No. 477 — June 19, 2022
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“The most practical decision-making is not making better choices, it’s learning to deal with uncertainty. The most common thing holding people back from the right answer is holding on to your previous beliefs. Instead of instinctively rejecting new information, take in what comes your way through a system of evaluating probabilities.”
Yale’s happiness professor Laurie Santos and I sat down to discuss the factors contributing to happiness, evidence-based methods to boost happiness, and why it’s crucial to protect yourself from unhappy people.
“I think where we go astray when we’re seeking out happiness is that we have these misconceptions. We think happiness is about achieving accolades. It’s not. We often think happiness is about self-care, treating ourselves, and giving ourselves these luxuries. It’s not. In fact, if anything, it’s about doing nice things for others. That gives you more of a happiness bang for your buck than spending time on yourself.
(We have) this notion of happiness, that it’s only positive emotions all the time. I think we each have this misconception that’s a little on the toxic positivity spectrum where we’re like, “If I’m feeling sad, or I’m feeling angry, or I’m feeling scared, something has gone horribly wrong and I haven’t done it right.” When in fact there are times when it’s normative to feel sad, or frustrated, or scared.
We can become much happier if we work towards it, but often the conception we have of how to do that isn’t right. That means we go about it wrong, and that can be problematic in and of itself, in part because you’re like, “I’m seeking happiness, I’m seeking happiness,” and that makes you not present. It might make you a little selfish.”
Robert Maurer in One Small Step Can Change Your Life
“When life gets scary and difficult, we tend to look for solutions in places where it is easy or at least familiar to do so, and not in the dark, uncomfortable places where real solutions might lie.”
Humans are animals. The word “animal” is important because animals are biologically wired to be hierarchical. I believe that we often unconsciously rearrange the world into arbitrary hierarchies to make sense of the world, maintain our beliefs, and feel better.
My first memory of doing this was working in a grocery store when I was 16. One particular regular customer would come into the store and treat everyone who worked there poorly. He’d drive up in his fancy car, park it illegally outside, and run in to get something. He’d rudely comment and raise his voice telling everyone to hurry up. One day when he was waiting in my line he told me to “hurry the F* up because this Rolex doesn’t pay for itself.” I’ll leave my reply out but let’s just say that was my last shift.
He organized his unconscious hierarchy by money and status. Those were the ways he kept the score to come out on top. He wasn’t the only one that did this. We all do this all the time. In fact, we do it several times a day. We constantly organize the world in a way that lets us come out on top.
I remember walking home that night thinking that while I might not have a job, at least I wasn’t like him. And at that moment I rearranged the world in such a way that I, the unemployed high school student without a job, car, or Rolex, came out on top. Changing the reference point made me feel better.
Rearranging the world wasn’t conscious and neither was my reaction. What I said is less important than the fact that I said it without thinking. I reacted without reasoning, just like an animal.
Once you see this idea, you can’t unsee it. It’s everywhere. You see it politically on the left and right, in food choices, and possessions. You see it in the books you buy, trips you take, and subtle words people use when gossiping. You see it in values, education, and houses.
While we don’t always need to come out on top, we often organize the world in a way where we are always better than someone else. When someone infringes on our unconscious sense of hierarchy it triggers an instinctive, animal-like, response.
Decisions → “I can’t tell you how much time is spent worrying about decisions that don’t matter. To just be able to make a decision and see what happens is tremendously empowering, but that means you have to set up the situation such that when something does go wrong, you can fix it. When something does go wrong, it doesn’t cost you or your customer an exorbitant amount. It isn’t ridiculously expensive. When you get in situations where you cannot afford to make a mistake, it’s very hard to do the right thing. So if you’re trying to do the right thing, the right thing might be to eliminate the cost of making a mistake rather than try to guess what’s right.”
Ideas → “Much has been made in the progress studies community on the problem of ‘good ideas becoming harder to find.’ And, while we can’t be sure that the ‘burden of knowledge’ isn’t responsible for this, it seems quite likely that this problem might be man-made.”
Stress → What to do When You’re Stressed Out
P.S. Water plus time.