• John
  • Felde
  • University of Maryland
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • USLHC
  • USLHC
  • USA

  • James
  • Doherty
  • Open University
  • United Kingdom

Latest Posts

  • Andrea
  • Signori
  • Nikhef
  • Netherlands

Latest Posts

  • CERN
  • Geneva
  • Switzerland

Latest Posts

  • Aidan
  • Randle-Conde
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Belgium

Latest Posts

  • TRIUMF
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Canada

Latest Posts

  • Laura
  • Gladstone
  • MIT
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Steven
  • Goldfarb
  • University of Michigan

Latest Posts

  • Fermilab
  • Batavia, IL
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Seth
  • Zenz
  • Imperial College London
  • UK

Latest Posts

  • Nhan
  • Tran
  • Fermilab
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Alex
  • Millar
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australia

Latest Posts

  • Ken
  • Bloom
  • USLHC
  • USA

Latest Posts

Mike Anderson | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

People aren’t good happiness predictors

If you don’t let yourself be happy now, then when?
If not now, when?

SmileyParticlePeople are bad at predicting the future emotional consequences of decisions they have to make or events that may happen to them. There’s plenty of science to back it up, and I bring this up because a recent post on how to pick grad schools reminded me of this.

We (everyone) get really stressed out when we try to decide things like what school to go to, or where to work, or live, or who to marry.  And we stress out as if doing one thing vs another would make all the difference between a life where we’ll be super-happy or a life where we will be utterly miserable.

This is often wrong, and is just one of several typical errors people make when trying to predict how they’ll feel in the future.

One researcher who’s really good at explaining why we’re poor-predictors is Dan Gilbert at Harvard.  His TED talk on happiness is pretty good and worth checking out.

We tend to think there are two kinds of happiness: the happiness you feel down the road after you’ve received exactly what you wanted (like admittance to a great school), and the happiness you feel (eventually) after you didn’t get what you wanted.  And we tend to think those levels of happiness are different.

It turns out, a few months or a year down the road, people who got exactly what they wanted and those who didn’t have statistically equivalent levels of happiness.  That’s really hard to believe isn’t it?  We tend not to believe the people who didn’t get what they wanted when they say they’re happy.  “Yeah right, you wanted to go to X, but ended up going to Y, and you think you’re happy?”

I used to not believe those people either, but such a position has become hard to hold on to.  Things we think are such a big deal, things that are just so important, turn out down the road not to have such a long term affect on our happiness as we thought they would.

I’m not saying one shouldn’t have preferences.  But please keep in mind as you make what you think are tough decisions, that no matter what school you get into, what research you pursue, or what job you get, or where you choose to live, or etc, – eventually you’ll be about as happy with one thing as you would have been with another.

Research shows that you’re a bad predictor of happiness – most everyone is – but it also shows you will do just fine in life despite that.  So don’t worry.

Mike

Share

Tags: ,