Saturday, October 18, 2008

carrots and sticks and richard gere

last night i was lying in bed agonizing over a big decision that i have to make in the near future. it was tearing me up inside and i didn't know what to do. i decided to get my mind off of it, so i picked up a book of short stories/articles and randomly opened up to an article titled "the futile pursuit of happiness" by jon gertner. i think this article must have been a sign from buddha or richard gere (the modern day buddha). it didn't necessarily distract my mind from my "problem". in fact, it dealt directly with the problem. i was agonizing over which decision would make me the happiest and this article pretty much told me that whatever i decide doesn't really matter. let me explain.

three psychologists and an economist walk into a bar and then asked "how do we predict what will make us happy or unhappy- and then how do we feel after the actual experience?" for example, how will we feel if we win or lose a game? how will we feel a few days after winning/losing the game? how do we predict we will feel after purchasing a cool iphone or a pair of cool vintage jeans or other cool shit? and then how do we react to the outcome? according to these four men, the decision to purchase cool shit, get married, move to olympia, etc. are based on predictions of what the emotional consequences will be.

the researchers claim that we as humans tend to "overestimate the intensity and duration of our emotional reactions- our 'affect'- to future events". so in other words, we might think that moving to olympia or starting a vintage clothing shop called "coal umbrella" will make life great. but it will be less exciting than we predicted and the initial excitement won't last very long. basically, both good and bad events are less intense and more transient than we may predict.

while these ideas don't seem very surprising or new to me, it was still reassuring to read about them last night. the ideas actually seem to be very congruent with buddhism's idea of impermanence. the ordinary understanding of impermanence can be seen everyday- people are born, get older, die, the weather is cold, warm, hot, then cold again. things change constantly. i find that buddhist practice helps to open one up to the less obvious perception of impermanence. by practicing mindfulness, one can see everything as constantly in flux, even things that seem to always be persistent.

i think i am getting a little off track. but basically my point was that this article that richard gere personally wrote for me (under the pen name "jon gertner") really brought peace to my troubled noggin last night (of course, i realized this peace would not last... but neither would future distress). it reassured me that whatever decisions i end up making, i will adapt. one choice won't make me blissfully happy, just like another choice won't make me feel like a dried up turd. even if it DOES make me a happy/turd/happy turd, it won't always be that way. some may find this bleak, but i find it reassuring. at the end of the article, one of the psychologists said, "...maybe our caricatures of the future- these overinflated assessments of how good or bad things will be- maybe it's these illusory assessments that keep us moving in one direction over the other. maybe we don't want a society of people who shrug and say, 'it won't really make a difference.' maybe it's important for there to be carrots and sticks in the world, even if they are illusions. they keep us moving towards carrots and away from sticks."


mrs. everything said...

I would like very much to read that article and I am glad you are feeling more at ease

Jake said...

Some profound insights there Meghan. I loved your being reassured at the future despite its thorny issues, for also there are beautiful flowers! The good thing about having problems is that those problems have solutions! You’re never going to be at a place with no problems, not even God is there!

A wise person once told me why people get depressed, he said "People are like bathtubs, the depressed people are the ones who's drains are clogged and the water stays in the tub longer"

You've got it Meg, Let it flow! The good and the bad down the drain and turn on the faucet for some new refreshing water!

laurabeth said...

A wise person also sent Jake a mass email written by the courtroom stenographers in testimony meeting.

isaac isak icekick said...

Man i can't stop commenting on your blog. SO I got obsessed with the idea of happiness for a while about a year ago. There's some good books about the subject: Here's my reading list: 1."Happiness is Overrated" a really good philosophical evaluation of happiness with a strong Nietzschean undertone.
2. "The Happiness Hypothesis" more of a scientific case studies type book with a little bit of a new age feel to it.
3. "Gross National Happiness" An interesting cross cultural study of how happy certain countries are and how they go about determining it. American Right wing conservative christians are happier than the French when asked how happy they are overall in their lives, yet the French report greater happiness in daily activities than those Americans. FASCINATING!