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The Misguided Pursuit of Happiness

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Posted on Jan 16, 2007
Dan Gilbert
TED.com

In this TED conference speech, Harvard super-psychologist Dan Gilbert explains why we humans are so notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy. Fascinating stuff. Also: The TED page has a wealth of other great talks.

Watch it:

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By Carolyn Robbins, January 24, 2007 at 10:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I believe the over-rated tendencies we might make, have more to do with the sensory awareness we have at a particular moment. I was curious what would happen if the same questions were asked moments, hours, or days later….when life has weathered our ‘meaningfulness claims’.

Are there such black and white ‘results’ pertaining to what is ‘preferred’ at one moment and what is not? How does life change us in the process of considering the answers?

Could the scent of a woman passing through the room, the hunger we might be feeling for lunch, or the conversation we had that morning with a partner make the difference? If variables are to be considered, then answers over time, should be taken, in my opinion.

I would have liked a summary of the results or a concensus of this study. It wasn’t as clear to me; the object, than the various results of independent studies.

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By Stephen Smoliar, January 18, 2007 at 2:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

John Hanks (#48435), if you really want to wean people away from being conned by the substitution of style for substance, you have to meet your enemy on the battlefield of style (like it or not).  In this case that involves avoiding provoking your would-be converts with language like “childish” and “lower middle class values.”  The best teachers know how to build on the intelligence their students already have, rather than treating them like unwashed dummies in need of a radical cerebral cleansing!

My last blog claimed to offer “a perspective that can liberate the mind from fear, superstition and pettiness” (in the words of Neil Ramsey).  As mentioned in Comment #48171, Gilbert was pitching to a “C-level” audience, which is far from “lower middle class” but, in the current cutthroat world of business, probably bases more decisions on “fear, superstition and pettiness” than on Enlightenment-style reason (not unlike the Executive Branch of the government)!  The kind of folks you are talking about would probably not remember Gilbert even if he appeared on late-night television.  What is more important is to figure out how to draw them to the more substantive alternatives!

Meanwhile, if you want to see if that blog made any progress towards the goal it set for itself, it should still be on the Web at:

http://360.yahoo.com/smoliar@sbcglobal.net

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By John Hanks, January 18, 2007 at 9:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If people with lower middle class values would spend time finding out about psychology, they might spend less time in childish revealed religion, militarism, football, and other anti-intellectual pursuits.

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By C.P.T.L., January 17, 2007 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hmmm. He’s super huh? If he becomes popular will he then be a ‘rock-star super-psychologist?’ And after a few years, an ‘iconic rock-star super-psychologist’ then, at the zenith of his wealth and fame, his charitable work leads to: ‘beloved iconic humanitarian rock-star super-psychologist?’

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By John Hanks, January 17, 2007 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment
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One of the keys to human happiness lies in annoying other people, so they might think.

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By Stephen Smoliar, January 17, 2007 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

nhs (#48141) hit the nail right on the head:  The primary function of TED is to get top-level executives to feel better about what they do, regardless of how little humanistic thinking that may entail!

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By menot, January 17, 2007 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great!  Now we have a Pop-Philosophy to tide us over until the time we have the technology and will to manufacture docile human populations.

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By anonymous, January 17, 2007 at 9:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rough crowd here but, I’m not seeing any evidence to the contrary.  And, if you’re looking for new ideas, forget it—there aren’t any.  If profound pain didn’t subside with time, none of us would survive it.  If you don’t get over the pain in a reasonable amount of time, you’ve probably developed an addiction to it in that it’s the only way you know how to live.

Lowered expectations & rationalization are the way to go unless you’re obsessed with helping others.  That will bring true happiness unless you f that up too.

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By Stephen Smoliar, January 17, 2007 at 8:56 am Link to this comment
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Remember the setting in which this pitch was given!  TED carries a pretty high price tag.  It is aimed at “C-level” (CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.) customers.  These people are so deep in survival questions for their respective businesses that they seldom have much time for reflection.  So they go off to this “boot camp” where they can pay to have others reflect for them!  They get immersed in one pitch after another for about half a week and then come away with the illusion that they are now better informed about life, the universe, and everything.  G. Anderson has tapped into the scam of it all.  The whole experience distorts the customer’s view of reality in exactly the way the customer wants!

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By nhs, January 17, 2007 at 6:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t it amazing that modern psychology is discovering what religious teachings have taught for millennia?  One can’t buy happiness.  Big whoop. 

But now corporations and governments have a new excuse for mass layoffs or mass detentions.  The afflicted will be so much “happier” now that we took away their “choices.”  Hmmm.  Good justification for not using “happiness” as a tool to measure social justice.

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By G. Anderson, January 16, 2007 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s truly the sickness of our age that nearly everyone yearns to be extraordinary, to figure it all out, to be dazzled by our own brains up in lights.

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By G. Anderson, January 16, 2007 at 9:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

He’s very witty, and funny at times, it just reminds of how true it is that we’re living in the golden age of snake oil salesmen.

You’ve got yourself outsmarted, because you’ve convinced yourself how unreal reality is.

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By Robert B. Livingston, January 16, 2007 at 9:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was fascinated and inspired by Gilbert’s findings about human adaptability to misfortune when I first read about them, but this inflated performance disappointed me. 

“Happiness: the Road Show” as it is presented here has a clever spin but seems hardly original in the way an “instant cure” is dangled before a hungry audience.  If only we would realize that Hope is of little consequence in our lives, Gilbert seems to suggest, we might come to terms with our fate. 

Erich Fromm aimed similar criticisms at L. Ron Hubbard and his ideas about the “reactive mind.”  Gilbert, unlike Hubbard, doesn’t claim to know which buttons people can press to deal with emotional distress, but like Hubbard minimizes problems of values and conscience as they relate to choices people can make to become fully human.

Is it a coincidence that Gilbert’s message should be so appealing to many of us when we feel impotent to change the calamitous direction our country is taking in world affairs?

Erich Fromm on L. Ron Hubbard (pdf):
http://www.erich-fromm.de/data/pdf/1950b-e.pdf

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By DMK, January 16, 2007 at 8:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is this guy kidding or has he never had anything traumatic happen in this life? If something terrible happens to you or someone you love, three months later can be like the blink of an eye in time. I hope he never tries to be a counselor to someone who has had a life altering traumatic event in their life because he would be convinced they should “just get over it.” There are already too many people giving advice in this world who do not have a clue as to what they are talking about and doing more harm than good.

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By Joel Wheeler, January 16, 2007 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Glitzkreig may be being waged, but you’ll still find an occasional diamond in the rough.

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By John Hanks, January 16, 2007 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The pursuit of happiness is like the pursuit of God.  Seek and ye shall not find.  You have to wait.  The more you pray, the more silent God is.

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By BoDo, January 16, 2007 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One question: did none of the Harvard students in the photograph experiment have the common sense to say, “Excuse me, but if this is a photography course and I have the negatives and a darkroom at hand, can’t I just make a copy of BOTH pictures?”

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By Stephen Smoliar, January 16, 2007 at 2:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I used to have a boss who went to TED every year and then “report back to the troops.”  The first time was pretty impressive, but interest began to decline pretty drastically after that.  Eventually, the reports provoked me into coining the neologism, GLITZKRIEG.  Browsing through the TED page reminded me that the GLITZKRIEG is still being waged!

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