Stumbling on Happiness

>> Monday, November 7, 2011

My job requires a significant amount of driving. This is not a drawback to my job (except for the cost of gas) and actually it is something I look forward to unless it's raining. Anyway, to pass the time in the car I invest $11/month in satellite radio and I also check out books on tape from my local library. You may remember a particularly moving book I read (listened to) called Anatomy of Hope.

Well, over the past several weeks I have been listening to Stumbling Upon Happiness by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. This book caught my eye, considering I am looking for happiness and even more willing to simply stumble upon it. But alas, the book is quick to explain that it's purpose is not to teach you how to be happy but rather to help you gain insight into how we anticipate the things that will make us happy in the future. Gilbert explains how most people misconceive what we will want tomorrow and we frequently misestimate our satisfaction when planning for future events. He is overall entertaining to listen to and although it is somewhat clinical, it was thought provoking to hear a psychologist try to explain why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become. 

So, two things stuck out to me in the book, so much so that I had to pull over, get a pen/paper, and subsequently pause and un-pause my cd player while trying to write down his words. (I know this seems dramatic and if you are thinking I should just check out the written copy of the book from the same library, then believe me I have thought about that too. However, I have no idea what page I would turn to in order to located CD #7, track 4, minute 3.52)

Anyway, his first point that resinated was a person's poor ability to anticipate the totality of events when we are making a decision about the future. Specifically, 

"We tend to think of future things in terms of why instead of how, in terms of cause and consequence, instead of execution. And we fail to consider that 'detail free' version of an event we're imagining would not the be 'detail laden' event we would ultimately experience. "

His example was about a family member calling you to babysit 2 weeks from now and you say yes because you are thinking about how nice it is to have a relationship with your niece. Then the day of babysitting you are frustrated because your niece is acting bratty, you are behind at work, and you have a million other things that you should be doing besides playing checkers. He elaborates that we look so much at the "Big Picture" or the "why we should be doing something" when we make a decision, but really our happiness is based on the moment to moment details when these events are occurring.  

So, I started to think of my fertility decisions in this way. I want to be pregnant, want to carry a child, want to breast feed, etc. This is one of the factors on our pro/cons list re: IVF, because with adoption I will never carry that child. However, have I really thought through the execution of this event or the detail laden reality that I will encounter?? 

Because if I am honest with myself, I am not sure that I will be good at pregnancy. I always get car sick, so what's the likelihood I won't have morning sickness; I wear a full C cup already, therefore my breast will be enormous and hard to contain while pregnant; I like a good glass of wine and I know I will miss it terribly; and finally, my job involves getting in/out of my car all day long, regardless of weather or the size of my belly, and then I trek into peoples homes which often contain horrible smells, filth, and other oddities of nature that do not sound like the place for a prego girl, much less the place where I want to have to use the bathroom because a baby is pressing on my bladder. 

Now I know, after pregnancy women say that the good outweighs the bad and the experience will be priceless. I do not doubt them and I am sure it would be worth it if I just got pregnant like most women I know. However, since I am stuck with weighing the pros/cons of even trying to get pregnant, then maybe I should be looking more closely at the details of pregnant life instead of just glorifying an experience that I may not even like. 

Okay, so the second point of the book that resinated with me was this...  Study after study has proven that when people are asked to judge themselves vs. others, we all tend to rate ourselves as very individualistic. Because of this, we believe that even though others may have opinions re: how they felt in a specific situation/scenario, those reports could in no way predict how we would feel in the same situation, because we are going into it with different backgrounds, different values, different life experiences, etc. We believe that each of these personal facts are so important that they will shape how that scenario/situation will affect us, therefore we cannot base our decisions on the outcomes of others.

On the surface, this theory sounds correct to me. Just because you liked the peanut butter cookies better than the chocolate chip cookies doesn't mean I will, especially because I am partial to Chocolate chip and only a few peanut butter cookies are even memorable to me when I look back at my years of cookie consumption. Similarly, if you debated about IVF vs. adoption and you have never regretted your choice for IVF (even though it failed 2 times before success), that doesn't mean that I will feel that way. I think I may have serious regrets about IVF if we drop $45k before ever getting our first child, especially because we are also trying to think about how to afford kids #2 or 3 someday.

However, study after study reports that people are more alike that we think. For example, take this study where two groups are asked to make predictions about their future happiness in a situation.  Group #1 is given facts about both options, then asked to chose and rate how happy they'll be with their choice in the future. Group #2 is only given personal accounts from people who have made this same decision before them, then they are asked to chose and rate their anticipated happiness based only on the knowledge of those who have gone before them. 

Can you guess who was best able to predict their future happiness with their decision?? 

Of course, it was the people who based their decision on the outcomes of those who went before them. Because, as study after study documents, we are not really that different in terms of what makes us happy. We also are not that affected by all of our baggage and personal histories, as we thought we'd be when making those decisions. 

So, I came away from my second book point with 1 great conclusion....
That blogging and reading everyone's blogs is logical, helpful, and wonderful. According to millions of dollars in research, I am likely to gain the best insight in my decision making from reading about the choices that have made each of you happy. Which I think is a much better option than trying to figure out all this stuff on my own. So continue to write my fellow IF ladies, because I am reading and trusting you to prepare me for our future!!



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Home Sweet Home
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A glimpse into my journey to grow my faith and my family. Each day I am trying to trust in God's plan for my life, while I struggle with my own desires for my career, my marriage, and my hope for a family.

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