Are there two types of happiness?

This is an excellent presentation on happiness by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. In it, he draws an insightful distinction: there may be two very different types of happiness.

The first is being happy in your life. It is happiness that we experience immediately and in the moment.

The second is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists in memory when we talk about the past and the big picture.

We can enjoy nine-tenths of something blissfully in the moment, yet a lousy ending can bias us and ruin the memory forever.

We often plan vacations around the memories it will give us (“Exotic Asia!”), rather than doing something we’d enjoy far more in the moment (“catching up on sleep and spending more time with friends.”)

I think this ties in with Daniel Gilbert’s research:

Much of our unhappiness springs from the fact that we’re terrible at accurately remembering how things made us feel in the past, so we make bad choices regarding the future. 

Kahenman might be helping us to solve this puzzle. We should ask ourselves ahead of time what kind of happiness we are seeking.

If you want the rich memories of happiness we should deliberately select for that: go on that vacation to “Exotic Asia”, definitely have children and strive to make as much money as possible. These are all things shown to make us happy about our lives.

If you want to be happy in the moment don’t travel to fancy places, keep it simple. Don’t have children because moment for moment they will dramatically reduce your happiness with crying, complaining, chores and worry. And certainly don’t toil to earn more than 60K a year because beyond that, experiential happiness flat lines.

It’s a question we all face: Is living in the moment, as encouraged by every Hollywood movie, the right way to live or is it the path of impulsive hedonism?

Is living to create great memories the goal of the mature individual or does it make us a miserable weaver of a fiction that never was?

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Related posts:

At what annual salary does money stop making us happier?

At what ages are we happiest?

Does vacationing add to our happiness in the long run?

About Eric Barker