two books on the subway

just finished stumbling on happiness by daniel gilbert and the history of love by nicole krauss both yesterday on the subway to work.

favorite quote from the history of love so far:
“Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact.”

what i thought i would get out of the book is pretty different from what i expected. the book is called stumbling on happiness but the book is more about the shortcomings of prospection, in a field called effective forecasting, on how accurate our predictions of the emotional impact of future events. with an angle i guess from how it plays on our happiness, in the short term and the long term.

his three arguments of why the human imagination is faulty:
1. imagination tends to add and remove details (for good reason since we would need to relive the entire experience if we wanted to know what it felt to do something. our brain naturally finds the important parts and cuts out the crap so that we can shrink the size of the memory), but people do not realize that key details may be fabricated by the brain (when we try to remember the memory)

2. imagined future (and pasts) are more closely related to the present than they actually will be (or were)
a lot of what we’re predicting is directly related to how we’re feeling. the most obvious example is having full and hungry people predict how much they would like spaghetti for dinner tomorrow.

3. imagination fails to realize that things will feel different once they actually happen, the psychological immune system will make bad things feel not so bad as they are imagined to feel.
our psychological immune system was meant for survival, so it’s modeled much like our own biological immune system. it’s not meant to be defensive or defenceless. it doesn’t spring up for every tiny little sad event but it doesn’t let a tragic event destroy us. it’s the only way for survival, which is why tragic events hurt us less than you think they do.
therefore, we think these tragic events have a huge impact on our lives but people end up feeling much less sad/hurt than they think they would after suffering a tragic event.

there’s also something about the memory of emotions. we tend to end up remembering what we think of what we feel instead of what we actually felt. the frequency of the event affects us much more than the magnitude. the relative magnitude affects us much more than the absolute magnitude. the ending has a disproportional effect on the memory.

one thing i do take out of this though, which i’ve already slightly incorporated in my life is this. humans tend to regret inactions more than actions, because we need to justify our existence. and i guess it’s a more proactive, aggressive stance towards life which i would like to take.

the other thing is that the most effective way of predicting our emotions is surrogation, of using asking someone’s feeling who is doing the exact same thing at that time. because we are more similar than we think we are even if we don’t want to believe it because we are always thinking of our thoughts so we think only we can be having this particular epiphany but many people could be having the same epiphany which we can only guess from body language and speech. but it is actually quite an effective method that i shall try to use now.

interesting idea to predict happiness. treat it as a science. multiply probability by utility (definition of this word is arguable, but for now let’s say benefit towards human) then do decision tree, just like the business one.

lastly, author made a really interesting point about the idea of propagation. he says that society is the way it is because only geared towards survival end up surviving. therefore, even though the the continual pursuit of wealth doesn’t make us any much happier which is something even adam smith, the father of capitalism realized, we still do it because it’s the only way society will keep surviving.


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