27 January 2014

Since when we did we get more control of our happiness?

Interesting take by Daniel Gilbert on the history of control of our own happiness…

“Most of us make at least three important decisions in our lives: where to live, what to do, and with whom to do it. We choose our towns and our neighborhoods, we choose our jobs and our hobbies, we choose our spouses and our friends. Making these decisions is such a natural part of adulthood that it is easy to forget that we are among the first human beings to make them. For most of recorded history, people lived where they were born, did what their parents had done, and associated with those who were doing the same. Millers milled, Smiths smithed, and little Smiths and little Millers married whom and when they were told. Social structures (such as religions and castes) and physical structures (such as mountains and oceans) were the great dictators that determined how, where, and with whom people would spend their lives, which left most folks with little to decide for themselves. But the agricultural, industrial, and technological revolutions changed all that, and the resulting explosion of personal liberty has created a bewildering array of options, alternatives, choices, and decisions that our ancestors never faced. For the very first time, our happiness is in our hands.”

Posted January 27, 2014 by Rajib Roy in category "Musings


  1. By Roger on

    Ironically, having so many choices has made many more anxious than happy. Without a structure to help us think deliberately and make decisions, we end up not choosing and living life much like those in the past. BUT for those with the structure and the wiliness to engage, you CAN control the fundamental elements to set yourself up for “happiness”

  2. By Srinivas Thiruvadanthai on

    Not sure about this frankly and lot of modern neuroscience and behavioral psychology does not support this kind of reasoning–of course, I have not come across a proper definition of happiness. In any case, let me tell an anecdote. Back when I worked in India, our company went from a reimbursement for leave travel (that is they reimbursed you for your expenses upto a point) to a fixed allowance which you could do what you please with it. Many were terribly unhappy. As a budding rational economist, I was perplexed–why would people hate choice. Most of them were unhappy that they would now feel terribly guilty about spending so much money on plane travel even though they enjoyed it (for those of you in the US, back then plane travel was prohibitively expensive in India). When the company was reimbursing, they felt ok because they would not get the money otherwise. There you go.

  3. By Surya Nanduri on

    Srinivas, answer to this partly lies in the ‘how’ (apart from where and with whom) of what Rajib mentioned. The ‘how’ refers not only to the means and ways of living but also to the degree of freedom with which one lives. In your anecdote, some people I guess, preferred that the decision about their spending was taken by their social structure (corporate in this case) itself. Nevertheless, they were given the choice or freedom – a far better proposition than being dictated about which places to visit, mode of travel, allowed/ disallowed expenditure, dos and don’ts of travel. When freedom (within certain bounds) is given, people may be ‘happy’ to leave the decision making with the social structure itself.

  4. By Srinivas Thiruvadanthai on

    Possibly! The human mind is incredibly complicated and malleable. And our capacity for self-deception is immense (BTW, two books–Subliminal by Mlodinow and Folly of fools by Trivers). So, I am generally unimpressed by pop theories of happiness.


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