“Predicting Happiness”

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25th Feb 2024

Most people have a list of wishes: things that they think will bring them to the doorstep of happiness once they have them finally in their grasp.

To imagine what will bring joy to our future selves requires mental time travel, which is a uniquely human skill accrued from two million years of evolution.

We use this skill daily, predicting our future emotions and then basing decisions both big (e.g., whom to marry) and small (e.g., what cake to serve at the wedding) on our forecasts of how they will make our future selves feel.

Yet, our imaginations often fail us.

When we are lucky enough to get what we wished for, we discover that it doesn’t come with everlasting happiness. And when the things we dreaded come to pass, we realize that they didn’t crush us after all.

Daniel Kahneman makes this point when discussing

how bad we are at predicting happiness.

He wrote, “We dream about different circumstances in a vacuum while ignoring negative factors that come along with those circumstances – Dreaming about sitting on a beach brings more joy than actually being on a beach, because in the dream you’re not thinking about getting bit by mosquitos, or having heartburn from a gluttonous lunch, or the little creatures crawling all over you, which is what actually happens in the real world.

The question then arises is, ‘What joy is sweeter: the experience or anticipation’ (e.g., the act of eating a piece of your favorite cake or the anticipation of eating a piece of your favorite cake?).

Is the journey better and to be enjoyed more or the destination?

There is no right answer to this question. Some things are better to anticipate than to experience, some are the other way around. But it doesn’t matter because we don’t have to choose between these pleasures. We can have them both!

Most people think that happiness is something we attain, like a possession, and that once we have it, we get to keep it.

But happiness is not a place we can live.

It is a place we can visit.

We may learn how to visit it more often and how to stay longer, but the waxing and waning of happiness is natural and inevitable.

I have realised that, the key to happiness is not that you don’t get angry, upset, frustrated, irritated or depressed.

It’s how fast you get rid of it.

And the best way to be happy is to make someone else happy – be the reason for someone’s smile and you shall smile too.

Life is better when you are happy but life is best when other people are happy because of you.

This Sunday, just be happy, make others happy & stay blessed forever.