A Fresh Perspective on Happiness

We live in a time and place where people still strive for the American dream and living a happy life. Our society is continuously pushing for more happiness, and we seek it in different forms – more clothes, bigger houses, more experiences, more money. We think these things will improve our lives…and they very well may.

There’s only one problem – we, as a society, love immediate gratification more than anything. Everything you see is promoting some sort of temporary benefit. Take for instance this ad:

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We see these ads all the time. Buy this car, guys, because you will get the girl of your dreams. As obvious as this is, and as much as we believe we can see through it, we are still prone to these persuasive ads. Many times we believe buying something will add to this internal view of yourself – I own a Cadillac so I am of higher class and will attract higher class potential partners.

Now, I just used this example because it is so common. Happiness, as we perceive it, can be found in many different forms.

I’m not a big advocate of pursuing happiness as an end. I don’t see pursuing happiness as a useful way to live a well-balanced, quality life…unless you define it properly. But even this may not be the most effective approach. This way of thinking leads you to always wanting more because we continue to only see temporary results. Remember, happiness is an emotion and it comes and goes. Unless you have created a strong personal system of emotional intelligence, you will find yourself in the happy-sad cycle too often for your own liking.

I recently watched a TED talk from Daniel Kahneman relating to this topic. He won a Nobel Prize and is known as the founder of behavioral economics. In this talk, Kahneman broke down happiness as being perceived by our 2 Selves. He also said that we pretty much have no idea how to understand our own happiness based on cognitive traps.

Kahneman breaks down the 2 selves as follows:

Experiencing Selves – your moment-to-moment happiness as you experience it.

Remembering Selves – how you think about your happiness based on your memories.

This was eye-opening for me to say the least. I really like the micro and macro way of how we view our experiences.

The key aspect to this is that the Experiencing Self and Remembering Self often have very different ways of perceiving happiness.

This conflict is one of the reasons why the continuous pursuit of happiness is not an effective approach.

Let’s use the example by Kahneman:

A man went to a symphony with wonderful music that he really enjoyed. However, at the very end there was a dreadful screeching sound. The man claimed it ruined the whole experience. But it hadn’t. The screeching sound only ruined the memory of the experience, not the experience in itself.

This is a great lesson and shows how the 2 Selves may differ in perceptions.

What can we take away from this?

First off, let’s acknowledge we are not good at determining what makes us happy.

Many of our everyday decisions are to make us happier in some way. When we buy that nice shirt, we are often doing so because it improves the view we have of our self and hopefully how others view us. 

So should we focus on pleasing the Experiencing Self or the Remembering Self when making decisions?

I would say both. It is all about a certain balance. The purpose would be to make decisions to make you happier on a random Tuesday at 8:00 – moment-to-moment happiness. I think this is a reason a lot of people have pets. You also want to make decisions that will make you happiest looking back. The example Kahneman used was comparing and equally satisfying 1 week vacation and 2 week vacation. The second week doesn’t provide much additional value in the big picture, so it does not add much to the Remembering Self. The Experiencing Self may have had additional benefits though. Considering these factors going into a decision can be helpful – if you’re after more day-to-day happiness and positive memories.

This is all food for thought. We now know these 2 Selves may not always agree. Hopefully we can make an effort to create a quality balance between our two views of happiness.

 

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A Run to the Gym

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Last night I laid in my bed in silence and let my mind wander.

I was jumping from thought to thought. Seeing colors. Seeing shapes…

Then an old man made his way center stage. I couldn’t tell if he was supposed to be me in the future? Me in a past life? Or maybe a total stranger.

Who knows?

But this man was laying on his death bed and somehow I entered his mind. He was thinking to himself – what I would give to just get up and walk out of here one more time. I could sense his pain. I could feel it. He was so determined to get up, but he couldn’t. Time took its course on him and there was nothing he could do. His physical capabilities were gone. I just wanted to help him.

Then all of a sudden the focus went back on me. Immediately after experiencing these feelings, I realized I’m once again taking things for granted.

I have a loving, supporting family.

I have great friends.

I can support myself.

I can get up and run.

So today, on a 10 degree day in St. Louis, I decided to ditch my car and take a jog to the gym. I want to take advantage of what I have now. You know that quote “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone?” My experiences show this is true. I want to make gratefulness a habit in my life. This betters my perspective and will help me live every day more fully.

I did that today.