Sister blog of Physicists of the Caribbean in which I babble about non-astronomy stuff, because everyone needs a hobby

Thursday, 10 January 2019

You might not be as happy as you think you are

If you're happy and you know it, no you're not...

Self-knowledge is subject to the same flaws as other forms of knowledge. What "generic woman smiling wistfully with pen" has to do with anything I have no idea.

It is important to measure positive and negative affect separately because they are influenced by different variables. In other words, positive and negative affect are not polar opposites of a spectrum but are separate spectrums. For instance, one person could score highly on both positive AND negative emotion, whereas another could score low on both. It is also possible to experience both kinds of emotions at the same time; we might feel a sad nostalgia or an excited anxiety.

The biggest concern when asking evaluative questions is that it is quite difficult for people to accurately assess how satisfied they are with their lives overall. Instead of recalling their entire life experience and weighting the different aspects appropriately, people use a variety of shortcuts when coming up with the answer. One such shortcut is to make judgements based on the information that is available at the time, including current mood, recent events and career successes.

Another potential problem for the evaluative method is that people tend to make a comparative judgement when assessing their life satisfaction. Evidence suggests that we first judge what the norm of satisfaction is based on our social group, or the group we strive to be part of, then decide whether things like our career status, income or relationships either exceed this norm or fail to meet it.

However, we don’t always respond to social comparison consistently, as noted by the 2003 paper, The Evolving Concept of Subjective Well-Being: “sometimes people may look at individuals who are better off and see these individuals as inspirations (resulting in positive well-being), whereas at other times this type of comparison would leave to a negative comparison and lower levels of well-being.”


  1. Heh. The advertisers have trained us to think they sell happiness. It's operant conditioning. Robertson Davies, a very wise man and hilariously apt writer of novels said:

    “Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

  2. Happiness –
    Captivatingly fleeting, unexpected as
    coming upon a gorgeous serenity that abruptly halts
    all complaint; enraptured —
    so in love with this moment.
    Vital we know, we must hold awareness,
    “It’s possible!” This bliss experience.
    Glorious, revels to carry through
    lean days between.
    More than possible, a commonality, even in response
    to simple stimuli, gentle pleasure
    despite pervasive pestilence, terror,
    boredom, defeat.
    I want this for you, my close associate: to feel your presence a joyful beam;
    or how could I be

    sane chemical bath
    serene electricity
    synapses smile


Substituting one's own reality

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