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

Welcome back old friend – 55 fiction

You are never too far away, just one ice cream, just one chilled juice, just one cold shower away, aren’t you? And you had to pick Friendship Day, of all the days to pay me a visit.

Welcome back, old friend, welcome back, you dirty ‘common cold’!!! This time don’t stay back for too long.




This 55 fiction is dedicated to an old friend, the common cold who chose Sunday, Aug 4th, Friendship Day to grace me with his presence, in a big way. Looks like he will stay back for a week, as usual 😦


Image courtesy: Google images search for ‘common cold cartoon’

A lesson from history…

Setting: 3100 BC, ancient Sumerian civilization

Person: Hammu, a farmer

One fine day Hammu cleans up his granary where he stores all the cereals. Given that the granary is quite large and Hammu has no help, he rarely ever cleans the far corner of his granary. But today is different, as he is about to sow a large harvest and feels that the entire granary is required to store his cereals.

He suddenly notices that the wall surrounding the far corner has had a water leak due to the incessant rains and the flooding of the river. Consequently the cereals stored there have fermented due to the excess moisture. He cannot use them for anything.

Just out of curiosity, he tastes the fermented cereal. “Wait a minute, this tastes quite good. Maybe I can make something out of this mess after all.

After a couple of more months of experimenting with more fermented cereals and adding and removing a few ingredients from the same, Hammu comes up with a wonderful beverage – Beer.

Of course it wasn’t called beer then, but since we don’t really know what he called it then. Let us call it beer.


Setting: 9th century Ethiopia

Person: Kaldi, a goatherder

For the past two weeks, 8-10 of Kaldi’s goats had been behaving weirdly. While the rest of the goats walked in an orderly manner, these goats kept jumping out of line, kept prancing around and also playfully goaded the other goats. While this was not very troublesome, Kaldi’s skills lay in the fact that he managed to keep his goats under control, and a few funny goats could end up corrupting the discipline of the other goats. He seriously needed to get these goats under control.

Today, he had decided to follow these goats very carefully during their grazing. He wanted to see if they were eating or drinking anything different from the rest of the herd which made them behave differently. And yes, his suspicions were correct. These goats were eating from a particular plant which Kaldi had not noticed before.

He took a few seeds of the plant and tried chewing on them after he got home. They were bitter and he put them away and forgot all about them. A few days later his young daughter found these seeds. Not knowing what to do with them, she put her new found cooking skills to test. She boiled some water, crushed these seeds and put them in the boiling water. Finally after the dark brown brew boiled, she took some in a cup and drank it. The ‘kick’ she experienced was like nothing before.

Lo and behold, coffee was discovered.


Setting: 2013, somewhere in the United States

Person: Some random researchers looking for a topic for their paper submissions

These articles [Link to article] [Link to article 2]talks about how drinking a couple of beers helps you improve your ability to think creatively and come up with an initial brilliant idea. It then goes on to talk about how some coffee can greatly increase quality and performance of your tasks.

As a summary, the findings of this research are that if employees are given a couple of beers, they get innovative ideas which can then be executed to perfection with great zest and energy, provided they are also given some coffee to enhance their productivity at work.

Wonder if my employer has read these articles 😀



Let the buyer beware…



  1. When we spend 50 ps to buy ourselves a candy, we are not too worried about what candy we buy.
  2. When we spend 10 bucks to buy ourselves a chocolate bar, we are still not too worried about what chocolate we buy.
  3. When we spend 200 bucks to fill fuel in our two wheeler, we ensure that the fuel meter is set to zero and all the fuel goes inside the petrol tank of our vehicle.
  4. When we spend around 1,000 bucks to buy a branded shirt, we ensure that the color and pattern is of our choice, the size and fitting is appropriate and that we are fully satisfied.
  5. When we spend around 50,000 bucks on buying a new electronic gadget, we do our homework, we ensure that we research various brands, features, compatibility with our existing devices, etc and then we go ahead and ensure that we buy the right model of the correct brand after having seen a demo of the product itself.
  6. When we spend more than a few lakhs of our rupees on buying a new car, we do more extensive research, we take a test drive, we might even take our family members out on a test drive, we enquire which dealer provides the best after sales service, the best deals and then buy the car.

What was the point of this whole rambling above? The point that I was trying to make was that as the amount invested in a particular venture increases, our commitment to ensuring that it suits the original purpose increases manifold. As the amount increases, we take additional steps to ensure that all the money spent provides us with desired (or in some cases, better than desired) returns. Right…..

I still remember one of the earliest concepts that I was taught in Microeconomics was ‘caveat emptor’, a Latin term which literally translated means ‘let the buyer beware’. To put this term in layman language, and in plain English, it simply means that sellers and service providers are at liberty to pretty much sell anything they want, in whatever condition they want, and it is the buyers’ responsibility to ensure that the goods/services they purchase meet the conditions for which they are required for. The only exception to this principle is if the seller actively conceals any defects or faults in the good/service.

Why exactly am I giving the readers of this blog a lesson in basic microeconomics?

Because I came across this hilariously funny article (which I have every reason to believe is fact) where during the recently held IBL (Indian Badminton League) auctions, the bidders bid USD 46,000 for Pradnya Gadre whereas her more illustrious doubles partner, Ashwini Ponappa went for a price of USD 25,000. Why? Because the auction organizers made a mistake in their brochures and listed all of Ashwini Ponappa’s achievements under Pradnya. [Link to article]

While the organizers might have made a genuine mistake, my question was, what the hell were the bidders thinking about? Were they relying only on the organizers’ brochures for information regarding the players they were bidding for? Did they do any other homework at all before bidding? Do they even care about the game of badminton? Or are they participating in the IBL only because they foresee it to be the next big sports league of the country like the IPL? Just what the hell is going on…

It is a sad state of affairs when people who are willing to spend USD 46,000 have no clue as to the achievements of the player they are buying, and have also ended up buying the wrong player.

Wonder when sports other than cricket will get any kind of respect, attention, and the love of the paying public in this country…

Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘caveat emptor cartoons’


Judging people, are you???


All of us work with people day in and day out. Not just at office where we interact with our colleagues, team mates, but also on the way to office (cab drivers, bus drivers, co passengers) and at home as well. And it therefore follows that any advice on how to be a better judge of people is always welcome, don’t you think!!!

This small, simple, yet insightful blog post [Link to HBR Blog Post] gives us 10 quick questions to ask to help us better understand people. I have provided a quick summary of the questions here which can also serve as a ready reckoner for people who are in the roles of conducting interviews to identify potential candidates for roles –

1- What is the talk-to-listen ratio? Ideally you want to interact with people who listen as much as they talk

2- Is the person an energy-giver or energy-taker? Self explanatory I think

3- Is the person likely to ‘act’ or ‘react’ to a given task? Once again, self explanatory, as this question determines the person’s ability to handle unforeseen, unfamiliar circumstances

4- Does this person feel authentic or obsequious? Although we all like our ‘posteriors’ kissed once in a while, we all know that only people who are true and themselves will work out in the long run

5- What’s the spouse like? Now this one question can easily get us arrested from an Indian perspective

6- How does this person treat someone he doesn’t know? The author espouses trying to find out how this person will treat a cab driver or a waiter to get insights about his true personality

7- Is there an element of struggle in the person’s history? This holds true if you are interviewing for people in the Senior Management levels as ability to handle tough situations is a must there

8- What has this person been reading? Once again, very apt for Senior Management positions as reading broadens the mind, thinking and ability to come up with creative solutions to issues

9- Would you ever want to go on a long ride with this person? This to me is probably the most important question for any person with whom you are looking to build a long, fulfilling relationship

10- Do you believe this person is self-aware? All great leaders and good followers are self-aware people who very clearly know what they can and cannot do, what they like and dislike, what works for them and what doesn’t

Insightful, don’t you think…

Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘judging people cartoon’