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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Happiness - Must Watch Video

Found via Tony O'Driscoll. I guess Dan Gilbert - author of Stumbling on Happiness was the keynote at Training 2007. Tony was nice enough to point us to a video from a Ted talk:

You really should watch this. It contains a bunch of things that completely make sense now that you know and raises some interesting questions:

  • Natural happiness is a result of "good results" - happy that you won the lottery
  • Synthesized happiness is a result of adjusting to your situation - being paralyzed and adjusting to your new life
  • While we may believe that natural happiness is somehow better than synthesized happiness, there really is no difference - people just are happy.
  • People who won the lottery and people who are paralyzed are equally happy one year after the event.
  • The brain is amazingly good at synthesizing happiness. The 3 moving to two and 4 moving to 5 in the video is great stuff.
  • Freedom (lots of choices) is the enemy of synthesized happiness. If you are stuck, you will be happier than if you have lots of choices.

This explains to me why it's hard to buy when there are so many choices. I don't want buyers remorse. Heaven forbid I have the option to return something so I can continue to fret about my decision. Having someone buy it for me or make a strong recommendation that locks me in - makes me happier with the choice. And, if I'm truly locked into the choice, then my brain will continually adjust to make me even happier.

I can't wait to hear what Stephen Downes, Jay Cross and the rest of the "freedom is good" - "control is bad" has to say about this. :)


Harold Jarche said...

Great video (I love TED Talks).

I'd like to help you, Tony, but "the pursuit of happiness" isn't a requirement north of the 49th ;-)

Tony Karrer said...

Good point Harold. And you've already produced synthetic happiness about the fact that it's so dang cold up there... I can hear you know - "It keeps the beer cold, eh." ;-)

And as it turns out "pursuing happiness" may lead to being unhappy. We might be better off with "s**t happens" than "life, liberty and the pursuit ..." Who knew? And I'm not sure if I should be happy with this since it rocks the foundation of everything - but on the other hand, I don't know if there's anything I can do about it - so maybe I'm happier already. :)

Anonymous said...


You probably know about cognitive behavior therapy (e.g., for anxiety or depression), which seems to me connected topart of Gilbert's message.

The therapy includes identifying your own patterns of distorted thinking (e.g., a tendency to see things as only black-and-white), recognizing the connection between your thoughts and the feelings they give rise to, and thus gaining control over those feelings.

Anonymous said...

Tony, that was me in the previous comment (about cognitive behavior therapy). I'm not sure what happened to my name and link. Feel free to edit that comment (or this one).

Dave F.

Tony Karrer said...

David - I actually don't know how to do anything but delete a comment, so I'm going to leave both of yours.

By the way - have you been talking to my therapist about "your patterns of distorted thinking" or maybe my wife - I didn't think you knew me that well. :)

But that's a really good point about the connection to cognitive behavior therapy. I hadn't really thought about it in that context.

Stephen Downes said...

This phenomenon is well-documented. It's called the Stockholm Syndrome, where the kidnap victim begins to identify with the kidnappers.

Doesn't make kidnapping good, though.

Anonymous said...

As my mother likes to say: through our routines, we can find freedom.

Interesting video. Somehow, I find myself feeling a bit skeptical.

Fate control is how this phenomenon was described to me. I found it interesting that Gilbert is working mostly with the exceptions rather the norm.

Many people living in deep poverty do not have the ability to see happiness in their conditions. Thus many people in deep poverty succumb to drug addiction, alcholism, and criminal behavior. Again, I didn't say all people in deep poverty succumb to this, but many do (more than half).

When I think of synthetic happiness I think of Hollywood, I think of manufactured consent, I think of Stephen's reference to the Stockholm Syndrome.

Gilbert touches on the buddhist idea of nothingness/emptiness which is difficult for many Westerners to wrap their heads around, i.e., nothing is everything, and nothing/everything is neither good nor bad-- it simply "is." Thinking makes things good/bad.

In my mind, happiness is a condition which invites sadness; you can't have one without the other. Though as Gilbert points out, it's all temporary. So, perhaps the answer is as cheeky as a song like "don't worry, be happy."htt

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