I am about half way through this really amazing book called Stumbling on Happiness which discusses how the human brain predicts the future and more specifically how terrible a job it does causing us to wrongly predict what will make our future selves happy. The book discusses perception, imagination, and memory in a very engaging way using psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and several other disciplines. Half way through I’ve already learned a lot of new things about the mind. Below is a quote I came across while reading this afternoon and wanted to share. It clearly illustrates one of the most interesting things I’ve learned from this book (so far).
To give you some context, the paragraphs leading up to this example discuss how people are really bad at predicting their own emotional responses because when predicting the future its difficult to consider and factor in those things we don’t consider. Meaning, there are always factors we fail to consider when predicting/imagining future responses and these ignored factors are those which will fundamentally impact our future emotional response.
[M]ost Americans can be classified as one of two types: those who live in California and are happy they do, and those who don’t live in California but believe they’d be happy if they did. Yet, research shows that Californians are actually no happier than anyone else – so why does everyone (including Californians) seem to believe they are? California has some of the most beautiful scenery and some of the best weather in the continental United States, and when non – Californians hear that magic word their imaginations instantly produce mental images of sunny beaches and giant redwood trees. But while Los Angeles has a better climate than Columbus, climate is just one of many things that determine a person’s happiness – and yet all those other things are missing from the mental image. If we were to add some of these missing details to our mental images of beaches and palm trees – say traffic, supermarkets, airports, sports teams, cable rates, housing costs, earthquakes, landslides, and so on – then we might recognize that L.A. beats Columbus in some ways (better weather) and Columbus beats L.A. in others (less traffic). We think that Californians are happier than Ohioans because we imagine California with so few details – and we make no allowance for the fact that the details we are failing to imagine could drastically alter the conclusions we draw.