“It’s not a case of, ‘Read this book and you’ll think differently.’ I wrote the book, and I don’t think differently”- Daniel Kahneman
I scrolled through the cable TV menu this past Saturday morning in search of cartoons or a children’s action series that would bring back memories of my Saturday mornings as a kid or even young parent. While I did enjoy some time watching the Roadrunner still outwit Wile E. Coyote, no action heroes were to be found. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see if GI Joe and his team had thwarted Cobra’s attempt to encircle the world with negative forces from the “Pyramid of Darkness”. That’s not entirely true, my real reason for wanting to find the program was to once again hear the public service announcement and closing tagline that ended every program, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.” Why would I want to hear that
Dr. Laurie Santos is a professor of psychology at Yale and author/teacher of the university’s most popular course, “Psychology and the Good Life”. I recently enrolled in the on-line version of this class, and in a few short weeks have come to a better understanding of what constitutes happiness. Equally important, I’ve learned there are some misconceptions about happiness that can lead me to think irrationally about it. The channel surfing on Saturday morning was part of what Santos calls a “Rewirement Assignment”, designed to help students recognize some of their misunderstandings; one of those being the impact of our biases. She refers to the phrase, “Now you know, And knowing is half the battle”, as the GI Joe Fallac
In a 2021 working paper (G.I. Joe Phenomena: Understanding the Limits of Metacognitive Awareness on Debiasing), Santos and her research partner, Dr. Ariella Kristal explored why knowing about our biases does not always help us to overcome them. She maintains that while there may be some domains where knowing is half the battle, there are many more where it is not. Knowing what makes you happy and actually being happy would be one of them. The lesson learned is that knowledge, in and of itself, is rarely the central factor that enables us to attain a goal.. The real power is to be found in our ability to select situations, form habits and control our emotions. So how does this tie to happiness.
Biases often direct our behavior. They become the way we see things, our mindset, and then compromise the manner in which we approach a challenge. In essence, it can be our mindset that prevents us from behaving in a certain way, even though we know the positive outcomes of that behavior. We know that we should limit our sugar and fat intake, yet we still stop at the donut shop too often. We know we need to save for retirement, yet we fail to put enough money away each week. We know we should exercise to reduce our disease risk, but we still hit the snooze button rather than heading for the gym. What we are witnessing is a disconnect between our knowledge and our actions, and it is this disconnect that makes happiness elusive.
Happiness is a lifetime pursuit. Yes, I said lifetime, as it is an ever-changing phenomena. Happiness evolves with us. The real challenge in discovering it, is found in overcoming the biases, habits and other obstacles that will confront us. Knowing what will make you happy is not half the battle, it simply sets the stage. Achieving happiness will require a shift in mindset, sacrifice and behaviors that are new and uncomfortable, and as Martin Luther King said, “Nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrifice. I’d certainly say that happiness is worthwhile.
Embrace the Challenge.