Tuesday, August 11, 2009

a tangential slalom course of a post

I go through these jags where I listen almost exclusively to Minnesota Public Radio when I'm driving my car, and I'm in one right now. If you were to see me driving somewhere, you'd probably be able to tell. I might be chuckling. I might be nodding thoughtfully. Most likely, though, my car will be parked and inexplicably idling at my destination--the children straining at their seatbelts while I shush them.

So yesterday I hopped into the car (I keep calling it that, but it's really a mini-van, sighhhh) to pick up the boys from a morning at daycare while I was writing, and this Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, was speaking about happiness, or more specifically, why people mess up so much when trying to predict what will make them happy. A long time ago, I remembered watching this video of a shorter talk he did at some other...ideas thingy...because I remembered the interesting experiments he did with a photography course.

Short story is that he had college students take a bunch of meaningful pictures and create two beautiful prints, and then they had to choose one to keep and one to leave with the instructor. Half the students were told that they could change their minds in four days and switch pictures, and the other half were told that they had to choose and it was a final decision. In the end, the people who had an opportunity to change their minds were less happy with the pictures than the people without that chance. Like, a lot less happy.

Then he asked a new group of students which group they would rather be in, and over sixty percent of them chose to be in the group with the choice. They chose the class that would eventually make them unhappy with their photo.

This was interesting.

I started thinking about shopping, about the difference between the way I shop and the way D. shops. First, I make decisions and then I don't look back. Let's say I'm looking for a new pair of shoes to wear to work. I'll go to the shoe store, find my size, look around at all the options, try on a few pairs if I don't already have a tantrumming toddler, pick one, buy it, and I'm done. Those other shoes that I didn't buy? They aren't in my head anymore, unless I've made mental plans to come back for them after I've earned another pair of shoes or something.

David does pretty much the opposite. He will scour shoe stores for several weeks, repeatedly going in and trying on different pairs. He will research the finalists thoroughly on the internet. He'll read reviews of the shoes. He'll go back and try them on again. He'll pit the stores against each other to get a better price (seriously, he does this all the time, not necessarily with shoes, but I wouldn't put it past him). Finally, he'll make his selection, but much of the time it's a close decision, and he may waver a couple of times as he works through all the pros and cons of each.

The next thing is that I don't do returns. So let's just say I don't like shoes when I get home. They actually pinch a little. Wow, I didn't realize they made that weird little sighing sound every time I take a step. That will be awkward while I'm creeping around my classroom. I totally didn't notice that they made my feet look so boxy. Boxy doesn't really look good on my feet. I shrug and tuck them in my closet. Give them away to someone. Possibly I have slightly pinching, boxy, sighing feet for a while until I have a chance and the funds to try again. But it doesn't really occur to me to bring them back. I don't know why...I just feel like it's a lot of trouble. I made the choice, no big deal. I don't usually feel unhappy about the shoes. Shoes are great, but I'm not going to go crazy over a pair of shoes.

D. comes home from shopping and doesn't take the tags off of things until he's certain. Really certain. And then maybe he'll sleep on it. I guess I can't speak to his happiness with those final purchases, but from my point of view, it seems like if he realizes that there's a flaw in his purchase, he's more likely to wonder about that other option...maybe I should have bought that other one...I saw that one review about this on their website, but everyone else said it was fine...it seems a little like agonizing, to me.

Agonizing =/= Happiness.

So Gilbert talked about how choice--freedom--makes people less happy. Because you can wonder about whether you made the right choice? Because you also have the freedom of regretting the choices?

Oh, dear. This is not what this post was supposed to be about. Warning! Tangent! Where did it start? *traces back*


Second paragraph. A likely place for a tangent to crop up.

What I meant to write about was the tiny snippet of the Aspen talk aired on MPR that was about CHILDREN. And how they make us less happy. I believe his three reasons that we still think of our children as sources of joy were Armani socks, Heroin, and Baseball. Maybe I'll blather on about that tomorrow. Or maybe there will be another tangent. What was I talking about?


althrasher said...

That's interesting. I wonder if Gilbert has ever done any research on the happiness of someone in the USSR vs. America. No freedoms, they should be a barrel of laughs, right?

elissa said...

well, I guess...look at brave new world!

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