Happiness and satisfaction

Last year, I had the chance to finally read Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. It is a wonderful book about how our mind works, and I will at some point share my notes about it on this blog.

One of the most fascinating ideas by Kahneman is the distinction between happiness and satisfaction – or between experience and memory (as presented in his must-watch TedTalk).

We often worry about being happy, but according to Kahneman we first need to agree on what happiness is. Happiness is a short-term, experiential concept. We can be happy (or unhappy) as we live in the moment. But as we move past it (and this happens quite fast), what really matters is the memory we have of the experience. That is, in a way, a more complex idea. It has to do with the experience itself, particularly with how it ended (on a positive vs on a negative note), but it also has to do with the story we tell about the experience, the way we elaborate what happened and we fit it in the broader story of our life.

Happiness feels good in the moment. What you’re left with are your memories. And that’s a very striking thing — that memories stay with you, and the reality of life is gone in an instant. So memory has a disproportionate weight because it’s with us. It’s the only thing we get to keep.

Daniel Kahneman, in Conversations with Tyler

I find this to be extremely fascinating. My opinion is that it represents a clear shift of responsibility from the external and experiential world to the internal and narrative self.

We all have a story. A story of who we are and who we are not, of who we want to be and of how we are getting there. This story would help pick situations and contexts that align with the broader narrative.

So that, for example, if I think of myself as a considerate and careful father and husband, I would probably try to avoid situations that would have me end up drunk and naked in public.

But also, and probably more importantly, the main story arc of our life could be an anchoring frame for experiences and circumstances that go beyond our will. When something good or bad happens to us, that is not a result of our choices, I feel we can elaborate it so that it better fits with the view we have of our lives. And in doing that, we increase our general degree of satisfaction.

The same considerate and careful father and husband that is stuck in a job he does not like, for example, could frame the situation as a way to provide for his family, as well as spend time with his kids and wife without additional job-related worries (instead of beating himself up because he needs to find a better job to match a view of himself as an ambitious and career-driven professional, that is clearly not primary in his life).



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