Annoying Features of the Mind – The Science of Well-Being by Yale University #10


So now, here,
we’re going to pause for a second. because we’re almost at
the end of the lecture. But I want to really have a moment,
where you guys reflect on this, and take this all in, right? All this stuff that I’ve told you,
scientifically, when you actually look at the people who get good
stuff on this, and bad stuff on this, and who do even make changes in this,
doesn’t actually make them happier. Does it increase their
subjective well being? The answer is no, it does not, or
not nearly as much as you expect. And many of you have this
sort of stern sad face here. And I think that is good, because when I
see these data, I mean, these are goals that either I had as undergrad, or
I have now as an adult and so on. You think that basically,
most of the direction you’re going, with how you’re putting energy into
things, what you’re applying for, what you’re stressing about, all that
stuff, is just the wrong direction. Or maybe a more coarsey version of this is you are clueless about what
is going to make you happy. All these things you’re spending
your time on is just not helping. And that’s kind of the main message
of this part of the lecture, is that we’ve just been wrong. And so, with that,
we can ask the question, why aren’t these things making us happy? Something’s gone wrong, all these things we think
are going to make us happy aren’t. So what’s going wrong? And when you pose this to students, in particular,
you often get two kinds of answers. One answer is well, I bet all those things
like salary, grades, and all that stuff, I bet that’s not making you happier because
maybe you can’t make people happier. Maybe your happiness just genetically set,
and you just can’t change it around. Maybe you’re either a glass
half empty person or glass half full person, and that’s it. You’re just stuck that way,
even if you get the perfect grade, and a good true love, and all that stuff
is not going to help you, right? So that’s one thing you sometimes hear. The other thing you
sometimes hear is well, all that stuff is great, but life sucks. Bad stuff happens, and
maybe even if you get the perfect grade, a horrible thing happens, and you just can’t be as happy because
other horrible stuff happens, right? So ideas like your life
circumstances creep up on you. So maybe you got the perfect grade, but
terrible car accident or something or maybe the opposite. Maybe you didn’t get that job, but
then something else good happens. It all kind of balances out,
your life circumstances, right? And so these are the kind
of two answers people give. Genetically we’re just set,
we can’t change it. Second is, life circumstances matter so
much it trumps everything else or somehow the life
circumstances balance out. And in fact,
those two answers are both wrong. They just don’t seem to
bear out in the data. And we’ll end with this, which is
the lovely work by Sonja Lyubomirsky, who has this book that I mentioned before,
The How of Happiness, how to get the life you want. She’s actually done some really cool
scientific work to try to parse this out. To try to say, okay,
how much do genes play into happiness? How much do life circumstances
play into happiness, and so on. And the fast version of it,
is that to look at the role of genes, she’s been able to look at
different happiness measures across identical twins who presumably
have the same genes. And she can compare their kind of
happiness correlation with happiness correlations across fraternal twins,
who don’t have the same genes, but have similar life circumstances. Bunch of studies on that. There’s also a bunch of studies
looking at life circumstances. Particularly, people’s life circumstances
where there’s been some sort of train wreck, for lack of a better term. Really terrible things happen,
you become paraplegic, you lose your job, you become a widow, all these things. And you can kind of parse all
the different parts together, and ask, how much of a contribution is all these
different things actually making? And this is the pie chart that she’s
kind of famously came up with to describe this stuff, of how much of
a contribution each of these things makes. There is a decently big slice
that comes from your genetics. It seems like we do actually have
a genetic set point for happiness. This idea that some people are glass full
people, some people are glass empty, that does seem to be borne out by the
data, but often way less than we think. It’s only about 50%. There’s a lot of movement there. The thing that’s amazing is
the life circumstances part. The thing we really think effects you,
like if you had a car crash, or you’re a paraplegic,
or you won the lottery, all these things, that actually is
the smallest component of our happiness. It seems like only about 10% of our
actual happiness is effected by that. The final part seems to be based on
all kinds of actions, intentions, habits that people bring in. That big 40% seems to control a lot of
our happiness, and the good news is that, unlike the other stuff,
that part really is under our control. It’s under our control in important ways,
we can work towards it. And she has this lovely quote about this,
where she says, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful
effect on how happy we are, over and above the effect of set points,
these are these genetic things, and the circumstances we find ourselves in. We can work hard to be happier. The problem is that we seem to be
working towards the wrong things. We seem to be putting our time into
things like getting good grades, and getting the best job, and all this stuff. We plan for that stuff, but
it’s not the stuff that’s making us happy. And so the upshot is, is that there
are things we can do to become happier. But most of the goals we think
are going to make us happy, don’t actually make us happy. So we have to kind of
pick the right goals, and that’s what we’re going to
talk about in future lectures. However, I had to end
on a particular note, just in case some of you thinking this,
because I think it’s important, another fallacy we’re
going to see creeping up. And that fallacy goes something like,
okay, that science stuff might be true for everybody else. Maybe that’s true for
all the freshmen you surveyed before, but I actually am going to be happier if
I get the perfect job this summer. Or like when you thought about
how sad you’re going to be, the person who said one
when they get that grade. I actually am going to feel like
a one when I get that grade. That science doesn’t apply to me. And so, to that, I will introduce you to
the first of many things you’re going to hear in this course, which I’m going to call annoying features
of the mind that actually lead us astray. It’s just dumb ways that the mind
is set up, that mess us up. We kind of saw this already, where we
think that once we know something, we’re going to get better at it. There’s always these dumb,
annoying features. And this dumb annoying feature that makes
you think that, is that you think that when your mind delivers to you
an intuition like, I’m going to feel really sad if I get a bad grade, that
that intuition is normatively correct. But the fact is, that the mind all the
time is delivering to us these intuitions about what’s going to make us happy,
what’s correct, what line is longer, what table is longer. All those intuitions that are just wrong. Sometimes our mind delivers to us stuff
that’s just like, factually incorrect. And we can see it in vision, right,
we saw it here with the case of the table. The key is that sometimes, even outside
of vision, we’re getting these intuitions that our mind is delivering to us with
full force, like that’s the right answer, that’s what’s going to make us happy,
but it is just wrong. Just to see one on the kind
of more reasoning side. Some of you might have
seen this problem before. If you have, don’t answer, but this is a problem that’s kind of
commonly given in business schools. So if a baseball, and
a bat together cost $1.10 together, and the bat costs a $1.00 more than the ball,
how much does the ball cost? So yell out answers, real fast.
>>Five cents.>>You guys, Yale students. Most people when they see this have the
intuition, the answer’s got to be $0.1. I won’t ask you to raise your hands,
but some of you are smirking, so I know you had the intuition. I won’t ask to embarrass yourself,
but that is the wrong answer, the correct answer is $0.05. In fact, if you do this, most students
even in intro algebra classes, and stuff, will get this stuff wrong. Sometimes we get this answer,
like my gosh, it’s popping out, it’s obviously $0.1, but
that’s the wrong answer. And what we’re going
to see in this course, is that there are tons of things
that are going to work like this. You’re going to get an incredibly
strong intuition that you would hate it if you left this room, and got immediately
hit by a car, and were paraplegic for the rest of your time at Yale. You have the intuition that
would ruin your time at Yale. But it’s actually just not true. You have the intuition that if
you left here, and somehow, some random relative that you don’t
remember or know left you $27 million, and you just had that to play around
with the rest of your time at Yale. You have the intuition that that would
make the rest of your time at Yale pretty awesome. But in fact, it would make it
much less awesome than you think. You have the intuition that if you
get the grade that you want or a grade that’s higher than you want, it’s
going to be better, but it’s just not. So many of our intuitions about
happiness are just wrong. And that’s one of the things
we’re going to have to tackle as we kind of go through
the rest of the course. And so for that, we’ll kind of remind
you the kind of message, which is that, most of the goals we think
are going to make us happy aren’t. And the rest of our time, we’re going to
kind of go through the goals that will. And with that, we will finish today,
and open up for any questions you have.

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