Happiness Book: Seeing The Big Picture


The universal truth we have all experienced is people interpret the same objective events around them based on their own personal values, biases, selective attention, and sense of identity. How we interpret the world around us plays a large and important role in how happy we are.

Scientific explanation of why people are incapable of taking in the whole picture: Our brains are information processors and the world is just too full of stimuli to effectively take it all in. From the movie What the Bleep do we know – we can only process ½ of all we see. And even what we see we interpret in our own way, based on our assumptions and values, which may not be true/valid.

We pick and choose what we pay attention to, and our brains are evolutionary adapted to do this well. We tend to be on the lookout for potentially harmful things, are adept at reading social cues and are pretty good at integrating sights, sounds, smells without even thinking about it. But then the world around becomes complex, we tend to narrow our attention to the things that matter (up to the limit we can understand).

The focusing illusion occurs when one fact about a choice particularly stands out in our minds, so much that we tend to overlook other important characteristics. Divorced woman is only a part time divorced woman as the rest is a shopper, an employee and a friend. We are full time something only if we choose to dwell on it. Pathetic fallacy happens if you think that all poor people are unhappy, but forget that they have families, friendships, love lives, etc.

Change blindness occurs because people have tendency to encode things by broad category rather than any detail, as a means of simplifying complex information. We seem to notice general information during transactions, but not specific characteristics of a person if they aren’t relevant to the transaction. Many things to us are broad categories, such as that person is an employee, Australian, female, young, and then complexity is noticed when we get to know them better.

You can get around not seeing the full picture by talking to others and benefiting from their experience. You can do more research to learn about other people’s perspective online or from the books.

Mistakes we make forecasting our happiness and make choices:

  1. Focusing on a single salient feature or period of time in a choice, rather than looking at the big picture
  2. Overestimating the long-term impact of our choices
  3. Forgetting that happiness is ongoing process not a destination
  4. Paying too much attention to external info while overlooking personal preference and experiences
  5. Trying to max decisions rather than focusing on personal satisfaction
  6. Confusing wanting something for liking it later, and forgetting to evaluate whether we will enjoy the choice once its novelty wears off
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