Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy -- and our own self-awareness.
Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioral economics, gave one of the most memorable talks at TED this year. He shares some new research into how we view happiness. Similar to Dan Gilbert's 'Stumbling on Happiness', where Gilbert describes how we are normally wrong about our conception of what makes us happy. Kahnemen takes this further and describes to conflicting views of happiness; the 'Experiencing Self' - that is actually the self experiencing from moment to moment, and the 'Remembering Self' - the self that remembers an experience after the fact. Kahneman explains that we normally rely on the 'remembering self' to determine our level of happiness since we don't have access to the 'experiencing self'. These two views of an 'event' can be vastly different. Similar to other conceptual flaws from the world of behavioral economics this is an important point for our future well being. We all rely on the 'remembering self' while believing that we are actually relying on the 'experiencing self'.
The 'remembering self' is a story-teller and narrates the stories of our lives. The key things that determine what the 'Remembering Self' actually remembers is based on the following:
- Changes - a transition from one sensation to another, one place to another
- Significant Moments - these can be happy moments or sad, but they are 'peak emotional moments'
- Endings - we pay a lot of notice to the end of an experience
The 'experiencing self' that is the 'moment to moment' interpreter of our lives is on a short spool of about 3 seconds. The 'remembering self' takes the 'key frames' based on changes, significant moments and endings to store away our memories -- much more compact than trying to fit the whole stream of consciousness into our minds.
There was an interesting discussion at the end of the talk with Chris Anderson; where data from the study around happiness and income were explored. The study revealed that from the perspective of the 'experiencing self' anything above $60K didn't impact happiness. Chris had asked about public policy decisions based on this data. My question which is an extension of Chris's is should we make policy decisions based on the 'experiencing self' or the 'remembering self'. If what Kahneman explained is correct and we rely on the 'remembering self' for our level of happiness even if the 'experiencing self' would disagree i.e. our stress levels, our mood, our overall feeling of happiness etc. then shouldn't we build policy based on the 'remembering self' and not the 'experiencing self'? I realize this seems a little extreme or even a little dishonest since this is based on how we remember something and not on 'reality'. The implications of this could lead to corruption or manipulation based on these findings. I still think we can't dismiss the behavioral quirks of our mind and just hope we can convince people that their memories are mistaken to make them happier.
This is a complex and fascinating area of research and I will be following it closely. This was probably one of my favorite talks from TED 2010 and this is taking into account I didn't even watch it live since I was delayed due to weather conditions. Seriously, it was a great talk and it is well worth watching.