All of Your Options

Forget the paradox of choice, seeing all your options at once may just make you happier with your choice. Or so says new research out of Stanford Business School. "... in the chocolate experiment, the researchers presented participants with detailed descriptions of fine chocolates (such as dark chocolate ganache with black tea and hints of citrus and vanilla), and asked them to choose which one they wanted to taste. The “simultaneous” group saw the whole list at once, whereas the “sequential” group saw one at a time and stopped once they saw a description of the chocolate they wanted to sample. After they had picked a chocolate and tasted it, participants in both groups filled out a short survey about their satisfaction with their chosen confection. The result: sequential choosers were less satisfied with their chocolates than were participants in the simultaneous group. And, when offered the opportunity to switch to a different chocolate — a randomly selected one, they were told — more of the sequential choosers opted to do so, even though they knew virtually nothing about it."

But why? In a sequential mode we are waiting for better options to come along though usually they don't. So how to mitigate this bias when many of our options are offered sequentially (e.g., boyfriends, jobs, investment opportunities)?

"One strategy Shiv advises is to mentally convert a sequential choice into a 'quasi-simultaneous' one by recalling past instances of the best options you ever chose or of options that, in hindsight, you regret passing over. Once you do that, you can compare your present option with those recalled, almost as if you had all your options before you at once."

Money and Happiness

From a recent NYTimes article: The catch is that additional income doesn’t buy us any additional happiness on a typical day once we reach that comfortable standard. The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.



This is How Crazy I am

I have been playing Words with Friends on my iTouch - except with total strangers. I didn't want to hook into Facebook and spam my friends, etc. At first I didn't realize how to play for points and tried to be clever about my words. Wrong strategy. Finally, I started to hit my stride and was matched with a stranger in a very close high scoring game. In my mind, the stranger is a man. Of course, I have no idea, you just see a made-up screen name. Maybe that says something about my psychological state, but I digress.

This man beats me in a final, completely surprising move. By only a few points!

I immediately asked for a rematch and he accepted. And every day for almost a week I've been plotting my triumph.

Finally, I trounced him by 136 points and when the app told me I had won I jumped all around my living room pumping my fists in the air Jersey style and yelling "Victory! Victory!"

Okay, I'm not proud of it, but boy did it feel good. Clearly, I need to get out more.

What's Your Life Strategy?

Do you have a strategy for your life? According to Clay Christensen, you should have one: "Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy."

While at Oxford, he spent an hour every night thinking and reading about the purpose of his life. What he learned:

  • "People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness."
  • "...it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place."
  • "Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people."

On Happiness

People who have a version of the 5-HTT gene, a gene efficient at moving serotonin (known to improve mood), are more likely to be satisfied with their lives. So says research out of the London School of Economics and Political Science. But before you think you're predestined for happiness or not, you can affect your mood. Studies have shown that performing acts of kindness or even listing what you're grateful for can help you to feel happy.

But if you put too much emphasis on being happy you can find yourself depressed, according to a study in the journal Emotion.

Happiness, like everything else, is a balance.

Want to learn more about how we experience our emotions? Check out additional findings from gottaFeeling users at gottaFeeling.com.

This Emotional Life

If you haven't seen it, I recommend it: This Emotional Life, a three part television series put on by the producers of NOVA. On resilience:


For more on the series and a discussion on happiness, click here.

The conclusion? Relationships - the ones we have with family, community and ourselves - are ultimately what makes us happy.

The Positivity Ratio

Research by Barbara Fredrickson discovered that a positivity ratio of 3 to 1 - meaning you have 3 positive emotions for every negative one - is a good thing. Having this ratio means you will flourish in life, as opposed to languish. I'm not completely sold on her work, but what I do like about Fredrickson's research is that she acknowledges the role "negative" emotions have in a positive life and doesn't tout the current "happiness" mantra (the likes of which we haven't seen since Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry Be Happy hit in 1988) that suggests positive emotions are all you should feel. She has a website where you can test for your own ratio. I had a pretty great day yesterday and decided to give it a go. I only received a positivity ratio of 1.75!

Are You Happy?

Daniel Kahneman, the inventor of behavioral economics, says it's all about who you are talking to - your experiencing self or your remembering self. The experiencing self is all about the present moment while the remembering self is the story teller. The trick is we don't actually choose between experiences but we do choose between memories. Which has me thinking more about my recent memoir writing class.

Check out his TED talk here: