Devaluing happiness

Hi all, the first week is about the sin, “devaluing happiness”. As I spent a whole week observing myself when I commit this sin, I found out that it has become my default. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:I tried to make happiness enhancing decisions in a few such instances. I was wondering that despite all the learning my behaviour is still sinful. :anguished:
So this coming week, I have promised myself to be more vigilant and try to prioritise my happiness especially about things that have a long term impact. Who else is with me, we may share our experience thru out the week.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day! It’s a process. I’m with you on this: taking things slowly, trying to prioritize happiness more, little by little, on my day to day. Baby steps! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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@manoel, I am trying to build Rome since 2015 and taken several repeats of the course, some habits die hard.:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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This is very accurate, I committed the first sin the very next day after learning about it, or maybe I was just aware that I committed it. It feels like, its our default behavior to devalue happiness or make happiness reducing choices

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Isn’t this because of the negativity bias that Raj mentioned in the live meeting? It’s much easier for our brains to dwell on negative thoughts. Psychologist Rick Hanson states that “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” He believes ‘we can overcome our brain’s natural “negativity bias” and learn to internalize positive experiences more deeply—while minimizing the harmful physical and psychological effects of dwelling on the negative.’

It’s very difficult to overcome this natural negativity bias. However, it does seem important that we do not ruminate on past negative events as rumination has been found to be the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety. See also here.

As another post I put here states, one of the best ways to ‘internalize positive experiences’ is by reading more deeply as this seems to build up our internalizing structures. This has been recognized for a long time. As the 18th century writer Dr Samuel Johnson, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, said “the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.”

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This course is useful only if we regularly apply the knowledge gained in real-life situations, consciously, to see a difference. Sort of developing a new habit by repeating it enough to make it “new default” behaviour. Completing the course one time is not going to make lasting difference.

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@Hamish, devaluing happiness, imo, is about the choice we make from a set of available choices. We end up making a choice that maximises the medium or returns instead of what makes us happy.

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Yes, and when we make our choices, it is often because of worrying about the negative side of things that stops us doing the things that would maximize happiness. Dwelling on negative consequences and worrying about those ‘what ifs’ are a part of negativity bias. We devalue happiness because we are forever worrying about consequences, because, as the course tells us, we believe ‘happiness will make us lazy, that it will make us selfish, or that happiness is fleeting’.

On whatifs…

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Good one, what if?
I get it that negativity bias spoils our chance of prioritising happiness enhancing decisions. Let’s discuss one here, that was discussed in 2015 on the discussion forum.
The most common similar one, that I often experience is, “it makes me feel selfish”. It happens when I have the option of making a choice where, either I can be happy or someone else.
For example, either I can play board games with family or talk to a friend on the phone who loves talking to me. Amidst the game, my phone rings, what should I do. I am enjoying the game but don’t want to neglect the phone, because that friend will not be happy. What I end up doing? I attend the phone, continue to play the board game and lose on enjoying or winning the game. I feel less happy now. Should not I choose to ignore the call and call back later on? I make this decision in a split second, had I paused and consciously made a choice I would have saved my happiness.
The point here is, putting others happiness before my own, may give me life satisfaction but definitely ruins my happiness at that moment. If making others happy cost me my own happiness I can ill afford it. But many people do that frequently.

Now, just pick up one what if from the list that explains your choices that devalued your happiness due to negativity bias.

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Observing ourselves while we are committing is the very first step in the right direction. Next comes, having an action plan, “if-then”. Trying to make a choice that you know, you should have made is an important next step. That is how we can be happier.

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Your example is really about one of the problems of modern society, which is technology’s ability to distract us - whether through the phone ringing, or notifications pinging or vibrating, or FOMO, or that sense of needing to keep busy so having a quick look online. It gives rise to the feeling that we have to answer the call/notification/feeling of FOMO to make others happy or ourselves happy. This is misguided though.

In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport wrote ‘The more I study this topic, the more it becomes clear to me that low-quality digital distractions play a more important role in people’s lives than they imagine. In recent years, as the boundary between work and life blends, jobs become more demanding, and community traditions degrade, more and more people are failing to cultivate the high-quality leisure lives that Aristotle identifies as crucial for human happiness. This leaves a void that would be near unbearable if confronted, but that can be ignored with the help of digital noise. It’s now easy to fill the gaps between work and caring for your family and sleep by pulling out a smartphone or tablet, and numbing yourself with mindless swiping and tapping. Erecting barriers against the existential is not new—before YouTube we had (and still have) mindless television and heavy drinking to help avoid deeper questions—but the advanced technologies of the twenty-first-century attention economy are particularly effective at this task.’

Similarly, Jaron Lanier, in his (excellent) book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, argues that social media is highly addictive and engineered to making us feel slightly dissatisfied: ‘Facebook researchers have practically bragged that they could make people unhappy without the people realizing why… Addiction is associated with anhedonia, the lessened ability to take pleasure from life apart from whatever one is addicted to, and social media addicts appear to be prone to long-term anhedonia.’

James Williams, in his book Stand Out of the Light, which is free to download, says we need to be stronger to self-regulate these feelings, and to do this, as the other two books argue too, we need to minimalize our use of certain technology. Franklin Foer, in his book World Without Mind, argues, again, that the way to resist it is to read more books so as to build up that strong internal system.

Much better to have the phone turned off when playing the board game - out of sight and out of mind - if it is the board game that will maximize happiness. Your friend can surely wait until later. The problem with social media and some other technologies, if the feeling that everything has to be ‘now.’

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Omg, I need to make a list of books, prioritising one over another will be another dilemma :confused:.
I gave this example of digital choice vs present in the moment because it is easily relatable.
Another example was taking your child to hobby classes or accompanying your spouse to a game of golf vs sitting in a corner of the house with a good book. As introverts would love later option but would not opt as putting family first is important for many. This is definitely not a happiness enhancing decision. (Often time a sense of duty comes in the way).

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I think considering the potential negatives and risks is generally a good thing to do. There are circumstances where the risks simply don’t matter. eg some are afraid to talk to a stranger they like the look of as they fear rejection and so on. But it might turn out well…so take the risk as the worst is merely a rejection, hardly life threatening. Managing risks matters in engineering projects, obviously. Also investing, some amateur investors do just put money in to some stock without understanding the risks or mitigating with a stop loss. Presumably you would also agree its not worth taking a risk when you get a message telling you that you will go to jail if you do not click this link (Risk is you will give your details to a criminal). So overall risks should be considered in most situations…but the risk assessment should inform not dominate your choice.

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Very Clearly said. thx.

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With this example, it isn’t so much an either/or as one of balance. I love reading, but also know my kids enjoy going to some classes. Surely by bringing my book and finding somewhere to read while they are studying or doing their hobby can maximize my happiness, by being altruistic (in helping my kids) and in being able to read. With the golf example, a nice cafe in a clubhouse with a cup of tea and a good book sounds good (not likely to happen to me as I’m a single father).

I had an either/or decision to make last night. One of my teenage daughters wanted to watch Memento with me, whilst I wanted to watch New Zealand play India in the cricket. Was I selfish to watch the cricket? I’m not sure, but my happiness was maximized watching Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor score the necessary runs to ensure New Zealand’s victory. My daughter watched Memento alone and had lots of questions about it this morning, so I guess she enjoyed it too.

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Weird I had the complete opposite reaction :sob:

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The best decisions we can make are educated ones. I’d prefer an engineer or a doctor to make a decision about risk than leaving it up to me when I don’t understand all the variables involved. Feelings are also important, as this HBR article states: ‘Risk assessment may also be driven by feelings. Feelings can obscure important rational thinking or they can promote it. Even if we’re conscious of our feelings, how are we to know which effect they will have when we’re facing a big decision?’. Personality can also be a factor, as some are more impulsive than others: ‘whether you take a risk or not may be entirely based on your personality. Research has shown that people who are sociable, impulsive sensation-seekers or aggressive may be especially likely to take risks. So assessing a situation and its risks are not enough. You also have to assess the final decision on your propensity to take risks based on your personality.’

Reading about it, I see there is also a zero-risk bias, which I found interesting. ‘This bias describes the irrationally strong preference for situations with absolute certainty. Nobel-prize winning researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, for example, found that people preferred a risk reduction from 5% to 0% over a risk reduction from 55% to 50%, even though the total risk reduction in the two cases was identical.’ This is from here

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Well said. Only I wanted to make a point here is that when your happiness lies in both the things, seeing others happier and in doing what you want to do at that moment. Reason for putting someone else’s happiness before our own could be any, trivial or important. But while making a decision, if we do it in autopilot mode, we fall for our habits. In this way, we surely end up devaluing our own happiness, not that we are not happy by the other decision but would have been happier by making the decision we wanted to if we had given it a thought while making it.
Altruism is good but only when done optimally. One can not go on giving, giving, giving even willfully. Philosophically speaking for your every act, you yourself must be included as well.
Going with the family and finding a corner to read a book is all about being present but I was talking about reading a book vs participating in some other activity like you watching with your daughter (where you can not watch the match), once in a while it is ok, but every time it is “devaluing” happiness imo. Or adaptation to your choices after being made.
On a 24 hour day, we all come across several such choices to be made and we routinely end up making choices that put a dent in our potential to be happy. The choices may not involve anyone else but make out of our way of doing things. For example, I love doing painting and also love doing mandala drawing. But prefer painting over mandala. While I choose to use my time creatively, I end up doing mandala. The reason behind this choice could be, for mandala I need a pen and a sheet but for painting, I need to take out and then put back lots of stuff (colours, brushes, canvas/ article to be painted, apron etc). So out of laziness to put in efforts for preparing for painting I may end up doing mandala. Here, I am leaving a lot of happiness due to my laziness.
I mean, the example may not be that great, but we end up making such choices for whatever reason, which may have a remedy in some other improved behaviour but end result is a little more or a little less happy that has a cumulative effect.
While going thru week one content, I am trying to understand how I can be better at a decision making that I wanted to make, and not just end up making.

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I like your example of painting vs mandala drawing, and how laziness often prevails. I can’t remember which course I learnt it on, but it said that our brains are fundamentally lazy. Given two choices, we’ll go for the easier option. It’s to do with the brain’s desire to preserve energy and is part of our caveman/women response to danger. It’s a response that we have to fight against and it’s a response that the internet distorts (much easier than to surf online for info than search through books, much easier to scroll mindlessly than do something worthwhile). As Nicholas Carr argues, it’s making us stupider.

I haven’t looked at the lectures yet, but in week 4 Raj will say something about gaining internal control. Maybe this has to do with strengthening the internal self, which some have argued is best done through reading a lot of quality fiction. There are other ways too. This short video based on James Clear’s Atomic Habits is pretty good.

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Hamish, I have been with alohaf (mentoring since 2015) and before that, the science of happiness on Edx (TA for 2 years). This makes me constantly being in touch with the contents. However, here, I am referring to only week 1 content, that way our study group stays on the same page.
I understand the hardwiring of human beings thru out the evolutionary process.
So now, the question is, despite everything, our preference for laziness, our negativity bias (they all are here to stay), how we can make better choices. That’s what Raj is trying to teach us.

In the social psychology course, I have learned that the way we explain our behaviour decides what we do next. If we justify our behaviour that being lazy is inherent or our negativity bias is responsible for bad choices, where we are? Do we not have a choice to go against our inherent behaviour? Imo, we do have a choice, being a rational species, to evaluate and arrive at a decision(good or bad). This evaluation requires “space/pause” to work upon till it is on autopilot. (Another book, Thinking, fast and slow).

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