The mighty Peter McAsh shared a link to Yale’s most popular course: The Science of Well Being, which is designed to address the psychological misconceptions we all labour under that have produced some of the worst depression in human history. Laurie Santos, the professor running the course, describes the course (which has since become Yale’s most popular) as a necessary response to the plunging rates of happiness in her students. It’s free on Coursera right now.
I’m only a day in and it has already raised a number of interesting questions around how I approach things. I’m currently watching Martin Seligman’s TEDtalk on positive psychology:
It’s worth your time. Seligman was a pivotal researcher into applying psychology to finding happiness rather than just treating illness. I’ve since been sucked into Dan Gilbert’s The Surprising Science of Happiness. Dan’s book was suggested in the course. In his TEDtalk he’s hard pitching the idea that our reflexive over estimation of outcomes to our choices makes us select things that make us less happy – we overestimate the opportunities choice gives us and it seldom makes us happy. He gives the example of Harvard students who select a course that gives them more choice, but those choices produced a lot of unhappy students. This has some interesting ramifications in a world where choice is considered a sacred right, whether it’s choice of government, partner or anything else. We’ve designed our society around choice, but choice is a mechanism that defies happiness.
If we’re pre-programmed to select for choice (which I suspect is another word for control), and more choice makes us less happy, then we’re pre-set to make ourselves less happy. Our consumerist economic system and our democratic systems are designed to make us less happy – and they’re working.
That I’m looking at this at a time when everyone feels hard done by due to their individual freedoms being curtailed by the COVID19 pandemic is pretty ironic. Perhaps people will find some happiness in their lack of choice, but soon enough that’ll all be forgotten as we struggle to restart all the social systems that are strangling us.
Some post apocalyptic music by Sturgill Simpson helps frame the situation…