The surprising science of happiness – Dan Gilbert – TEDx talk

I recently saw this wonderful TEDx video by Dan Gilbert, The surprising science of happiness which raised some wonderfully thought provoking questions about how we humans as a species pursue happiness.

The video started off with Dan explaining how in the process of evolution, the human brain has tripled in mass over the course of the last two million years and that by itself is not just an increase in size, but one of the new structures formed in the brain, the pre-frontal cortex (one of whose functions is to simulate experiences for humans) has proven to be quite revolutionary. This part of the brain enables us humans to try and simulate experiences and process the outcomes in our brains well before they actually happen. For eg, just the thought of enjoying a lovely colorful ice cream on a sunny afternoon is enough to make our tongues water, just the thought, mind you, not the ice cream itself. Or just the thought of onion flavored ice cream is enough to make us go ‘Yuck’, just the thought, not the ice cream itself.

Dan then goes on to cite two examples to prove how all humans have an inherent ‘impact bias’ which is the tendency for this simulator in our brains to work badly. He goes on to prove with enough examples as to how happiness can be ‘synthesized’ by us. It turns out that all of us have a system of processes within our brains which tend to change our views of the world, so that we feel better about the current situations we find ourselves in, good or bad. And the funny part is that these processes are happening at a sub-conscious level without us even realizing it. Net result, we are actually happy even when we think we are unhappy and continuously keep looking for happiness. We synthesize our own happiness without even realizing that we do.

Natural happiness is what we experience when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we experience even when we don’t get what we wanted. And the best part is that this synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as natural happiness is. Dan then goes on to prove this point with more examples and details of real life experiments conducted in this regard.

His final paragraph, which I will paraphrase below is something that left me thinking for more than quite a bit of time.

We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have overrated the difference between these futures, we are at risk. When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value. When our fears are bounded, we’re prudent, we’re cautious, we’re thoughtful. When our fears are unbounded and overblown, we’re reckless, and we’re cowardly.

The lesson I want to leave you with, from these data, is that our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.

In case you want to watch the video itself (around 21 mins long), the same can be accessed here

Farmers’ Suicides – A new point of view

Sid’s Blog: P. Sainath and Farmers’ Suicides in India

Siddhartha Shome has written this insightful article regarding P Sainath and how his view on farmers’ suicides in India is extremely skewed. Brilliant read this one!!!


The Godfather of Bangalore

This is one link which I have been meaning to put up on the blog for at least two days now. This links to one of the most grim realities of Bangalore today and highlights in some detail as to how the Real Estate mafia operates in Bangalore today.

For people like me who were born and brought up in Bangalore and share a special bond with that place, this articles vindicates what we have been feeling for the past 8 odd years now regarding the land prices there. Some of us intuitively knew that there was something wrong with particular aspect of the city in the recent past. Yes, while the Information Technology boom has contributed in no mean measure to the spike in prices, but the kind of spurt in far-flung areas well away from the IT activity was kind of inexplicable.

This particular article details at least one of the more grimmer aspects of this bubble.


Related Links
Wired Article by Scott Carney

Cinderella and the financial crisis

Part of an insightful article by Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek fame about the current financial crisis –

“it’s a lot like Cinderella at the ball. The guys look better all the time, the music sounds better, it’s more and more fun, you think, ‘Why the hell should I leave at a quarter to 12? I’ll leave at two minutes to 12.’ But the trouble is, there are no clocks on the wall. And everybody thinks they’re going to leave at two minutes to 12.”

Good read.


Related links –
NewsWeek Article

Politicians almost never know what they are talking about

I absolutely love what David Brooks, New York Times columnist has to say in his column aptly titled “The Post-Lehman World“.

These words “We’d need regulators who could spot a bubble and squelch a boom just when things seem to be going good, who can scare away foreign investment and who could over-rule popularity-mongering presidents. (The statements by the two candidates this week have been moronic.)” are so absolutely true especially considering the kind of rhetoric that Obama and McCain have been building up regarding the Market Metldown.

Wish politicians understood more about the economy and how it works rather than just indulging in rhetoric and rabble-rousing just to garner more popular votes.


Related links
IndiaUncut by Amit Varma who pointed me to this article in the first place
David Brooks article in the New York Times