Daniel Kahneman

Happy New Year everyone! How was your holiday?

If I told you that next time you go on holiday, all the photos you would take would be wiped, and so would your memory of the entire trip – would you choose to have a different holiday?

In this Ted Talks by Daniel Kahneman he poses that question. He draws a distinction between our experiences in the now (now lasts about 3 seconds) and our memory of our experiences. If you would choose a different holiday, based on knowing that you wouldn’t remember a thing, you have a conflict between the self that chooses based on time in the now and the self that chooses based on memories.

I bought Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ about four months ago and haven’t looked at it since. Having watched the Ted Talks though, I appreciate that he is dissecting how we think in a profound and useful way. It may shed a bit more light on what happiness is – and perhaps there is scope for new words for happiness based on Kahneman’s dissections.

There is happiness of the experiencing self – the self in the now – and the happiness of moments in the past. The latter is about how satisfied the person is when they think about moments in the past.

If someone is moving from a cold country to a hot country, their experiencing self will not be any happier. But they will believe that they are happier, because when they think about whether they are happy, they will consider how horrible the weather was in the cold country in contrast to the weather where they live now. Kahneman doesn’t say this, but appreciating what you have – taking the time to gratefully think about what you have – is something that comes up frequently in well-being theory.

Also apparently the effect money has on these two different selves are different. Earning below $60,000, experiential selves get progressively unhappier the less money they earn, and above that money does not affect experiential happiness. However, the more money you earn, the happier the remembering self is.

Perhaps focusing on one self, the experiencing or the remembering self, can enhance happiness. Perhaps framing memories as positive can improve happiness and well-being, regardless of the experiencing self. For me the remembering self carries more weight. The remembering self evaluates life. The remembering self can control the frame of mind I put myself in, which can improve the experiencing self’s happiness. Gosh I’ve just got to read ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’! I’m looking forward to seeing if he goes into this in detail in the book.



Filed under Design Inspiration, Ideas

3 responses to “Daniel Kahneman

  1. This relationship between the remembering and experiential selves is very interesting. I guess it’s the crucial point around the value of gratitude and writing diary entries. I’m now wondering how separate (or not) these two aspects of the self are…. How much do the stories we have created from memories inform present-moment perception? My suspicion is that the relationship is complex and dynamic.

    • That’s a very interesting question. Maybe there’s already a study on that somewhere but I haven’t come across it yet… in the study in the video about colonscopies, the patient that had lots of pain just at the end but not much throughout perceived the experience as overall worse than the patient who had lots of pain throughout but not at the end. If the one who experienced the colonoscopy as worse were to have another one, would they dread the experience more, and by dreading it more would they experience the second experience as just as bad too?

    • I reckon they would experience it as much worse. Maybe there is a relationship then between expectation of pain and perception of pain. Also, isn’t it so interesting that pain is far more memorable than non-pain. It’s evolutionary protection etc. … But if we were to train ourselves to be aware of the non-pain as well as pain, I wonder would that effect the colonoscopy perception. i.e. trained meditators.

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