliant and confident while the latter over-reacted to frustration, were indecisive and prone to jealousy. This experiment has then been practiced by a number of scientists, researchers and psychologists and am sharing below the one carried out by Dr David Walsh to give you a glimpse of how it was conducted:

As all experimental studies cannot promise the same verifiable results all times in different situations, so can’t this one in particular. However, it doesn’t harm in being aware and conscious that the two marshmallows promised after a little waiting period are more rewarding than the immediate one. It’s about trusting our own power that we will get two marshmallows, if we follow a certain path. So, whenever temptation tries to tease you, do think for a moment – ‘What’s my second marshmallow: more money?,… better health?,… better relationship?,… a house?’ If you choose to resist the first marshmallow, you are sure to get any of these second marshmallows. So, follow your chosen path and wish you all a very Happy New Year that wins you lots of marshmallows 🙂

Book review of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”

Millennium I: Made golf club into a potential defense weapon…

Millennium II: Used a cigarette case as an effective grave-digging tool…

Millennium III: Emerged as a “full-on” vengeance machine even when bed-ridden

The final book of the Millennium Trilogy

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is the final chapter of Lisbeth’s story to us.  It’s a story where Lisbeth (with help from her well-wishers) settles scores with all the culprits who turned her life upside-down and wins justice for herself. The book’s original Swedish title is Luftslottet som sprängdes which literary means ‘The Castle in the Air That Was Blown Up’ (I prefer the English title – It’s more catchy 🙂 ).

Unlike its predecessors, this book lacks surprise elements… the revelations just flow in and we quite know that in the end the bad are gonna be punished and good will triumph where Fröken Lisbeth is finally going to earn her long-waited justice… and yes, all this is bound into long 746 pages. Nevertheless, the book’s still worth reading, especially if you have read the first two as this book impressively ties-up all the loose ends and hooks you on to turn your page despite a predictable story. In any case, you can’t just possibly do without reading the final book after having been through an enjoyable and exciting whirlwind of the first two stories.

This third and final sequel picks up right where the second one left off. Lisbeth is flown into the ICU of Sahlgrenska hospital where its renowned and compassionate Dr Anders Jonasson successfully puts her out of the danger zone after performing a super-complex brain surgery that results in no side-effects other than Lisbeth forgetting the solution to the pesky Fermat’s theorem that she solved after much thought and struggle in the second novel… Made me think Swedish writers too think like Bollywood writers at times 😉

The story then builds further with a lot of drama and intrigue to spill beans about the Section and how it actually operated. This book compiles a lot more characters than the first book and has multiple people from The Section, Milton Security, Stockholm police force, Svenska Morgon-Posten, Constitutional Protection at Säpo along with Blomkvist’s sister, the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister. As opposed to the first two books, Salander does not play a key role in exposing The Section… Blomkvist and his supporting team’s role is more prominent in cracking the well-kept secrets of The Section while Salander is convalescing from her injuries. However, she does leap back into action when a Palm Tungsten T3 is smuggled for her in the hospital and she writes down her case in order to clear her name and exposing Teleborian as a paedophile.

The most interesting and page-turning part of the book is the court case proceeding and its highlight is Lisbeth’s responses to the Prosecutor’s questions. Another intriguing part in the book is Lisbeth’s encounter with her half-brother Ronald Niedermann as he remains missing in the first 3/4th part of the book. The only unnecessary section in the book is the part about a certain ‘Poison Pen’ stalking Erika Berger.

Overall the entire series of Millennium Trilogy throws light on the misuse of power especially by Authorities entrusted with responsibilities by the society, how we fear to question all that we don’t understand and injustice caused to women by considering them no more than some pretty piece of weak meat.

The third book completes Lisbeth’s story from almost all angles – winning her justice, ridding her of all bad elements like Zalachenko, Niedermann and Teleborian from her life, her relationship with Blomkvist and her having an economically secured future. It is undoubtedly a fitting end to the series.

I rate the book 3.5/5 as though I loved reading it, it’s not my best book among the three.

It’s a pity to not expect any further books from the late Stieg Larsson – a phenomenal narrator of a truly fascinating, gripping story of a super-riveting character – Lisbeth Salander.

Book review of ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’

If you play with fire, you get burnt but if you mess with Fröken Salander, you are dealing with someone worse than fire.

The second novel in the Millennium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson has written ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ (Swedish title: Flickan som lekte med elden) with an attempt to have it as a stand alone novel so that even readers who haven’t read the first book can enjoy. Well, the readers who have picked this book after having read ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ will have to patiently breeze through the re-establishment of characters they are already acquainted with in the initial pages (personally, it wasn’t a big deal for me to get re-acquainted with the characters once again).

This book starts as a continuity from the events concluded in the first book with Blomkvist now portrayed as a famous ‘celebrity’ publisher of Millennium magazine after having successfully exposed the corrupt practices of Wennerström and Salander as a rich, aah well, super-rich punk-like, lone traveler possessing ready at hand passports of different identities specific for each travel …To add to that there’s also a vivid description of how with her newly-acquired wealth, she buys a grand house, decorates it with Ikea furniture and invests in a super-expensive coffee-maker but lives on Billy Pan Pizzas on days at a stretch (and still manages to look anorexic 🙂 – I wish the author had explained ‘How?’).

Now the plot with ‘potential’ spoilers:

The story initially revolves around the issue of sex trafficking operation in Sweden that Millennium is planning to expose with the help of its newly hired journalist Dag Svensson and his girlfriend Mia Johansson who is writing a thesis on sex trafficking for her doctorate. Parallely, the story describes a lot of events surrounding Lisbeth Salander, her newly acquired lifestyle, her reunion with Miriam Wu, Armansky & her former guardian, Holger Palmgren, and Blomkvist’s desparate attempts to re-connect with Lisbeth.

The plot twists when Dag and Mia are discovered to be murdered in their apartment by Blomkvist one night. The investigation further unfolds into discovering a murdered body of Lisbeth’s guardian, Bjurman, in his apartment by the police. Quite predictably (since a plot would be absent otherwise 🙂), the person that falls under suspicion for having committed all these three murders is Lisbeth Salander – as her finger prints are found on the gun used to kill the couple while the gun apparently belongs to Bjurman.

While the drama for tracking Salander continues by the police, Blomkvist and Armansky set up their own investigation to figure a way out for Salander and prove her innocent. In that quest, Blomkvist works out that a certain ‘Zala’ who is untraceable and most people including the sex trade punters and the exploited prostitutes dread to talk about or squirm at the mention of his name has a key role in the foul play of both sex trafficking in Sweden and all the injustice suffered by Salander. He then sets off to track down ‘Zala’ as he’s somehow sure that Salander’s searching for him too.

Meanwhile, with the turn of multiple events, what the police believe is a simple open-and-shut case with Lisbeth Salander as the suspected murderer becomes more and more complex as the investigation proceeds and the truth of Lisbeth emerges. This book reveals the dark secrets of Lisbeth’s past and explains why she is what she is today.

The book’s climax projects Lisbeth as a Superwoman who manages to attack ‘Zala’ and his tamed gorilla-sized flunky after surviving bullets in her hip, shoulder and head and being buried alive… To top it all she manages to dig herself out of a grave with a cigarette case :D. It was a little too much to take but the character and the story is written so beautifully that you wouldn’t mind believing that too.

I rate the book 4/5 … there are people I know who felt this book couldn’t match up the excitement of the first one but I disagree… this book brings along an equal amount of excitement and curiosity.

And yes, the book also kind of gives you a tutorial on different mathematical equations :D… well, to figure what this means, just read the book.

Book review of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’

Read rave reviews about the book… picked it up and became almost incapable of getting distracted from it.

‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ is written by Stieg Larsson, the late Swedish author who left behind an unpublished crime fiction trilogy when he died of a heart attack in November 2004 at a young age of 50 years.

Stieg Larsson - The man behind Lisbeth Salander

(An interview of his can be referred on

The original title of this first book in the trilogy is Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”. As hinted from it’s original title this crime fiction does cover the aspect of negative attitude towards women, especially sexual violence. Infact, it even shares some statistical figures related to injustice / atrocities on women in Sweden (though they seem a little unrelated to the novel) before every new chapter in his book. A Google search about Larsson tells us that when Larsson was in his early teens, he witnessed his friends gang-rape a girl named Lisbeth and he never forgave himself for not helping the girl. The incident made Larsson a feminist in a way and he abhorred violence and abuse against women. Perhaps, his disgust for sexual violence inspired the story of this book and building its super-hero character Lisbeth Salander or ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’.

The original title

The story of this crime-fiction revolves around two main characters – Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist or rather a unique, punk-like, flawed, unbelievably intelligent, skinny girl and a middle-aged intellectual journalist who’s quite a womaniser with morals.

The first 30 pages or so were pretty slow-paced for me, making me re-think if it was right to have picked up the book but once Lisbeth Salander entered the scene, the book transformed into a complete page-turner which I irresistibly felt like finishing in one go… it’s a different story that completing 554 pages at one go wasn’t gonna happen 🙂

The English version

This first part of the trilogy deals with unravelling the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger Corporation’s CEO – Henrik Vanger’s niece and nailing her killer. Henrik Vanger proposes to hire Blomkvist more as a sleuth rather than a journalist to investigate the disappearance of  his daughter-like niece. Blomkvist agrees on taking up the task after some apprehensions as in any case he has ruined his career by losing a libel case involving damaging allegations about billionaire Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Moreover, the old Vanger lures him to take up the case by assuring him that he would be rewarded with some solid evidence that would prove Wennerström as the scoundrel Blomkvist suspects him to be. A major acquaintance with a number of Vanger family members begins along with an an in-depth analysis of every detail that occurred around the day Henrik’s niece, Harriet, disappeared. This is where Lisbeth Salander who’s been discovered as an extremely intelligent researcher is persuaded by him to join him in the investigation. The story explodes at the point when these two lead characters team up, making it move at an incredibly exciting pace.

Then of course, there are many other interesting key characters involved like Dragan Armansky and Erika Berger who not only play a brilliant supporting role but help us understand the distinct personas of Lisbeth and Blomkvist.

All in all, it’s a great read if one likes crime fiction or merely just fiction, for all it matters.  The book also ends up tutoring us with some Swedish terms like Herr (Mr.) and Fröken (Miss) and introduces a hell lot of tongue-twisting Swedish names that effortlessly and endlessly confuse you. The book also gives you an impression that there’s a lot going on in Sweden regarding sexual violence on women. But one thing that’s left me amused is the insane amount of coffee the Swedish have… I wonder if they ever really get sleep after filling themselves with litres of caffeine 🙂

A movie on this book was already out in Sweden in 2009 and a Hollywood version starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is being discussed to be released in 2011

So, it’s a good idea to catch on the book first before watching it’s adaptation in film… have finished reading the second in tri-series “The Girl Who Played With Fire” too and will put up a review about it soon.

For now, my rating for this book: 4/5 suggest just go, pick it up.

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 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.