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10/20/09

Myths of What Makes Us Happy

We think we know what will make us happy, but do we? Extensive research on happiness reveals a rather surprising conclusion. Few people know what will make them happy. Most people think they know, but really don't. This failure to understand themselves leads them into lives with unfulfilling careers and relationships.

One explanation for the failure to understand can be found in the natural tendency to cognitive bias. Cognitive bias sneaks up on us, even though we know it exists. We try to be objective in our decision making, but often don't have a clue as to how we are prejudiced in our reasoning criteria. Our brains are hard wired for cognitive biases and we often cannot see through that fact. This had an evolutionary advantage. If it moved and was as big as a boulder, it probably might eat us. Our ancestors ran. They didn't have to think about it. People tend to believe a certain way because others do. This, too, had an advantage, for those who didn't fit in were cast out into the wilderness. Then there is confirmation bias, the tendency to look for explanations that fit our preconceptions. This may have facilitated decision making when life was simple, nasty, brutish, and short, and decisions had to be made quickly.

Interestingly, many people think fame would make them happy. This is a relatively new phenomenon, one rare in communitarian societies, as well as in America and Europe as recently as the nineteenth century. I regard it as due to alienation in modern society. People want recognition that closer social connections once offered. As an example, self-esteem once came from love, concern, and warm relationships with others in close-knit communities.

The video below discusses the myths about happiness and points out what has been found to make people happy. A very brief commercial precedes it.

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