Remember when you were happy?

Daniel Kahneman describes two selves.

Your experiencing self lives in the present. It cares about what is happening right now. Experiencing self is honest, forthright and direct. Ask your experiencing self if you are happy and it’ll give you an honest answer. Go on! Try it! Ask yourself whether you are happy RIGHT NOW.

Your remembering self lives in the past. It cares about what happened before. Your remembering self is a self-deluding, story-telling liar. Ask your remembering self whether you are happy and it will probably just make something up.

Kahneman describes a study where two groups of people were given colonoscopies.

The first group had a short, fairly pleasant experience (as colonoscopies go) but it ended abruptly. Probably, the doctor just wanted to get it over with quickly.

The second group had a long painful experience (as reported by their experiencing selves) where the pain just kind of tailed off at the end.

But – here’s the thing – the second group reported a much happier colonoscopy. Their remembering selves ignored the whole ordeal and focussed on the very last bit.

If you want to be happy, who should you please? Your remembering self or your experiencing self?

His examples are intriguing.

Experiencing self does not care much about the weather but remembering self thinks it is pretty important – bear this in mind if you are deciding which state to live in.

You can make remembering self – the one who reports on the experience – enjoy a colonoscopy much more by making it last longer (as long as the last little bit is not too unpleasant).

Having more money doesn’t really impress your experiencing self very much – as long as you have enough to live on.

I especially liked the questions at the end: public policy is mostly driven by our remembering selves. How would be things be different if out experiencing selves had a say?

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

3 thoughts on “Remember when you were happy?”

  1. I watched this talk last week and it is brilliant, well worth the time to watch.

    I really liked the vacation example, and his phrase that was something like “the tyranny of the reflective self”.

    Jtf

  2. Which is why my husband makes me sign a statement every time I experience happiness asap!! I have a huge file with signed statements!!

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