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  • Writer's pictureHans J. Schmolke

An interview with Daniel Kahneman about #happiness

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist and economist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as behavioral economics, for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

He is one of the founders Hedonic Psychology, the study of what makes experiences and life pleasant or unpleasant. It is also concerned with the whole range of circumstances, from the biological to the societal, that occasion suffering and enjoyment. (Wikipedia)

The analytical layout and logic of Prosperland is largely based on the results of scientific research in Behavioral Science with the focus on Hedonic Psychology.

Later in his life, he started to doubt about 'happiness' as a target for Quality of Life. This is how he explained the reasons in an interview with the Isreali publication #Haaretz.

“I gradually became convinced that people don’t want to be happy,” he explained. “They want to be satisfied with their life.”

A bit stunned, I asked him to repeat that statement. “People don’t want to be happy the way I’ve defined the term – what I experience here and now. In my view, it’s much more important for them to be satisfied, to experience life satisfaction, from the perspective of ‘What I remember,’ of the story they tell about their lives. I furthered the development of tools for understanding and advancing an asset that I think is important but most people aren’t interested in.

“Meanwhile, awareness of happiness has progressed in the world, including annual happiness indexes. It seems to me that on this basis, what can confidently be advanced is a reduction of suffering. The question of whether society should intervene so that people will be happier is very controversial, but whether society should strive for people to suffer less – that’s widely accepted.

“Much of Layard’s activity on behalf of happiness in England related to bolstering the mental health system. In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start – because the extent of illness is enormous and the intensity of the distress doesn’t allow for any talk of happiness. We also need to talk about poverty and about improving the workplace environment, where many people are abused.”

My interview with Kahneman took place as I started working on the Haaretz series of articles “The Secret of Happiness,” and was initially meant to conclude it. It was the key to the entire series. It’s interesting that Kahneman, one of the leading symbols of happiness research, eventually became dubious and quit, while proposing that we primarily address causes of suffering.

The “secret of happiness” hasn’t been deciphered. Even the term’s definition remains vague. Genetics and luck play an important role in it.

Nevertheless, a few insights that emerged from the series have stayed with me: I’m amazed by Layard’s activity. I was impressed by the tranquility of the Buddhist worldview and the practices that accompany it. Personally, I’ve chosen to practice meditation with a technique adapted to people from Western cultures.

I learned to collect experiences and not necessarily memories, which can be disputed. I don’t mind sitting for three hours in a Paris café or spending a day wandering through the streets of Berlin, without noting a single monument or having a single incident that I could recount. I gave up on income to do what I enjoy – like, for instance, writing about happiness and music.

Above all, it has become clear that our best hours are spent in the company of people we like. With this resource, it pays to be generous.

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