Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Happiness in All Its Flavors

Happiness seems to be in big demand these days, with books like Authentic Happiness, The Blank Slate, and now Stumbling on Happiness hitting the bookshelves. Very interesting stuff. I like them more for their academic value (they're just gosh darn interesting reads) than for their actual applicability, though I admit many of the ideas in these books could pack a killer cocktail of usefulness if ever melded together (maybe I can do that at a later date).

For now, I just want to mention Stumbling on Happiness and it's author Dr. Daniel Gilbert. I came across this doctor via Radical Mutual-Improvement, one of the numerous sites I check out. Dr. Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist (God, aren't they all?) interested in how humans really suck at making themselves happy. Well, he doesn't put it that way, but that's basically what he's saying. The first question of his book, Stumbling, asks, "If you had only 10 minutes to live, how would you spend it?" Then he notes, "Yeah, you're not doing that now, are you?" Why? Because we're doing something to make our future self happy. Not necessarily a bad move.

The problem is, we really, really suck at predicting how something will affect our future emotional state. Let's use an rhetorical example to illustrate the point. Say your life partner left you. Right now you might say, "Holy shit, I'd be devestated. I'd never be the same." Wrong answer. In truth, unless you're currently emotionally unstable, you'd most likely change, move on, and get over him/her. However, you can't predict that because your imagination sucks at predicting. In fact, your imagination is just about as good at objective measurement as your memory. I know my memory sucks: for example, right now I'd love to do marching band because I think (now) it's fun. However, I luckily have well documented statements of myself saying I don't enjoy it. Thank god. :) Memory, thou suck.

Anyway, the point is, we suck at stumbling onto happiness. Although, that's not necessarily bad. If we had happiness all the time, what good would that be? As Dave says, it's the ephemeral things in life that make life worth living. The shadows prove the sunshine.


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