How does your thinking affect your experience of happiness? – Chapter 38

The decision to marry someone reflects a huge error of ‘affection forecasting’. On their big day, the groom and bride know that the divorce rate is high, but they believe that these numbers do not apply to them.

A study on the level of life satisfaction from the day people get married shows a gradual drop. It is argued that the honey moon phase fades and married life becomes a routine. Another example is plausible: heuristics of judgment. A mood heuristic is one way of answering questions about life-satisfaction. In addition to the current mood, people are likely to think about significant events in the recent past. Only a few relevant ideas come to mind, but most do not. The rating of life-satisfaction is heavily influenced by a small amount of highly available ideas, not by carefully weighting all life domains. People who recently got married will retrieve that happy event when asked a general question about life. As time passes, the salience of the thought will diminish. This explains the remarkably high level of life satisfaction in the first years after marriage. On average, experienced well-being is not affected by marriage, not because marriage does not makes us happy, but because it changes some aspects of life for the worse and others for the better.

A reason for the low correlations between life-satisfaction and the circumstances of individuals, is that life-satisfaction and experienced happiness are significantly determined by the genetics of temperament. A disposition for well-being is heritable. In other cases, like marriage, the correlations with well-being are low due to balancing effects. Setting (financial) goals also proved to have lifelong effects.

People tend to respond fairly quick to life questions. This speed of answering and the effects of current mood on the answers demonstrate that they skip a careful assessment. They probably use heuristics, which are examples of WYSIATI and substitution. When attention is directed to a specific aspect of life, it greatly affects the overall evaluation. This is known as the ‘focusing illusion’. The most important thing in life seems the thing you are thinking about. The essence of this illusion is WYSIATI. The focusing illusion results into a bias in favor of experiences and goods that are initially appealing, but will eventually lose their charm.

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