Happiness and Reality?

In this video, Daniel Kahneman probes human well-being, and the riddle of how direct human experience often varies from human memory, which is particularly important to story telling animals. We have two selves—the experiencing self who lives in the present, and the remembering self, that keeps score and maintains the stories of our life. Time is the critical variable that distinguishes the two selves, and has little impact on the story. The remembering self choses between memories of the experiencing self, but human perception shapes what we chose to remember. How good the weather was during the last week of your vacation dominates your memory of how good a time you had, even if the previous two weeks were terrible, and vice-versa. This may have serious implications for climate change adaptation and mitigation policy-making.

 Kahneman talks about two notions of happiness—happiness for moments (is this where consumption behaviour lies) and happiness of memories, the distinction between the happiness of the experiencing self and the satisfaction of the remembering self. In other words, it is the latter that determines our perceptions of our well-being, and one is not a substitute for the other.

 He talks about an interesting result from a Gallup survey around income and happiness. A sample of 600,000 people found that that below an income of $60,000 a year, people are unhappy and become progressively unhappy with lower incomes. This is the startling result, above $60,000, there is an absolutely flat line, more money does not buy you experiential happiness. It is the remembering self, hoever, that believes the more money you have, the happier you are. This conflict between the reality of the experiential self and the remembering self for our life story and our perceptions of our happiness may be very important for long-term human well-being.

Imagine if happiness research was considered in the development of public policy, indeed in the United Kingdom and France, it is already happening.

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