TED: Dan Gilbert: Why are we happy? Why aren't we happy?

Apropos of Nate's post on "Status and Curiosity - On the Origins of Oil Addiction" earlier this week, and Stuart's post "Happiness, economic growth, and oil prices", here's Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, who challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

After being a doom and gloomer during Y2K, I'm reluctant to totally give in to my natural pessimism. There is hope even if we can't make all the connections right now. Our information isn't 100% perfect.

Yup. Esp. our 'information' about the future.

However, that doesn't mean one shouldn't take future somewhat seriously and perhaps even do some planning - and of course revise, when the future finally unfolds differently.

I'm happy,because I'm confident companies like LS9 will keep peak oil at bay. Fossil fuel was a neccessary evil. And,it'll be obsolete in 20 years.

Thats a funny joke perry, haven't you heard cornicopian technophile solutions are a joke, read some Tainters and maybe you'll get why. Then again remain ignorant by all means, its bliss right?

Tainter is not God.


Yeah, but he might be a prophet.. :P

How to spot a doomer:

"Oil is peaking soon. We are doomed, no matter what!"

How to spot an over-optimist:

"Oil won't peak soon,even if it does we will just replace it with something better and life will be so much better forever!"

How to spot a realist:

"Oil peaking shows a very high probability in the next 0-9 years and the transition to a new energy system has a high potential of being economically, socially and environmentally very disruptive based on earlier historical analysis. Even if on the long run, we have also a possibility of achieving at a better system overall (again based on historical analysis). Many systemic discontinuities as well as big money-making opportunities might emerge during this transition phase."

How to spot a shill:

"Fear not, technology X (Copyright Corp XYZ) will save us" <- repeat this in every post

Please continue the spotter's guide :)

Quite a nice video, well worth watching, and quite true.

Most people weren't depressed during the depression. And in the movie "Mad Max", didn't the evil leather-clad biker weirdos seem to have more "joie de vivre" than those they were attacking? Once peak oil frees us from the tyranny of choice and all we have to choose is who gets to be morlock and who eloi, maybe we'll find that we're just as happy. It may be a shorter life, but more vivid.

It'd be far better if humans took a real look at the biological basis of happiness in time to ameliorate the Dieoff. But since that doesn't seem to be happening, at least we know in advance that the cannibal hordes will be more-or-less psychologically healthy and will probably smile a lot.

There weren't any happy eloi in Mad Max. They were all dead or running from death.

I just read a DKOS diary that might be complementary to the topic, even if it's completely orthogonal to both peak oil and biochemical happiness expectations:

As is often the case with me, my comment was semi-serious and semi tongue-in-cheek.

For one thing, I've observed that many brain functions, just like functions in the rest of the body, trend toward sort of a pre-set homeostatis level which can be perturbed but which tends to quickly come back to the 'set' point. Many psychotropic drugs quickly build up a "tolerance".

Then again, I see no rigorous definition of "happiness" here, which is rather a glaring lack. Simply asking people whether they're happy may be more a measure of rationalization than a gauge of contentment. (for instance, to reconcile one's self-image with reality; Festinger's "cognitive dissonance" explains a lot).

Physiologically, you can alter your mood by stuff as simple as deep breathing or modest exercise; is that sort of well-being "happiness"? Is the serotonin boost you get from prozac "happiness"? Or is it something more elusive? It's possible to be contented but deeply concerned. It's possible to have "fun" - fleeting perhaps - even while doing something out of desperation or ignoble motive.

When the Hutu's killed the Tutsi's in Rwanda, they vastly enjoyed themselves. They were happy; it's one mode of human collective action. That sort of happiness will be on the upswing, and it may not be dysfunctional from a biological standpoint.

But hey, it's the pursuit of happiness, right?

With apologies to Roger Miller:

Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you've a mind to

Ya can't buy coffee if there's nothing in the store

Ya can't feed a billion when the fertilizer's gone

Ya can't click your heels in a Halliburton camp

Ya can't get a backrub from a cannibal mob


But you can be happy if you learn to appreciate irony, ignore pain and deprivation, and watch the Big Show. Cultivating low expecations and good drugs may help.

There's probably only one kind of happiness, and even it may not be "real".

RE: Escalating Petrol Prices, Peak Oil, etc...

Dad and I (he's 70 next year) passed our motorbike Learner's test this afternoon. At this moment, we're both happy - and hope to stay that way for some time to come. Will we stay that way, however (about motorbikes)? Who knows! Too many variables.

Regards, Matt B
Now, to buy something fuel efficient, or something cool... What's the common sense answer? What will make me happier?

I'm a very pessimistic person, and therefore very happy. Things almost always turn out better than I expected. The few times when I got blinded on the downside, I simply deepened my pessimism and happy days were here again. Now I've incorporated getting blinded on the downside into my pessimism, a necessity in these times, and I should be immune to total collapse, nuclear war, martial law, etc. Well, any two maybe. Three would require another adjustment.

great pg
I've enjoyed over the years watching science catch up to ancient human wisdom. meditate, learn to shut off your brain, it's a great tool but should only be used when it's needed

That was powerful, thank you for posting it.

From the examples in his video, it appears those people are in denial. I sincerely doubt I would be just as happy 1 year later if I won $300 million vs. being a paraplegic. You can bed a lot more women being a multi-millionaire than a paraplegic. There are opportunities I missed out on in life and I sure as hell don't think I'm better for it. Synthesizing happiness sounds a lot like "just settling" instead of being ambitious and going for your goals of acquiring more - power, wealth, assets, women.

I was raised to never settle. Never be satisfied when you can achieve more and acquire more. Great businessmen of our times such as Bill Gates had the desire to acquire the largest share of the PC marketplace and conquer his opponents. The American dream is built upon the idea that everyone has the opportunity to acquire as much as he can in order to separate the winners from the losers. Our most popular sport - football - is all about being the biggest, baddest, meanest S.O.B. who can destroy everyone else.

With that in mind and coming full circle back to the Status and Curiosity article, those who are not ambitious enough to take/acquire resources (oil) will move down in their standard of living. Their voluntary (or involuntary) reduction of consumption of resources will only make it easier for those of us whose goals are to acquire said resources. Expand this idea of the national level and you can see that the nations who will come out ahead post PO will be those who will, by any means necessary, acquire & secure resources. That can only lead to one thing - war. It's all about survival.

Or it could be that you're in denial... about human nature.

Those are the results of their surveys. People have a sort of natural level of happiness they gravitate to as individuals. If you're a miserable bugger, you'll be a miserable bugger no matter what; if you're a cheery chappy, you'll be a cheery chappy no matter what. Events may make you leap up or plunge down for a short while, but a year or so later you'll have drifted back to your natural level of happiness.

You can disbelieve it if you like but that's the observation of generations of counsellors, the results of heaps of studies, and so on. Each of us has an individual nature, and we follow it.

To a certain extent, but these studies are flawed if their representations are as simple as you state. Other stats show that suicide rates are different at different ages-highest for old white men. IMO nursing homes and senior residences have a level of visceral unhappiness that to a certain extent brings his lecture into question. I have met a few really miserable buggers, and IMO they don't age well-they have a lot more to be bitter about.

Good point. If someone is of poor health & in constant pain, it's kind of hard for the happiness synthesizing part of the brain to make the real pain go away.

There's a point where reality trumps our virtual synthesized lives.

Wel, he's not saying that your happiness never changes, merely that the big things we seek and fear don't have the lasting effect we expect.

I don't know of studies of it, but my feeling is that as people get older, their minor personality traits get squeezed out by their major ones, which grow.

It is funny-the guy reminded me of one of those techno cornucopians who advocate paving over the rain forest to make a huge parking lot. What he totally misses is that although brain chemistry can be altered, we are social creatures and dependent on and affected by our environment to a great deal. Happiness is less prevalent in some crack ridden neighbourhood in Motown than it is in Waikiki, which makes it easier for the average person to be happy in the happier vibe place. We don't stand alone no matter what his "studies" say.

People tend to "revert to type", as my grandmother used to say.

Suggesting that people have a natural level of happiness toward which they gravitate is missing the elephant in the room: the surrounding environment.

You don't "gravitate" toward anything unless there is a massive force, like gravity, which externally attracts you there.

How can someone be a miserable bugger unless there is something external about which to be miserable? I find the prospect of die-off and ecological destruction miserable, real but miserable. I don't find eating chocolate, walking on sunny days, or watching pretty women to be miserable.

It's almost like saying people have a natural level of hunger that they reach, when you are ignorant of how much food they eat. Are starving people at a satiety equilibrium?

How many previous cheery chaps were singing in the streets of Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the bombs were dropped?

Was the last Native American in a tribe to survive smallpox-ridden blankets laughing as he gasped his last breath?

"Human nature" does not exist independently of the surrounding environment.

Your post is interesting because it suggests that capitalism is not concerned with providing happiness to people, but rather building up the power of one group of people to conquer another.

But why conquer another people? Or why not allow yourself to be conquered, if this video is correct? As long as you survive, even as a lowly serf, you will still find (manufacture?) things in everyday life to be happy about.

I still have a difficult time buying that argument, though. If this video is correct, then there's no reason to try hard at anything. Just work as little as you can to buy food, housing, medicine, and necessities for yourself, sit back and relax during your free time, smoke some pot (or have sex, either with a partner or "solo"--there's a cheap happiness machine if there ever was one!), chill out, and just pass the days away in blissful mediocrity. If you get bored, just invent some games for yourself or something else to bring some novelty factor to your life (maybe that's what social relationships are about a lot of the time--introducing daily novelty). Amuse yourself. Ta da!

Are we, in 2008, happier than hunter-gatherers in 5000 B.C.E. who were at the mercy of natural disasters and preventable diseases? Or did they rationalize, "Dang, I didn't catch that wild boar. Oh well, I felt like eating wild raspberries anyways. Just as long as I have enough to eat." ???

Is there an equilibrium happiness that we naturally always come back to anyways? So is there no point in doing anything for ourselves?

I can say with some certainty that I am not as happy this summer as I was two summers ago, but I'm still happier than I was last summer, when I had to go through a surgery and undergo about two-months of healing. Are these just mental illusions?

But why conquer another people? Or why not allow yourself to be conquered, if this video is correct? As long as you survive, even as a lowly serf, you will still find (manufacture?) things in everyday life to be happy about.

The thing is that we decide our goals on what we think will make us happy; what actually makes us happy is something different.

Just in this thread we have people saying they don't believe it, that they'd be as happy as a paraplegic as they would as a millionaire. So they make plans to get more money, etc.

I question the methodology of these studies-they sound like they were sponsored by Merck or Pfizer-change your synthesized brain chemistry and instant happiness can be yours. Personally, reaching my goals consistently brings me happiness-failing to reach them makes me unhappy. IMO the most important and underrating contributor to human happiness is your immediate environment-the persons you physically interact with. It is very challenging for anyone to maintain a miserable attitude when surrounded by happy persons. It is very challenging for anyone to maintain a positive attitude while surrounded by miserable a-holes.Life is a team sport.

To love and be loved. Ah, now there's the ticket. I don't doubt you are unhappy when you don't reach your goals, but wouldn't it be better if you could be happy regardless?

Are we, in 2008, happier than [before]? ... I can say with some certainty that I am not as happy this summer as I was two summers ago

I was much happier before I learned about Peak Oil.

I'm sorry, I can't synthesize the rat trap we're in into being a "glorious" experience.
Energy prison is energy prison.

Good point however since life began it consumes energy. Everything in the Universe in order to HAPPEN needs energy!

We need to reform civilization because we cannot create a nature of our own and live independently from the nature who created us and paradoxilly expect to extract everything we want from it indefenetly.

We need to reform work and value it differently. Stop mass production, produce locally. Put machines and automatization at the service of wellbeing of society and not at the service of profits. Profits and accumulation of riches must not be a goal, as long as this happens there will be tensions. GDP cant influence employment at all! I must stress this! This is a fatal flaw of this civilization!

Our cultural education and life goals have to migrate from material stuff (cars, computers, houses, cell phones, etc) to non physical things (knowledge, arts, spirituality, philosofy, socializing, etc).

The video is correct or it isn't. Your argument reminds me about an argument for the existence of God that goes if there is no God, then why bother. Well, I don't know, but it is what it is.

Some people need to bust their ass during their whole life times because they feel this is a necessity or they think it makes them happy or lead to happiness. Fine. Others retire early and pursue other pursuits like reading TOD or working to improve their local communities. There is no cookie cutter solution for everyone.

One way to pretty much guarantee lack of happiness it to pursue those goals that society prescribes for you. Follow a different drummer. Follow your own drummer, your own passion, your own truth.

Anyway, I think happiness may be more a function of a happiness gene that anything else. You can be happy with money or without, but only if you have that gene.

The studies aren't saying that people in poverty are just as happy as those who are rich. They are saying that after a certain level of reasonable income that happiness does not increase. After a certain level, more and more doesn't cut it.

Your post is interesting because it suggests that capitalism is not concerned with providing happiness to people, but rather building up the power of one group of people to conquer another.

Capitalism benefits those who put in the effort to maximize their skills. All others be damned. It weeds out the productive people in society from those who leach off of others. That is otherwise known as socialism. With capitalism, you either win or lose based on your determination and skills which nature selected for you. With socialism, you can be lazy and unproductive and leach the resources off of those who are successful.

So as not to seem cold-hearted, those who are successful can choose to donate and help some of those who are not. Look at the charity that Bill Gates started. However, those being helped must make an effort to better themselves and not live off of the handouts of others.

Capitalism also rewards all those parasites living off their daddy's and mommy's efforts. Capitalism is highly dependent upon unlimited growth and encourages that growth. That growth is running up against a finite planet. Capitalism has within it the seeds of planetary destruction and, therefore, its own destruction. The alternative doesn't have to be pure socialism. Capitalism, in order to survive in some form, needs to be constrained. Just because we participate in some form of capitalism doesn't mean we cannot engage in some self restraint. Succeeding based on merit does not require that we eat everything in our path.

Bill Gates, as successful as he is, was also very lucky in that he had well connected parents and lucked into one of the biggest monopolies on this planet, the Dos operating system. It is not simply all about your individual effort.

It is not about capitalism or socialism. It is not about either/or. It is about preserving the planet which will not happen under a regime of unrestrained capitalism. That doesn't mean socialism is better. It just means that we have to find a third way.

And it is not so stark as people being weeded out. Weeding out means destroyed. Those who make less money for whatever reason move on and thrive. It is not either/or as you seem to want to make it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in capitalism it seems like the less work you do the more money you make.
When was the last time you saw a president of a banking firm, or a successful stock broker, or a corporate lawyer on Wall Street dig a ditch?
Hell, breaking a sweat is something they haven't experienced since gym in prep school.
Capitalism has the distict shape of a pyramid, and those at the top benefit off the backs of those on the bottom - this is a global preponderance - and in this day in age if you want to make it to the top all you have to do is get lucky, lie, steal, cheat, backstab....ad-nauseum.I love how you use Mr. Gates as an example.I believe your contemporary history of economics is lacking.

If you want to see the ideal economy for man, all you have to do is pick up a Bible and read the Torah portion of the Bible - the first five books in the Bible.It does have an economy outlined for man that is predicated upon equity, and of course, honesty.
It states that every man is entitled to his own land (without having a land tax) and that the individual himself has the right to enjoy his or her labor and hard work.If a person decides to become stagnant and falls into debt, and or poverty, there was a cycle built into the system that allows the descendants of that particular person not to suffer the consequences of his irresponsibility.Every 50 years there was to be what was called the Year of Jubilee in which ALL debts were canceled, and ALL property was returned to the original family of inheritance in which complete indemnification was granted.Everyone would experience this release from debt at least once in their lifetime, and needless to say, it was perhaps one of the greatest experiences one could have.

God's Laws are opposed to communism in the respect that every individual has the God given right to property ownership, and can enjoy the hard work of their labor.

God's Laws are opposed to socialism likewise for the latter reason - if you work hard you reap the benefits.

Most importantly, the Torah is unequivocally and diametrically the opposite of capitalism in the fact wealth cannot be hoarded, and a pyramid type structure of economics cannot be sustained due to the complete cancelation of debts and the indemnification of all properties every 50 years.
When business transactions were conducted, the Year of Jubilee was always taken into consideration.If I was going to sell my property one year after the Year of Jubilee I would sell it for a much higher price than if the Year of Jubilee was near.The productivity timeframe was an important factor in the price of land if it was to be sold.
The main reason this clause is in God's Laws for mankind is to prevent the very usury and inequitable egregious practice of leverage against one another and the oppression of the poor by the inordinate acquisition of wealth; which is so common in our times it makes one execrate in disgust.No matter how hard the poor work to relieve themselves of their misery in this day and age, they cannot, in most circumstances, ameliorate themselves of this unjust burden.
To be a good business man today is a euphemism for depredation.

There are no taxes mentioned in the Torah other than a 10% levy for cattle, and this was primarily to be used for charity purposes for those who were not able to provide for themselves, i.e., orphans and widows.So when you hear these bastards on TV asking for money (tithe) to help their 501c3 corporate 'churches',realize their day of reckoning is coming.If it's not All going to help the poor, there is going to be hell to pay - literally.

Even though God's Laws have been summarily rejected from time immemorial and the Old Covenant was never really kept, this did not thwart the plan of God's redemption.For in the falure of the people to abide by the Laws of Torah, God promised a New Covenant in which His laws would be written on the hearts of man through Yeshua.

The reason the Antichrist comes to power, according to the book of Revelation, is primarily through an oppressive economic system prevalent in the world in the last days of this age.The pyramidal type system intensifies as that day draws near.The reason many in the churches, if not most, fail to comprehend what is transpiring is primarily due to their 501c3 corporate status - not realizing they are imbedded in the system.
Yes, it will be NGO's that control the world eventually, and they will attempt to microchip every human being on planet earth as a means of control.

One day, however, Yeshua will return and establish His Kingdom predicated on the laws stated above.

One can believe whatever they choose to, but that does not change reality.

But why conquer another people? Simple. Survival trumps happiness.

Survival of the fittest?

Oh,I get it. Capitalism is nothing less than Darwinian economics.

Are we animals or are we human beings created by God?

If one enjoys conquering another human being, and profiteering from their misery;

No wonder these individuals do not want to believe in a God in whom we must give an account for our actions.

Me??? Happy???

" You can bed a lot more women being a multi-millionaire than a paraplegic. "

A charming paraplegic v. an ugly, smelly multi- millionaire? I dunno.

Isn't there a movie about this? 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'.

I don't think things are so dire that happiness needs to be dummied up. I know it's a good way to sell conservation as long as the selling is not too blatant.

Fact- based conservation leads to fact- based happiness.I know people lived better in the 19th century than they do now, but I can't get there from here.

Simple, country- wide energy budgets would solve the immediate crises. Take the US. The US uses approximately 20 million barrels of petro a DAY. If the Feds told us citizens we had to budget our energy use in one year to 8 million BPD, or face strict rationing, car-free weeks and camping out in cold houses ... we would do it! Pretty easily, too. Americans don't like bureaucrats alloting the piddling few gallons of gasoline they can buy in a month. Americans enjoy being challenged, however.

One reason Americans are discontented is because we so rarely are challenged to do difficult things!

The idea is it is very hard to mandate individual steps to conseerve or to develop alternatives; it is best to make an achieveable goal and let the individuals innovate personal solutions to meet that goal.

There is so much wasteful consumption of fuel, that losing a fraction of the waste would cut back a third of the demand. The balance would be made up by technical innovation. The result would be a cut in prices as the marginal demand would rebalance with supply. The US waste factor is probably paralleled in Europe. China's new energy infrastructure is grossly wasteful because they copy obsolete models ... the same is true in Russia, which has a large amount of legacy USSR infrastructure.

The British energy industry could make a deal with Putin to upgrade the Russian's energy set up for a ten year guarantee of relatively inexpensive natural gas. The way the Putinites are going now, no one will lend them a glass of water ... so it would be a good deal for the Russians and take the British government's nuts out of the fire at the same time.

Right now people are anxoius about the future for a lot of reasons ... they even haven't heard about the giant meteorite that's aimed at Los Angeles ... yet. An energy budget equals an achieveable goal. When attained ... it will give people a reason to feel good about themselves.


Aha! TOB finally discusses something which I've actually done a lot of thinking on. While you may think that settling is a sin, I've found that a Taoist idea keeps me from falling down the consumerist trap.

Essentially, the idea is that being satisfied with what you have happens when you realize that you have everything you truly need, and not a moment sooner. The premise is that in a consumerist society, we are trained to always feel incomplete; that we always need to buy just a little (or a lot, depending on the success of advertisements) more, we'll be happier. This path seems to (and in my observations does) logically lead to a situation where an extremely small fraction of people are happy, while everyone with limited resources is constantly consuming with increasingly diminishing returns.

On the surface, it feels like if people decide that what they have is "enough" and learn to be happy with it, we will lose our drive to improve, learn, and create. In practice, I've found nothing to be further from the truth (as a figure of speech, I suppose I've found saying "Bush is a honest man" to be further).

I am an extremely content person because I don't feel like I deserve anything. Everything I do, every act of creation, everything I do I am extremely grateful for. Treating a significant other's time and attention always as a gift, never as a right makes love last... well, at least until it is meant to end. Staleness and insatisfaction are the result of taking life for granted.

And despite being very happy with what I have, I am no less excited to create, enjoy, and experience the wonderful things in the world. By most objective measures, I am insanely successful, but I know that if I had wasted time and resources on accumulating power and wealth instead of on turning my life into a backdrop for turning work into play, I wouldn't be spending time on my favorite activities, and I wouldn't objectively be nearly as good at them as I am... no fear of failure, no pride in being the best, just the pleasure of creating and improving.

This is a self destructive paradigm. Eventually, the mighty will fall and will ring the planet and everyone down with them. We are going to have less resources. Acquire away. Those who are prepared for scarcity will fare better, on average, than those who are bent on acquisition and consumption. Your destructive approach is largely responsible for the fact that we have exceeded our carrying capacity. Maybe it works on an indiviudal level, but on a collective level it will lead to destruction and dieoff.

More and more acquisition is a fruitless, wasteless endeavor which will not end well. You do not sound happy in your pursuits of endless achievement, wealth, and consumption.

Eventually, the mighty will fall and will bring the planet and everyone down with them.

Maybe, maybe not. Either way, they will be the last to feel the effects. Do you honestly believe that powerful men such as Dick Cheney, etc. are not prepared for peak oil? While we may have martial law, I'm pretty sure they will have their own security detail and a lot more freedom. Trying to synthesize happiness under the threat of armed soldiers by saying you are better off than those who still have some freedom is delusion.

More and more acquisition is a fruitless ... endless ... consumption.

I think this is where others assume that acquiring = consumption so you end up with not net change. Those who will succeed are those who combine both acquiring and saving. Just look at our SPR. We have been acquiring oil just in case of a disaster. I applaud President Bush for doing so. However, look at what the Democratic congress did and is trying to do - stop acquiring and instead release the oil so we Americans can have one last consumption orgy.

If you look at all asset-management strategies, the base is to acquire capital and build wealth, not acquire capital then spend it all. The goal is to have enough assets where you can live just off of the returns on your capital. This is radically different than a lot of Americans who falsely acquire assets by going into massive debt only to have them repossessed by the banks.

I will grant you that a good, individual strategy is to preserve capital, including those assets that will be most useful in a coming age of scarcity. However, in the U.S., it is a very rare bird who does not acquire and consume. People's incomes increase but their wants tend to exceed their grasp. Even the relatively well off in terms of income don't do a very good job of preserving capital. Overall, our net savings is less than zero. Massive credit card debt. On and on. Anyway, for the most part, in America, acquisition does indeed equal consumption and beyond for the vast majority. We are a nation debtors. At at the national level, we want a free lunch. Cut taxes forever but do nothing to reduce spending.

Most of Dick Cheney's wealth was acquired by sucking off the government's tit through military contracts based on his connections. Not a good example of capitalism.

I like most ideas in this--like synthesized happiness. However some of the logic is screwy. If paraplegics are just as happy as lottery winners it just tells me that people who buy lottery tickets lack the wits to control their lives--even with all the resources of the grand prize. Reading Kunstler made me disdain people with the Jiminy Kricket syndrome who believe all is fixable by wishing on a star. Isn't buying a lottery ticket (chance of win as likely as getting stuck by lightning 5 times) just as stupid? But also these gamblers want to get something for nothing. Striving for something and getting it = satisfaction and hence happiness.

Cheap oil was like a lottery ticket win. The world took all that wealth, used it to overpopulate the planet, build depressing suburbs in the US, fought some terrible wars, and pollute the planet. When you think about it, we could have limited births and built a peaceful paradise in nature--oh well, we blew it. We are just like those idiotic lottery winners lacking wits to wisely steer our lives. Wealth from cheap oil did not make people happier than people who lived in any other age probably.

Very insightful IMO. The study missed the possibility that lottery ticket purchasers as a group are more likely to be miserable idiots than the general population.

The world took all that wealth, used it to overpopulate the planet, build depressing suburbs in the US, fought some terrible wars, and pollute the planet.

While we're at it and linking to TED, you need to watch this if you believe the 20th century was unusually violent:

I agree that there is good anthropological evidence that primitive man lived more violently than in modern times. See this excellent book: "Before The Dawn," by Nicholas Wade. But while last century has been comparatively peaceful weren't there a few bouts of mass insanity? You'd think the riches of the oil age would gave us the ability to take it easy. Modern wars, while not constant like in primitive times, are more vicious and very insane-- WW II, for example, killed 50-60 million.

The huge, cosmic lottery ticket win was our human consciousness with complex abstraction and long, detailed memories.

And like beer at a college kegger, we've been largely pissing that away for 10,000 years in civilization.

It's really no surprise that we've done the same with oil.

Like George Carlin used to say, "Human beings are nothing more than ordinary jungle beasts, savages, no different from the Cro-magnon people 25,000 years ago living in the Pleistocene forests eating grubs off of rotten logs."

We really are "barely out of the jungle".

The problem with this analysis is that it leaves out the large component of our sense of happiness that comes from our perception of other people's opinions of our status and value.

In a way comparing a paraplegic (who would get a lot of care and support in day to day life, but who has below normal status) and an instant millionaire (who gets lots of superficial envy, but probably has to question the admiration and apparent love of others) is too inconsistent. Arent there broader comparisons of happiness and GDP that show above aroun $5000-10, 000 dollars a year per person happiness perception doesnt really change any more? I know after being a starving student for so long I found myself less happy earning much more than that.

This kind of synthetic happiness seems more akin to the kind of stuff used by ruling elites to quell the disatisfaction of the desperately poor. On your knees and think about the wonderful afterlife. Or be good for your next incarnation. Or go the buddhist slant and convince people that their suffering isn't important anyway- perhaps you should try wanting even less?

In the end it seems to be saying that the trick to happiness *and* success is to have the wisdom to invest your limited energy in things you can change, whilst learning to accept the things you cannot.

This kind of synthetic happiness seems more akin to the kind of stuff used by ruling elites to quell the disatisfaction of the desperately poor. On your knees and think about the wonderful afterlife.

Exactly. It would be entertaining to observe the response of truly impoverished people to the suggestion that they just have to learn how to enjoy being hungry, watch their children die of malnutrition, their wells run dry, their crops rot in the fields, etc.

Hey folks, wotcha whinin' about? Stuff happens! Just grin and bear it! Money isn't everything!

This kind of pep-talk is clearly targeted at a very select audience of well-educated people like ourselves. Wuddent say it wud be a great success in North Korea, though.

Having said that, I feel happier now.

For a while I thought I was watching a speech by the Yes Men spoofing big pharma.

It's not a matter of learning to enjoy your situation, it's just that you have a certain innate level of happiness, as innate to you as the colour of your eyes or the shape of your feet, and you tend to gravitate to that level of happiness.

He's not saying that if people's basic needs are unmet, or if they're living under constant threat of death, they'll be happy. Obviously people react to extremes.

I think that's a failure of his talks, he fails to distinguish between important choices and trivial ones. I've written about his words very critically in the infantile paradox of choice.

I wrote,

He says that our choices overwhelm us and make us miserable, and that this is inevitable because we've so many choices; this is his "paradox of choice". He's wrong because he fails to make a distinction between meaningful and meaningless choices. He gives examples of 175 different salad dressings at his supermarket, and a doctor offering two different treatments. One is a meaningful choice, the other is not. A mature person realises that some choices are meaningful and should be considered seriously, and others are not and should be dealt with quickly without worry or stress.

The observation of people visiting North Korea is that most of the people are genuinely happy. That doesn't mean they don't want changes in their lives, nor does it mean they enjoy the threat of labour camps. But most just trundle along in their day-to-day lives and make the best of it.

Nassim Taleb's book The Black Swan talks about how a continual stream of small positive events provides a greater level of happiness than a single large positive event. This seems a similar idea that I strongly agree with.

Also see...

Small positive events randomly interspersed with big negative events seem to create a fulfilling life.

Madison Avenue has taken the manufacture of unhappiness to a high art form.

The BBC Video linked on the other thread explaining the Bernays role in propaganda and advertising explains this very well.

Even in communist or traditional societies comparisons are made between people and happiness judged based on the difference in status/possesions.

As some have stated, genetics/temperament have the most to do with level of happiness generally maintained.


The four temperaments are basis for psychology/astrology, etc. People are like they are from birth according to this. Character is just disciplining oneself to make the most of this given temperament. It has been found in surveys that older people are mch more satified/happy than younger people as they have discovered what it is that makes them personally happy. They have learned to adjust the choices available in the external world to their particular temparament. The machine(human) has become self consciously aware of its relation to the exteranl world and adjusted accordingly. The young person accept its parents choices and then perhaps that of friends until it rejects all these concepts and thinks for itself due to long and hard experience and disappointments. We all know what trouble it is finding a fitting career choice for a young person as everyone has different talents. Not everyone can be a salesman or a computer programmer or a graphic artist for example.

Similarly the video here seems to address a more general concept as did Nate, specific short/medium term happiness based on stimuli/response in terms of brain/chemical reactions for any human.

This sort of stuff is very statistical and general. Madison Avenue marketing types have discovered target markets:


For example if we belong to a certain subgroup then we try to characterize that group and what characteristics people have, why they were attracted to such a belief system or lifestyle. The recent article on Doomers by Kathy McMahon is a case in point:


Initially a small group is made up of people with a particular temperament(superjocks in sport, hard core survivalists as doomers, born salesmen as politcians) but as the group becomes larger almost anyone can find a niche. It becomes a generalized culture where all temperaments and subtemperaments(mixed temperaments) occur and not just those whose temperament allowed the culture to come into being in the first place. For example in large enough art school, accountant firm or sports team almost any temperament could occur. This is actually necessary for the culture to survive long term in balance with nature(outside world).

All the humours have to occur(air, fire, water, earth, etc.) to find a balance in a larger group or mistakes will be made leading to a collapse of the culture with regards to the existing larger environment(survivalist get in shoot out with FBI, etc., sales types arrested on fraud, artists die of poverty).

The De Tocqueville quote implies an adventurous, risk taking culture in USA and a docile, settled nature of people generally in "old Europe".

From birth on I would think that all temperaments occur in equal measure regardless of geography(disregarding racial stereotypes), just as female and male births occur in almost equal proportions. The external stimuli in Europe or Asia however acculturates people to less space, less risktaking, more settled and routine lifestyles.

This is of course everywhere in constant flux depending on economics, technology, resource shortages or surpluses, population pressures and acculturation of immigrant populations to the pre-existing norms of culture.

So happiness individually is a matter of individual temperament adjusting to available culture, whereas the culture is a moving target, following the generational flux:


Right now we are going down into a crisis era and the general culture is starting to come on board/realize what some hard core among us with pre-existing doomer (melancholic+choleric?) temperaments have long since realized due to our heavy concentration on facts regardless of social pressures.

So PO survivalism is set to become the general culture as only with all temperament types can a subculture become in balance with nature. How can a subculture broaden its appeal to the general populace with only depressives(doomers) and madmen (survivalists) at the helm? A phlegmatic poitician and sanguine comic would be needed to keep all in good spirts and working together. Too many fiery or depressed types would kill one another or themselves.

So the general culture sees overarching reality and adopts the survivalist culture. Happiness is then what each base temperament finds in this new culture. The politician says we must pull together to survive, the comic jokes about mega-death not occurring before he catches his favourite TV show, etc.

I wonder how 'happy' this guy's going to be when world war three begins and upwards of 2 billion people have their lives cut short.
Do you think there just might be a book out there that explains how to cope with the reality of imminent death?
I doubt his psychology text books cover that topic.

Man.....the mental gyrations we come up with to escape the real world.

Anyway, since this is a 'Peak Oil' site, here is a very imperative piece of information to think happy thoughts about -

Iranian Oil Bourse Opening by Steve Austin - 2008/02/06

The Iranian Oil Bourse establishing Euro-based pricing of oil is set to open on February 17th 2008 and could have devastating effects on the US dollar.

Currently all three major oil markets (WTI, NYMEX, IPE) trade barrels of oil in US dollars. Consequently any country buying oil needs dollars to pay for it. This enables the US Federal Reserve to issue huge volumes of dollars to meet increasing demand for oil. In return oil producing nations invest dollar proceeds in US treasury bills, allowing for the current US budget deficit.

But this balance may become unsettled after a fourth major oil market opens this month, trading in Euros: the Iranian Oil Bourse (IOB).

Unlike other bourses, the IOB relies on a peer-to-peer trading model, using the Internet. IOB has been in the works for several years and encountered many hurdles on the way, the last of which are severed underwater internet cables creating an Internet outage throughout the Middle East days before the IOB's opening and prompting conspiracy theories. In recent years the US has outfitted some of its submarines with the capability to splice optical fiber underwater so these theories may not be far-fetched.

Having the world's second largest oil reserves of 136 gigabarrels, Iran will likely extend its influence on financial markets when the IOB opens. Although under-reported by the media, this historical shift and its consequences should be watched closely.

Yes, I wouldn't want to be living on the island of Kish at this point in time... that may be one of the first casualties if the bombing starts (since their oil exchange is located there).

Still very much hoping against such a stupid idea though.

Great post! Though I found it a bit ironic that it is brought to us courtesy of BMW. I guess they haven't quite thought through the implications of this research.

Then again what could you expect from a company that thinks showing a man fantasizing about a car while having sex with a woman is the road to true happiness. Gives a whole new meaning to the "Ultimate Driving Machine".

There's a reason some of us have chosen to exit the rat race some time ago. This also speaks to the reason those posters about the men with the biggest carbon footprint being more succesful in attracting mates are ultimately wrong. Fortunately for me some women prefer to be happy.

Ride a Bike or Take a Hike!

Our present view on what makes ppl happy is very common-sensical: love, in its widest sense, not necessarily romantic/sexual (though that helps!), work, which we usually feel is best if ‘meaningful’, but again, factory workers are happy, what is needed is activity seen as worthwhile in the community. Last, it is better to live in a group or society that is civic minded, friendly, with the possibility of smooth, harmonious social contact, and overriding goals, etc. Repeatedly, it has been shown that status, power, riches, excessive consumption, do not promote happiness.

Natch, views of Man (and what’s good for him) have changed over time; and the views influence our self-judgment, the judgment of others, etc.

Imho present pop and official psychology greatly overestimates unhappiness caused by loss (money, spouse, etc.), decay (illness), violence and abuse. There is a reason for that: firstly, unhappiness attribution of this kind masks other causes, while focussing on causes that are random (eg. accident, crime) or individual (spouse runs off) and leaves cultural, societal, and general political-economic considerations in the shade. We refuse to look at the bigger picture.

Second, it provides an excuse for sadism - the poor losers are victims who deserve pity or scorn, which may be tempered or hidden, following blame attribution. In both cases they are victims, if only of Fate, and thus lowered on the social scale, and can be abused again. A victim is the last thing anyone wants to be.

Naked, unbridled competition - as opposed to that, for ex. on the sports field - makes people miserable. Humans do not like to see others suffer, they do not like to ‘take advantage’ too much (all lab social psych research shows this), they are altruistic, they are capable of great self-sacrifice. We are group animals and survive because of the group.

So there is a lot of space for extremely positive change.

I sincerely doubt I would be just as happy 1 year later if I won $300 million vs. being a paraplegic. “Homes for old ppl. are a misery” - Happiness research is full of glitches, some of it is pure junk. Happiness is not a mental state or emotion that researchers in the emotion field can or do identify, as an ‘intrinsic’ emotion, as opposed to eg. fear, surprise, disgust. ‘Synthesizing’ and emotion like happiness is a metaphor, or a catchy expression, it doesn’t mean much - nothing at all brain-wise. One might as well say “one is grateful for small mercies” or “people make the best of it,” “some always see the bottle as half full”, etc.

There are two kinds of happiness – temporary and enduring. The inexorable pursuit of the first has produced the overconsumption and misery we see around us. It is the kind that is never satisfied for long because it is based on fantasy and stimulation – things that fade as soon as they are experienced.

Enduring happiness is based on a sense of purpose, meaning and direction in life. When I truly became aware of the impact Peak Oil (and climate change, pollution, economic collapse, etc. etc.) would have in our lives and in our world, and when I thought about our children and grandchildren, I got deeply depressed. Sort of a dark night of the soul experience. I have gradually climbed out of the depression by realizing I have work to do. Now, when I read the articles, hear the news and start getting that panicked feeling, I tell myself:

This is the world I’ve come to serve.

For those interested in the psychology of affective responses to choice situations, I further recommend The Paradox of choice : Why Less is more by Barry Schwarz. The IT conversations interview alone (53 minutes) is quite informative.

Dan Gilbert failed to tell us anything about how this "happiness" he speaks about is defined and measured. Rating one's satisfaction with, say, a painting is only one possible way to gauge happiness in respect to that particular item at the particular moment at which the question is posed.

Another proposed way to rate overall happiness is by asking people at random times how they are feeling.

A third possible way to do the rating is to ask people flat-out how happy they are with their lives, either since birth or right at this exact moment. People in a concentration camp would probably never report that they are happy at that particular moment, but they might rate their whole lives as happy, possibly by trying to exclude their current pain and sorrow from their overall rating.

I think one could cook up a large number of rating systems, and probably find that the answers they provide are varied and sometimes contradictory.

But surely that isn't really the point of Dan Gilbert's presentation. Rather, isn't he, like other inspirational speakers, suggesting that we will feel better if we adjust our point of view, if we value ourselves, act courageously and sometimes take chances?

Not a very original message, but I'm happy anyway, I mean, who cares: I will have forgotten this whole silly exercise by tomorrow.

I have Amish neighbors. There are very hard working people who live on the edge of poverty. Most of them appear to be quite happy. Unlike most Americans they have a strong sense of belonging to a genuine community. The worst thing that could happen to an Amish person is to be shunned. Being shunned is worse than having to drive a hay wagon in a bitter cold wind or walking behind a team of horses on a hot humid day out in the fields. Being shunned is worse than walking several miles to school in blowing snow. Being shunned is worse than having a very limited choice in what clothes to wear. Being part of a strong community is more rewarding than accumulating riches. This is the happiness we all ought to pursue.
The lack of belonging, which Maslow rated as the need just above our biological needs, is behind the epidemic of emotional illness we in America are suffering. The demise of organized labor means we no longer have a secure place in our working lives and no power over how our working lives are led. With TV commercials dominating our political process instead of neighborhood meetings we no longer feel we have a say in how governments are run. Instead we have the best government Wall St money can buy. Churches have become big businesses obsessed with budgets more than with our spiritual needs. The only measure of success is financial since there is no community based relationships to ground a sense of happiness in. Just look at how many posts on the Drum are about financial survival with any regard for what happens to the guy next door. If he loses his job or pension or savings due to the shenanigans of the rich he is derided as a parasite who doesn't deserve to live. Their is a good reason why the socialist Danes consider themselves happier more than the capitalist Americans do in spite of the tax structures. In America there is no belief that the coming burdens that peak oil will impose on us will be shared equitably. It will just one more opprotunity for the rich to get richer as more and more people fall out of the middle class.
We don't need to consume more and more to be happy. We need to relearn the benefits of community which the Amish enjoy.

What is happiness? Food For Thought...

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved. - George Sand

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. - Albert Schweitzer

Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient - Aristotle

Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others. - Buddha

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. - Mohandas K. Gandhi

The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family. - Thomas Jefferson

The comment about "happiness is being loved" reminds me: I told a friend about this video, and about the thing of the millionaire and the paraplegic.

He said, "I would expect the paraplegic to be more happy after a year. When you become a millionaire, you lose your friends and family because everyone cares only about your money, but if you become a paraplegic then you will find who your true friends and family are, and they will help you."


"The Disease Caused By Oil"

What about when some people
felt happy by gaining power?

What about one's enjoyment
by making others miserable?

Human beings can build a model
of their world, wherein they
can go through a tunnel to
an infinite of modelling
the modeller modelling.

We ARE our Environment,
in infinite vortex loops ...

We are presuming our environment.

We are dreaming, inspired by data.

Our ability to model our world &
ourselves in our world model, is
connected to a structure of the
feelings associated with that.

Obviously, it is hyper-complicated.

We barely know how our bodies work.

We even less know how our minds do.

There are a lot of tricks and
various surprises to discover.

Happiness is only correlated
with our survival, since it only
has mental mechanisms which
are approximations for our use.

Within this context we return
to a central issue of social
survival and happiness in
a real context of power.

The world is controlled by
lies and coercions serving
organized fraud & robbery.

The people who have been
best at working hard at
being dishonest, and
backing that up with
violence, have been
able to build our
civilization ...

They have a definite interest
in keeping everyone else as
ignorant and afraid as it
is possible to do ...

People are born ignorant and crying.

It is relatively easy to keep them
being ignorant and afraid, while
developing more knowledge and
courages is hard to develop.

I think all happiness is synthesized.

We are fundamentally dreaming in ways
that presume our environment, and in
ways that are partially inspired by
what data is provided to a dream.

Desire creates our "universe."

We build our mental model of the world,
with ourselves as aspects of the model,
which is still inside of the modelling.

We do not and can not Know anything,
including ourselves, except as that
dream of relative illusions & lies
to ourselves about everything ...

More data might help us dream better.

But, we are fundamentally dreaming ...

Culture is sharing our dreams.

Crucial to a real culture is that
civilization is organized robbery.

There are some people who benefit
from knowing things others do not.

They want to keep things that way.

Their happiness is connected to
the misery of other people, and
they work hard to achieve their
goals, which must necessarily
mean others people's goals
are not achieved as much.

Thus, a quote in the video above
from Adam Smith, about what is
something so evil that those
who do it, will regret that,
is hard to reconcile with a
reality that people who do
get away the biggest crimes
are thereby enabled to do
it again even more so ...

Overall, this appears to be leading
us towards failure from our success.

People were brainwashed to believe
in a bullies' bullshit world view,
because that benefited bullies.

All bullies were happy to get away
with bigger and bigger defrauding.

Triumphs by the bullies requires
that the others are yet ignorant.

And so, our education systems and
mass media are not attempting to
enlighten the people, but rather to
keep them in the dark, dreaming
nightmares, that help bullies.

I think it is quite illustrative of
the contemporary world picture
to compare the graphing of
wealth distribution to a
oil well gusher gushing.

Neolithic civilization
is a social pyramid, &
it sucks up the wealth
& pumps it to the top.

The real graph of wealth distribution
looks like something that only should
be in a cartoon, because the reality
of the social pyramid has become so
steep, and there is a kind of tower,
with a gusher of extreme wealth ...
spouting out the top of the pyramid,
through the pyramidion people there,

which is metaphorically spouting like

newly struck oil well gusher/geyser!!!

It is appropriate that Peak Oil has
created a social wealth distribution
that looks a lot like a gushing well.

Our social system does what it was
really designed to do excellently ...

Our social system makes
rich people richer, and
it does so to an extent
that is astronomically
proportioned, compared
to the older kinds of
squat pyramid shape.

The flip side of extreme wealth
is extreme poverty, & happiness
can be felt by some people when
they are making others miserable.

Our brains and bodies are utterly
awesome in their complexities, and
we barely understand how they work.

We mostly ignore elementary philosophy.

We mostly take for granted
our "reality" without the
thought it is created by
our dreaming with data.

The dominant social stories
do everything they could do
to try to suppress others.

Indeed, a most human thing
is that we tell ourselves, and
others, stories, and we are
able to correlate how we
feel with those stories.

Peak oil is metaphorically
a peak wealth imbalance.

Some synthesize happiness that way.