Clearly, the scientific community has taken an increasing interest in the research of happiness and well-being. In February 2010, the Nobel prize laureate, behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman gave a TEDTalk in this topic. The main argument of this talk was that happiness and well-being are indeed two very different notions.
Kahneman introduces two types of self in his talk: the experiencing self and the remembering self, and he demonstrates with different examples that these selves need to be analyzed quite differently. To understand the difference between the two, consider the following thought experiment. Think of your next dream vacation spot! Now, what if you were told that you won’t have any pictures or videos afterward and you were injected with an amnesic drug to forget all that happened to you during that vacation. Would you still choose the same vacation spot or would you change your choice? The example demonstrates a conflict between your experiencing self and remembering self.
However, it is unclear for me whether these mechanisms of our consciousness are functionally separate from one another or they are rather two sides of the same coin. It may well be that the experiencing self focuses on the ‘here-and-now’ with the acquisition, filtering and comprehension of the information; whereas the remembering self is concerned with the organization of ‘past’ events. But does this mean that one can exist without the other? Would this be the basis of amnesia? Wouldn’t it be more plausible to assume a single episodic memory that consolidates new information with existing self-knowledge?
Kahneman -the ultimate expert about human cognitive biases- also talks about the ‘happiness bias’. His example, is that people are happier in California not because of the good climate, but because they contrast themselves with living conditions elsewhere, for example in Ohio. Although Californians’ experiencing self might not be happier at all compared to Ohioans, people’s remembering self here in the West coast generally think that we are happier. Sort of a confirmation bias, whereby one interprets information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
Finally, we hear in the lecture about a new Gallup study (couldn’t find the reference…does anyone have it?) that finds that in the US, the average income of $60,000 is a cut-off point for experiencing happiness. Above this income, the experienced levels of happiness is flat, but below this amount, the perception drops linearly. This shows that “money doesn’t buy you happiness, but the lack of money buys you misery”. For the life-evaluating remembering self, it’s a different story and the more money you had in your life the happier you remembered yourself.