TED Talks: the Counterintuitive Psychology of Freedom, Choice, and Happiness; and Invisibility

I watched a few fascinating TED talks recently.  In addition to being really interesting, these guys are pretty funny too.

In Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy?, he mentions a study on the reported happiness of two different groups of people: the first group is lottery-winners and the second is paraplegics.  One year after the event (winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic), the groups report the same level of happiness.

Dan also provides this quote from Adam Smith, the first sentence of which helps to explain that seemingly-wrong study:

Quoting Adam Smith:

The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another.  Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation.  The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires.  The slightest observation, however, might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented.  Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice.

In other words, it’s all in your head.

Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice looks at opportunity cost, and the fact that more choice isn’t always a good thing.  He gives the example of jeans: he went to buy a new pair of jeans and was presented with a hundred different varieties, and his response was "I want the kind that used to be the only kind."  I can totally see my dad in that situation.  When he finally settled on a pair, he got them home and wore them and then was disappointed because they weren’t perfect, whereas in his mind it was easy to imagine that one of the other pairs that he failed to pick would have been perfect -- which is of course false, but nonetheless decreases his satisfaction with the choice he made.

John Lloyd inventories the invisible is less serious and more of a comedy.  I love this part:

You cannot remember what happened to you earlier than the age of two or three.  Which is great news for psychoanalysts, because otherwise they’d be out of a job, because that’s when all the stuff happens.

He also mentions this quote by W. H. Auden:

We are here on earth to help others.  What the others are here for, I’ve no idea.

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