Question & Answer
And this might pave a way you're just saying that social media but I was going to ask some of the data you showed were driving kind of this narrative over the past X number of years, Americans have gotten- A.) So I think part of it is reporting and that might be a good thing that people are able to see, able to admit this stuff and seek out care and it's not as shameful as it was maybe many decades ago and so on. So when discussing like attaining this happiness with regards to these misconceptions is there something in general that people seek with regards to like reduced levels of stress or a feeling of elation or a combination of the two.
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Quick questions as we’re still filming. Yeah. So, statistically, we’re looking at the media, right? But there is a range. What about the more extreme people in the data set? Like how do I know I’m not like the more extreme sort that do get violently affected by metrics? Yup. So for a lot of the different data sets I talked about, there is a range, right? There’s a range at the baseline and that there’s a range in how people are affected. For most of the things I talked about, most of the predictions. There is a range in terms of how much people are affected. But in almost all cases, we’re pretty rarely as affected negatively as much as we think. So, our predictions about happiness in most cases are less good than we think. And our predictions about how terrible something are going to be are in most cases less bad than we think. So, there’s a range. Some people are more affected than others but almost everybody is mis-predicting. This is a phenomenon that we’ll talk about in future lectures that’s known as Affective Forecasting. How do you forecast how you’re going to feel about something? And it seems like we’re often wrong in terms of how much we predict? We’re wrong in terms of the magnitude of how badly we’re going to feel like we think it’s going to be worse than it is or we think it’s not going to be it. We think it’s going to be better than it is for good things. We think it’d be worse than it is for bad things. We’re also wrong in terms of the duration of that impact. We think that bad grade is going to feel bad for like ever, like years later when you’re my age if you ask me the grade I got in like this intro social class that I took and I actually got a B and that was like awful. Like you think it’s going to affect me really badly. But like fine with it now, right? We think these impacts are going to have a long impact but they’re just not. And so there’s things that we classically mis-predict. Some people are worse than others but pretty much everybody is off. And so I think even if you think you’re statistically going to be more accurate than most, you’re still not going to be as accurate as you think. How much of people happiness is independent on the context to which the person is situated as in like the perception that other people around them are happier or less happy so like relative happiness, I guess. Yup, very good. So, we’re actually going to deal with that a lot in the next section, in the next lecture because it turns out that as we think about these annoying features of the mind, one of the most annoying ones is that our minds are very, very sensitive to context. They don’t tend to think in terms of absolutes, they think in relative terms. And the most salient relative term that we think in terms of is other people. And that explains some of the factors that you saw today. We’ll see this kind of in more detail next time. Why are we just as fine with grades as we think? Like mostly it’s cause other people are getting those grades, mostly two here. And so as soon as you find out somebody’s got just as good a grade as you, you’re totally in. It’s especially true in the context of salary. One of the reasons that that funny misprediction we make which is that when we’re at 30k we’re like, “Oh, if I could only get to 50k, I would feel awesome”. But then somehow you get to 100k and you have that same thought except that you’re thinking, “Oh, if I could only get to 250k, everything would be awesome”. The reason for that is that usually as you bump up in salaries, you’re also hanging out with people who are also bumped up in those salaries. Like people whose salaries $100,000 tend to hang out with people who had that kind of salary whereas people whose salary is $10,000 tend to hang out more with people that echelon. And what you find is that actually matters a lot. So, a lot of our perception and a lot of our things come from social comparison and that’s what leads us astray a lot. As true in vision, we can see all these cool visual illusions where something next to something makes it look different. But that’s actually what happens a lot for our happiness. This is one of the reasons I worry about your generation’s use of social media a lot because if you’re looking at Instagram, if you’re looking at Facebook, if you’re on Snapchat people aren’t snap chatting. If you imagine people have a plot in their life of like things that are just kind of super boring, or bad, or whatever to things that are awesome, people aren’t snap chatting like this stuff unless it’s like really funny, like they’re usually snap chatting this stuff, right.? So you’re not seeing the right distribution. But in your own life, you see the distribution. You look at other people’s Snapchats, you’re like, “Everybody else’s life is awesome and everybody else is like doing cool things that I’m not and phone more, phone more, phone more and always terrible”. But I think that social media is a way that these social comparisons get even worst. So, the answer is yes. Next time, you’ll see lots of cool data on the actual impact of social comparisons. But it’s insidious. That’s the one of the reasons you guys should stay out on social media. And this might pave a way you’re just saying that social media but I was going to ask some of the data you showed were driving kind of this narrative over the past X number of years, Americans have gotten: A.) More materialistic and, B.) Less happy. I was wondering if you have any theories as to why? Yeah, I think there are a couple of factors at work. I think the kinds of things that we see on social media and in our culture kind of make it worse. Like we live in a pretty materialistic culture, right? In a couple of different ways. One is people show off that stuff. People are proud of it and so you see it more on social media and stuff like that. I think we live in a culture whose economy relies on us wanting awesome stuff. Like if tomorrow, we all bought this research and we’re like, “We’re just going to live with what we have. We’ll just like get food when we need it but pretty not honesty just minimal food, some water, some bread, whatever be cool”. Like the American economy as we know it would crash, right? Like it relies on the fact that we have a good jacket but still want to get into Canada Goose jacket. It relies on the fact that we might have a car but are tempted to get a new car because our next door neighbor bought one. We live in a society that like tries to promote this stuff and it’s probably doing it through a lot of means that are more and more means and more effective means than it did in the 1940’s. In the 1940’s, people aren’t seeing commercials and advertisements for things on TV and on the Internet in nearly the same way as you guys do. Like all those things seep in. I think it pushes material culture. Now, we get the social comparisons and then it gets worse. So, I think there are a couple runaway effects that we’ve seen. But all of them are pushing us more towards buy more, get more, be more. You don’t have enough right now, you’re not pretty enough, all those things. So, with that drastic rise in the prescription of antidepressants, so, I see social media is definitely a big factor just like people are obviously showing off their best life that could make US people more unhappy with themselves. But do you think there could be something with just the increase in the amount of drugs that are available and just the growth of the pharmaceutical companies? And also people are kind of more open about talking about mental health and so people seek mental health and like see more like maybe drugs as a way to deal with being more happy than changing their habit per se. Yup, I think all those factors you mentioned there are at work. One is this reporting issue is that probably since I think 1996, which is the date that I was quoting that statistic on 400 times more hours from. Obviously, it’s become much more okay. People think more about things like depression. People know what to associate those symptoms with. People are okay with those diagnoses. So I think part of it is reporting and that might be a good thing that people are able to see, able to admit this stuff and seek out care and it’s not as shameful as it was maybe many decades ago and so on. But part of it is also the same culture I was talking about, which is that there is now a culture of pay off for people who are taking these drugs. There are drug companies who want to promote you taking them. There are drug companies that are training doctors to think about prescribing this stuff. And I think that can’t be the full picture but it’s probably a little bit part of it, right? Is that we often, we are in a culture we think medicine is going to heal things. And so that’s part of why these things are increasing. I think this is true not just in the mental health domain but also in the food domain, right? There’s this whole movement as sort of food as medicine, right? Don’t take your cholesterol medication or high blood pressure medication. Try to solve it through eating more healthy, eating less processed foods and stuff. So, I think there’s like parallels in other domains, too. But yeah, I think there are lot of factors at work. The point wasn’t necessarily to talk about those factors per se. But it was to say the things that we think are going to make us happy like we just all have higher incomes and we have all these gadgets and all this good stuff. It’s not helping us as much as we think. If anything, it kind of looks worse. Yes, I totally agree with the points about like our economy in lots of stuff in our society telling us to buy more and be better than we are right now and desire something else. And I was just thinking that in terms of a solution goal as part of a solution, it definitely make sense to sort of like change your individual habits to try to connect with those things less. But if it’s social factors that affect everyone, then there is also got to be some place for us to question the institutions that create those social ideas and notions on a broader scale. So, just yeah, what do you think about that? I think that’s great and it’s one of the reasons I love that I’m able to talk to you guys, who are in the next generation. Who is going to make those societal change is going to be you guys will do it. I think it would be awesome to kind of change these institutions around. If you guys are thinking about how you can do that. There’s a couple obvious ways. One is don’t take part in things that like increase depression. Like if tomorrow everyone in your generation, if all college students just got off Facebook, it would go away. I mean, I know it’s mostly parents on there now, anyway. But the point is like if we stop using these social media sites, a lot of you who did that, the data suggests we would be less depressed. You would increase more positive mood symptoms and they would not exist. And if all of you stopped buying these things that you didn’t need, all of a sudden those things, those efforts would go away. So, I think we can kind of vote with our dollars and vote with our ATM cards to a certain extent. The other things that I think it would be nice if your whole generation of students did it, like to support those kinds of movements in other ways. Like it kind of breaks my heart when I see all these students who are part of the social justice movements and care about the stuff and want to promote well-being and then they go off and work at a place that I think has a philosophy of not promoting those kinds of things. Particularly, all these things I just mentioned like increasing money, like doing these kinds of social media things that make people depressed, working for a company that wants to sell stuff that may or may not be helping people in the way we think. The kinds of jobs that we take and the meaning that we get out of them if we’re supporting those that kind of society in that way, then that becomes tricky. And you might think well, if I can’t do that, if I can’t become an investment banker, if I can’t work for a pharmaceutical company like how am I going to make my $200,000 a year that I need to be happy and all these things and I will point back and say, “I told you, you didn’t have to do that”. So I guess if you’re 50k, you’re mostly golden. So, I think there’s lots of ways. I think you’re right that we need more societal change. One person isn’t going to do it. But I think it would be great if it came from you guys on a bunch of friends. So, you mentioned like your - I see you’re going to go talk about knowing features and I see that over the course of this course, we’re going to have like discuss how we can kind of like counteract those inclination, those kind of [inaudible] How do you like how we going to approach that because like we all got to this point because at some point or time or like very often we listen to our heads, we like listen to that little voice saying do this do that, always do that, don’t do that, carefully don’t do that, do this other thing. So like how do get on to this triangle and say okay and doubt that voice, because it got me to this point to like doubt everything i do, every decision like even the decision to like to ask this question, like do i start questioning that through like how do i get so paralyzed is this something that can lead me astray how can i live uninhibited and also not worried? Super hard question, right. Super hard questions that people that have thought about this stuff for a while have worried about. And what we’re going to see is that science has the answer to a lot of these things. Maybe not all the things I think for your question like how do we get around it? And how do we know what’s what? We’re still struggling with the fully answers to that. I think the insights we have are that one of the things we can do particularly about this annoying feature. So this is a special annoying feature which is that we’re not often getting the normative answers as we think, right. Sometimes, the things that our brain are telling us to do are either not true or they’re gonna lead us astray. How do we deal with that? One technique that a lot of folks have used in particular domains is sort of this technique about mindfulness and kind of mindful noting of different thoughts. Right. I mean the fact of the matter is that all of these things that you have these cravings for certain things these desires are really just that they’re just thoughts, they’re just thoughts. And sometimes thinking of them as such can kind of cause you to take a step back and really look at your own data about whether those things are helping you. These kinds of techniques have been implemented the most and the best in the context of things like addiction. Right. Where for certain people who are so addicted to heroin or are addicted to cigarettes, their cravings their desires that they have that feel really true to them that they’re leading them toward something that would be good for them or really not. It’s kind of more obvious in that case than in your case of like studying for good grades. And these techniques of mindfulness really have folks like treat their craving just as a thought like you’re craving by wanting the cigarette right now is just a thought. Like I can be with it, and I can sit there and say okay is this like getting worse. Like how does it feel and so on. And then the process of mindfulness also forces people to think about like what are you really getting out of this? Like is this really making you happy? And I think that’s a technique we can import from treatments of things like addiction into our daily life for things like studying too much for good grades getting worrying about them is not probably as bad as heroin addiction. I’ll give you that. But I think it’s bad. I think it causes a certain amount of undue stress. I think watching the consequences that you actually get from it might really be helpful. Treating yourself like a real experimental subject, and watching your own data rather than your intuitions. But what are the real data might matter. All of you guys gave a number right now for that class like you could walk back at the end of that you’d write that down right now like I thought it was going to be a one and you could see when you go on ISIS and you open it up what it is? And you can also be like, I am a fan. That wasn’t as bad. You can kind of take your own data to see how you feel. And my guess is if you do that if people did die you might get a sense of like that some of these things are actually true. Right. You know you could try different salaries and see are you really happy is your stress lower and so on. Some ways it’s easier if you don’t make those life mistakes and you listen to the other folks. But I think doing it for yourself actually matters and that a little bit gets around the problem you mentioned which is like am I going to start questioning everything. Now if you’re mindful of everything you do something like that was actually you think about this question like I actually feel good she answered my question. I sound smart like those guys that actually it was a good one that they just kind of that questioning can often lead you to rather what your intuition tells you can tell you like oh that actually was good or that actually wasn’t so good. I was wondering do you think that if we asked my level generations have like some specific characteristics that differentiates us from other generations that make us to be unhappy and like more unhappy with our parents or grandparents? Yeah, well the data the data on whether you guys really are more unhappy is a little bit mixed. One of the statistics I mentioned is it does seem like recent grads are slightly recent grads as a category are slightly more unhappy now than they were even a few years ago. What that’s about though is tricky is that about job placement, is that about like what? What’s happening. So we don’t have great data on if you guys are really more unhappy. My guess is that the rhetoric that you guys are so much more unhappy than previous generations is probably just that it’s just rhetoric. In fact usually when we look across history what we see is pretty strong consistency on what people report it for happiness so I think it’s not as dire as everyone makes it out to be. But I do think you guys have your own particular challenges these kind of illusions that trip up the mind to make you more unhappy in certain forms. Trip you guys up even more. I think we as a generation of parents have done you guys a disservice because we’ve drilled into your heads these kinds of goals that don’t seem to matter as much. These goals that are incorrect. I mean all of you said you wanted to get good grades not just because like you your parents have been fighting with you for years, like don’t worry about good grades go out and like you good social relationships or be spiritual or do all the things I’m going to tell you later matter. They weren’t getting you guys to do that. From like first and second grade they were like thinking about having you guys like get good grades and get into yeah and all these things. So I think you guys have been taught that this goals are the goals that matter. Maybe more so than previous generations. And so it’s in some ways no surprise that you’re kind of going full force towards them and I think that’s a fault of your parents generation, that’s a fault of the way you guys are trained. Some of you guys I’ve heard about this book. Excellent Sheep which talks about your generation and the kind of accolades you guys go for. I think we’ve taught you to assume that these accolades are going to make you a lot happier than they actually make you. And that’s kind of a fault of ours. I think there’s a little bit of that. And I think as I mentioned before your generation is a first to deal with the strange phenomenon of social media the strange phenomenon, where our brains are built an annoying feature of our minds we assume our perceptions are accurate. We assume our perceptions are giving us the right statistical information, right. And the fact is my guess is that social media is not giving you statistically accurate information about other people’s lives. People don’t really look like that on social media. They look like that only when they take the picture and post it, which happens to be when they look extra good. People are having that much fun. Statistically all the time as they do on social media that’s just not true. And that’s just social media that’s not all the advertising you’re exposed to about these norms that people are happy that people have great bodies or stuff like you guys more so the most generations get inundated with social comparisons that are kind of built to mess you up. And that’s tricky. That’s something that you have to overcome. Good news is that some strategies you can use to get better about that stuff too. Last question as we finish up.Yeah. So when discussing like attaining this happiness with regards to these misconceptions is there something in general that people seek with regards to like reduced levels of stress or a feeling of elation or a combination of the two. Like is there something specific that kind of people want from these things or what kind of? Yeah. What are people seeking? And I think that’s a good question. And you guys can introspect for yourselves. Right. Like you know grades was a thing that came up first like, why do you want to get good grades? Like it might not be to be happy but it’ll be like so I can get that internship or I can get into grad school. Okay why do you want to get into grad school? Like really I think we’re doing most of the stuff we’re doing ultimately, because we want some sort of positive mood like positive life satisfied like ultimately gets down to being happy most of the things we think. I think if you push if you kind of keep asking those why why why questions you get to that point. So my guess is that we kind of assume there’s some causal role in this stuff and being happy and if we find that that really isn’t what we thought it was then we should kind of question it. But your question brings up something that we’ll see a lot in the course and something that is kind of a problem for the field of positive psychology and that’s like what we’re measuring. You know you mentioned like Life Satisfaction, Increase positive mood, decrease depressed mood already in the studies I presented I tried to be kind of honest about what they’re measuring. You know one was like feelings of not blue. One was like reported life satisfaction or how happy would you feel. All those measures are a little bit different and sometimes we kind of collapse them together and they might not be telling us the same kind of thing. And this gets back to kind of Gary’s question about individual differences. It might be that some of those measures move one way for some people but don’t hang together as well for others. And so you’ll see that come up as like knows it. Yes your mood is different. But like you know maybe your overall life satisfaction meaning your life will be different. We’ll try to talk about those as we go through them. But the upshot is my assumption is that people are doing these things and even if they haven’t articulated because at some point they think it’s going to make them happy they think it’s going to make their life better and some real sense. And so if it’s not we probably should know that or if we’re spending time on this stuff we should force ourselves to spend time on other things is going to have the causal role that we want. So with that we’ll pause next time when we come back we’re going to go into way more of these annoying features of the mind. What are the annoying features in mind that really make you think all stuff is going to make you feel totally jazzed up when in fact it’s not. That’s what we’re going to get next week. Before that you guys all have your homework which is that I want to see how authentically happy you are. So please go on this website. I’ll send it to you guys again over e-mail and just get your score. It’s going to be a score between one and five and we will just look statistically if whether that changes after these practices. So thank you guys for being here. More coffee and cake outside so enjoy.
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