Goals and happiness

How Your Goals Affect Your (Un)happiness

For anyone interested in behavioral psychology (like me, for instance), a new book recently came out that’s a must read. It’s called Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

Kahneman is perhaps the most important living psychologist, and over his career he’s done pioneering work on the mechanics of human decision making.

The book is heavy hitting and filled with lots of important information from his life’s research, but still surprisingly easy to read.

It’s 500 pages long, and far too rich to be summarized in one blog post. However, there are two main points I want to go over.

The main point of the book is that your brain thinks in two ways, and they’re very far apart from one another. The fast part of your brain relies on instincts and rules of thumb, and makes decisions very quickly. Decisions made from the fast part of your brain are done without conscious thought and performed in an emotive state. The slow part of your brain uses your conscious reasoning to comprehend information, and works in a very clunky, deliberate fashion. The slow part of your brain tries to be rational, but can only process so much information at a time and is easily overwhelmed.

When making decisions, it’s important to realize that type 1 thinking is held back by inflexibility, and type 2 thinking is too clumsy to handle more than one thing at a time.

While there are a lot of interesting nuggets in the book, Brian Caplan pointed out a section that measured how your stated goals affect your happiness later on in life.

According to the book, people’s attitudes towards money have a sizable impact on how much money you make later on in life:

Goals make a large difference. Nineteen years after they stated their financial aspirations, many of the people who wanted a high income had achieved it. Among the 597 physicians and other medical professionals in the sample, for example, each additional point on the money-importance scale was associated with an increment of over $14,000 of job income in 1995 dollars!

And the size of your ambitions then molds how you happy you are with yourself in adulthood. The more difficult your goals are in life, the more likely your self-satisfaction will fall into two extremes, blazing self-confidence or abject misery.

Becoming a well known performing artist was the goal most associated with unhappiness in adulthood, presumably because it has such a low probability of being achieved.

So while “shooting for the moon” is a catch phrase that’s usually praised, you should choose your goals carefully.

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