Dispelling the Myth

The pursuit of happiness begins with understanding ourselves. The first lesson in understanding is figuring out where our beliefs developed in the first place. As it so happens, and much to the disappointment of classical economists everywhere, humans are irrational. In-fact, an entire field of study is now devoted to how irrational humans are both in everyday life and when it comes to the most important decisions we can make. Perhaps the best known academics in this space are Dr. Robert Cialdini and Dr. Daniel Kahneman.

In Dr. Cialdini’s book Influence, The Phsychology of Persuasion  he articulates a series of triggers that affect human judgement. The six categories that he speaks of in his book are:

  1. Social Proof
  2. Commitment
  3. Reciprocation
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

For our purposes, it is important to understand that these six triggers can be used to influence a person in a positive direction or a negative direction in the context of one’s happiness. While we can wield these tools ourselves, they are certainly being used to affect our judgement on a daily basis. There is scarcely a marketing professional alive who isn’t intimately familiar with this list, or a manipulative friend or loved one who doesn’t wield these tools without understanding or realization.

The power of these tools is so striking as to catch the attention of one of the wealthiest people on the planet, namely, Charlie Munger. Charlie Munger coined a phrase for the effect of multiple of these influence levers acting together in the same direction. He called it the Lollapalooza Effect. The reality is that when these tools of persuasion are used together it creates a formidable force.

What is critical to understand is that either intentionally or unintentionally people are using these tools to lock you into a life of drudgery instead of happiness. This comes about through a combination of marketing to affect our behavior so businesses can make a profit, and our highly developed autopilot system that seeks to reduce the energy we use in order to make heuristic (rule of thumb) decisions as efficiently as possible.

The autopilot system I am referring to is articulated at great length in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Kahneman. In Kahneman’s book he lays out a number of ways in which humans are predictably irrational. At the heart of the core of these processes that sometimes lead us down the wrong path is our dependence on heuristics that may have served us well a thousand years ago but are ill-suited for today’s environment.

All of this is to get to the point that it is more likely than not that your idea of what success and happiness looks like is most probably a reflection of what your culture has told you instead of a logical outgrowth of asking deep questions. In-fact, if you haven’t spent several weeks studying what makes humans happy and reflecting on how your activities compare to those of a happy human you probably are operating on a 100% cultural default. That is to say, you haven’t asked the single most important question a person can concern themselves with on this planet: What makes me happy?

If that is the case, the first and most important step is to accept that you are probably living a life based on assumptions that are false. The good news is that with a little bit of study and work you can change.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” – Eric Roth

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