Brady F. Anderson

Stumbling on Happiness

An exceptionally well-written concise book on the human mind. I was surprised by its great humor and kept engaged with the lack of repetition that often inflicts popular books of this nature.

My Notes

Anticipating unpleasant events can minimize their impact.

Some forecasts can be “fearcasts.” Their purpose isn’t to forecast the future but to prevent future situations from occurring.

Our desire for control can lead to irrational decisions. People will bet more on dice that have yet to be thrown, then ones that are already tossed with an unknown outcome.

Humans have lots of fallacies when it comes to predicting happiness. One notable instance is with conjoined twins, who are almost universally happy and want to stay together. We expect that they would want to be separated when they almost never do. People make many errors when asking “what it would feel like if”

Happiness is a difficult term because we apply it to just about anything we want to. Happiness can roughly indicate

All claims about happiness come from one point of view.

Awareness is an experience of our experience.

By and large, we deem things are good because they matter for our feelings, our happiness.

Memory is compressed storage. We only remember high-level summaries or a small set of details. Our brains fill in the rest, but we do not often remember this as it happens quickly and unconsciously.

Our forward-looking selves are imagining futures and then making confident predictions on how we will feel using details our brains invent. Imagining things is useful, but humans automatically treat those estimations as infallible.

We categorically fail to identify what our imaginations have missed in their predictions of current or future events. We treat what we don’t imagine as if it will never happen.

Our brains think in terms of why in the distant future, and in terms of how in the near future. Consider how perceptions of the future change over time with an event like marriage. A month away from the event, descriptions like “making a commitment” or “act of love” is what may populate the imagination. As that future draws near, our brains move to concrete details: “taking photos” “dressing up.”  Accepting a babysitting gig for a sibling is an act of love a month away, and one of logistics the day before.

Being surprised when the why and how may be at odds with what we want to do and feel is a common outcome of misshapen judgment.

We almost always believe that the future will look a lot like the present. We do the same with the past. When middle-aged people are asked about their beliefs in their 20s, they often respond with what they think now and not what they thought. This is why parents disapprove so vehemently of things they themselves have done at times without seeing the hypocrisy.

Our default is not listing out pros and cons of a decision. Rather, we prefeel events, gauging what we expect our emotional reactions to a situation will be and then making decisions on that basis.

Depressed people think future events will be similarly depressing as their imagination is informed by their present emotional state.

Our conception of time is influenced by language. English speakers put the past on the left when drawing a timeline, Arabic speakers on the right, and Mandarin speakers on the bottom.

Variety helps enjoyment in the short term, but once episodes are sufficiently separated in time, it becomes unnecessary. E.g. if you go to the same restaurant every day, you will want to change up your order, but if you only go once a month, deviating from your favorite go-to order may decrease your enjoyment of the meal.

Our brain detects differences and changes, not totals. Our sensitivity to relative and not absolute values is ubiquitous. This is intuitive: a $50 delivery fee for a $100 couch feels absurd but justified for a $2000 TV. The time and hassle to move and deliver each on your own is likely the same, but the difference reference point informs our perspective and eventual choice.

When purchasing anything, we neglect that we are comparing one product to another. We misestimate how we will feel because we fail to recognize the comparison we’re making today won’t be present in the future once we aren’t shopping.

Once potential experiences become actual experiences, our brains start looking for ways to appreciate and think about the experience positively. This presents a tradeoff: we need a rosy tint to motivate us to do what we must, but our brains then have to simultaneously navigate our own illusions and reality. Our brains search for credibility to support these positive views to balance the two inputs.

We tend to seek information about people who are in poorer situations than us in order to support the rosy tint our brains want to maintain.

Intense suffering triggers the positive views of experience in a way mild suffering does not. This is why people in a relationship can forgive cheating but still get upset about dirty dishes. This counterintuitive reality makes it difficult to predict our emotional futures as more intense experiences of pain can shift our subjective viewpoint toward a more positive outlook.

One of the things we spend the most money and time on is arranging our lives to surround ourselves with people who like us and are like us.

People are typically unaware of why they are doing what they are, but will readily supply a plausible explanation if asked.

We expect that we will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions, but we can almost always observe that in reality, we will regret things we didn’t do more than ones we did. 

Explanations rob events of their emotional impact because they make them seem likely and allow us to stop thinking about them.

Enduring extra pain for a more positive ending can alter how we feel about the memory forever.

Almost everything we communicate, we are trying to change their perspective of the world so it more closely matches our own.

The best way to predict our future feelings is to ask people who are in that situation today how they feel. We often fail to do this because it takes time, and we believe that our experiences will be unique and deviate from averages.