“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” — Seneca

A human being is the only animal that thinks about the future (Dan Gilbert). We are not good at predicting it accurately though:

  • We forget to consider that we'll be a different person in the future.

  • We can't predict our emotional reactions to future events.

    • "Once I get the promotion/car/house I'll be happy." → after short bliss no lasting change.

    • "Losing my job will be terrible!" → ends up being awesome.

  • Almost everything we experience feels different once we have experienced it than we imagined it would have.

  • We overestimate our reactions to future events and underestimate how good we are in rationalizing decisions we make today.

It's also worth noting that happiness may be genetic (study by Lykken and Tellegen estimates that around 50% of happiness is determined by genes, whereas a study by Jan‐Emmanuel De Neve shows that 33% of the variation in life satisfaction is explained by genetic variation).

We must face these 2 facts:

  1. We didn't evolve to be happy.

  2. We make bad predictions about the future and what will make us happy.

What can we do?

We can focus on what's under our control:

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own” —Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4– 5

Since using our own imagination to predict the future isn't accurate, we can ask people who are already living in "our future" how they feel. Seek out people who are doing what you're only imagining and measure their happiness. But, be aware that we have a bias to prefer information that we gather by our own actions over other people's opinions. We suffer from the illusion that we differ so much from other people that their experiences don't apply to us.

Happiness vs Satisfaction

We should keep in mind the difference between happiness and satisfaction. As Daniel Kahneman notices the key to understanding the difference is memory. Satisfaction is retrospective, whereas happiness occurs in real time. We tell ourselves stories about our lives. Our day-to-day experiences may produce positive feelings that don't have an effect on our story.

  • Memory is enduring, but feelings pass.

  • someone who has had many happy experiences may not feel satisfied on the whole.

Satisfaction relies on comparisons:

“Life satisfaction is connected to a large degree to social yardsticks–achieving goals, meeting expectations.” —Daniel Kahneman

Money has an immense influence on life satisfaction, but happiness is affected by money only when funds are lacking.

Since happiness is fleeting, a life filled with happy moments doesn't have to lead to overall satisfaction.

Satisfaction is a long-term feeling, cultivated over time and built on achieving goals and building the kind of life you admire.

Chasing happiness is often the thing that makes us miserable.

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