Cognitive Traps of Happiness: 4 Lifehacks for Well-Being

By Jonathan Roseland

In the TED Talk below Dr. Daniel Kahneman, Inventor of Behavioral Economics, explains how our happiness is determined and sometimes distorted by what he describes as our two selves.

Actionable Take-Aways...

The Way a Story Ends


We must be conscious of the way a story ends in our memories. A bad ending can make our Remembering Self permanently unhappy about an otherwise very happy experience. Therefore it's essential to recognize and compartmentalize a negative ending to what's going to be a memory narrative.

A personal experience: This year I took the coolest vacations of my life: While traveling from Central to South America, I spent 4 days in the surreal San Blas Islands (in between Panama and Colombia), it was a time of relaxation on sunny beaches, meeting the locals of the islands (and even learning a little of their language), eating great food, drinking fine wine and rum by bonfires, making new friends and snorkeling in clear waters. However, it ended with two fairly disastrous events: 1) At the border crossing my passport was almost ruined by water damage 2) Our first night in Colombia we got robbed.
When these two negative events happened I made a conscious decision to categorize them as simply part of the risks of travel, and not include them in my mental narrative of the San Blas Islands vacation.

Memory Anticipation Feedback Loops - Our Remembering Self is the one in charge of making decisions, it makes decisions based upon future anticipated memories. We derive a lot of happiness from these self-fulfilling prophesies, so if there's a decision you need to make, imagine yourself being happy in the future reflecting on the decision.

Spend Time with People You Like - and who make you feel good about yourself. It's the most significant measurable factor of happiness.

Make it to $60K - It turns out money does buy happiness, but the happiness-to-income correlation flattens out at $60K a year for Americans and other comparable countries. So do whatever it takes to get your income to $60K yearly but after that focus on other areas of your life to maximize happiness.

Thought Experiment

At the end of a vacation, all your pictures are going to be destroyed and you will receive a drug that gives you amnesia. All your memories of the vacation are going to be destroyed. Would you choose the same activities?

If so then it illustrates a significant difference between the way your Remembering Self and your Experiencing Self perceives happiness.

My question for Dr. Kahneman is, do biological happiness and healthiness correlate more to the Experiencing Self or the Remembering Self? Should we as biohackers be more focused on maximizing Experiential Happiness or creating Happy Memories?

:30 - Over 40 books published in the last 5 years with happiness in the title, happiness is researched thoroughly
1:07 - 1st Trap of Happiness is a reluctance to admit complexity, the word happiness is too general, we need to adopt a more complex view
1:30 - 2nd Trap Confusion Between Experience and Memory, being happy in your life and being happy about your life
1:50 - 3rd Trap Focusing Illusion, we cannot think about any factor of well being without distorting its significance.
2:55 - The two selves; the Experiencing Self  (in the present), the Remembering Self (keeps score of our life). They are very different.
3:45 - The notion of happiness gets confused between the two selves.
5:30 - Example from medical operations, when the story or memory which ended in pain is negatively colored the entire dialog
6:50 - The ending of the story makes the biggest difference.
7:20 - The psychological present is about 3 seconds long.
7:40 - The Remembering Self only focuses on very few of these
8:08 - The biggest difference between the two selves is the handling of time.
9:00 - The Remembering Self is the one that makes decisions, the Experiencing Selfhas very little to do with the decision making process.
9:40 - We think of our future as anticipated memories. We live at the tyranny of the Remembering Self.
11:15 - Thought Experiment: At the end of vacation all your pictures are going to be destroyed and you will receive an amnesiac drug. All your memories of the vacation are going to be destroyed. Would you choose the same activities?
13:56 - A person's moment to moment happiness (the Experiencing Self) can vary drastically from the happiness they feel when they think about their life (the Remembering Self).
14:50 - The biggest factor of happiness is spending time with people we like.
15:00 - We should not think of happiness as a substitute for well being.
17:17 - Happiness of the Experiencing Self for Americans, below $60,000/Yearly people are unhappy, above $60,000/Yearly money does not buy you happiness - the Experiencing Self's happiness graph goes flat.

The paradox of happiness is that the more you pursue and worry about happiness, the less happy you'll be. I explain why here...


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