Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

05 DECEMBER, 2011

Kathryn Schulz on the Psychology of Regret and How to Live with It

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Three keys to making peace with regret, or what maritime travel has to do with curbside meltdowns.

My friend Kathryn Schulz, who penned the excellent book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error and who is, in my opinion, one of the finest, bravest, most thoughtful journalists working today, recently gave a TED talk about regret. As the new owner of ink that makes me very happy, what got me to pay even closer attention was Kathryn’s extended example of her own tattoo as a lens for examining the psychology of regret, a vehicle for her characteristically potent formula of universal wisdom channelled through personal anecdotes and hard data.

Make sure you watch to the very end, it’s well worth it.

If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or lose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them… We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly — it reminds us that we know we can do better.”

For a related TED treat on imperfection and vulnerability, don’t miss Brené Brown’s wonderful talk on wholeheartedness, then add some of these essential books on the psychology of happiness to your reading list.

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02 DECEMBER, 2011

The Secret of Life from Steve Jobs in 46 Seconds

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“Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been as long as it has since Steve Jobs died. And yet, despite all the personal remembrances and timeless quotes and unearthed documentaries, this 46-second interview excerpt featured in a recent PBS documentary on Jobs captures his wisdom, his genius, and his vision for life more articulately and succinctly than anything else.

When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

The footage actually comes from a 1995 interview conducted by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, while Jobs was still at NeXT, with the missing parts and no PBS-esque docu-dramatic music score:

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Also from SCVHA’s interview, Jobs’ thoughts on failure:

Most people never pick up the phone, most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail… if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

(Cue in famous creators on the fear of failure.)

For more of Jobs’ wisdom and timeless insights on technology and psychology — at the intersection of which, one might argue, shone his true genius — don’t forget the excellent I, Steve.

HT @nickbilton

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02 NOVEMBER, 2011

Balloons for Bhutan: Jonathan Harris Documents Happiness

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A portrait of happiness in the last Himalayan kingdom.

Since 1972, Bhutan has been attracting international attention as the only country in the world that quantifies its nation’s well-being not by Gross National Product, the narrow and soulless measure of our economic monoculture, but by Gross National Happiness. In 2007, artist Jonathan Harris ( ) traveled to Bhutan to explore the Gross National Happiness paradigm. Balloons for Bhutan documents his effort to capture “a portrait of happiness in the last Himalayan kingdom” in his signature style of multimedia storytelling.

Harris asked 117 people of various ages, occupations, education levels, and social status five questions related to happiness: What makes them happy; what is their happiest memory; what is their favorite joke; what is their happiness level on a scale of 1 to 10; if they could make one wish, what would that be. He then gave each person the number of balloons corresponding to their stated happiness, and wrote each person’s wish on the balloon of their favorite color. On the final night of his journey, he strung up the inflated balloons at Duchala, a sacred mountain pass at 10,000 feet, bobbing amidst Buddhist prayer flags.

Here’s an excerpt from Harris’s 2007 EG / TED talk, where he talks about the project:

Explore the project in its full audiovisual glory for the complete effect. Then, grab some of these 7 essential books on the art and science of happiness to better understand this complex, universal aspiration.

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01 NOVEMBER, 2011

You Are Not So Smart: A Field Guide to the Brain’s Guile

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The science of why 600 Facebook “friends” are an illusion, or why brand loyalty is a product of the ego.

We spend most of our lives going around believing we are rational, logical beings who make carefully weighted decisions based on objective facts in stable circumstances. Of course, as both a growing body of research and our own retrospective experience demonstrate, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For the past three years, David McRaney’s cheekily titled yet infinitely intelligent You Are Not So Smart has been one of my favorite smart blogs, tirelessly debunking the many ways in which our minds play tricks on us and the false interpretations we have of those trickeries. This month, YANSS joins my favorite blog-turned-book success stories with You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself — an illuminating and just the right magnitude of uncomfortable almanac of some of the most prevalent and enduring lies we tell ourselves.

The original trailer for the book deals with something the psychology of which we’ve previously explored — procrastination:

And this excellent alternative trailer is a straight shot to our favorite brilliant book trailers:

From confirmation bias — our tendency to seek out information, whether or not it’s true, that confirms our existing beliefs, something all the more perilous in the age of the filter bubble — to Dunbar’s Number, our evolution-imposed upper limit of 150 friends, which pulls into question those common multi-hundred Facebook “friendships,” McRaney blends the rigor of his career as a journalist with his remarkable penchant for synthesis, humanizing some of the most important psychology research of the past century and framing it in the context of our daily lives.

Despite his second-person directive narrative, McRaney manages to keep his tone from being preachy or patronizing, instead weaving an implicit “we” into his “you” to encompass all our shared human fallibility.

From the greatest scientist to the most humble artisan, every brain within every body is infested with preconceived notions and patterns of thought that lead it astray without the brain knowing it. So you are in good company. No matter who your idols and mentors are, they too are prone to spurious speculation.” ~ David McRaney

And in the age of Books That Should’ve Stayed Articles, it’s refreshing to see McRaney distill each of these complex phenomena in articulate, lucid narratives just the right length to be stimulating without being tediously prolix.

You Are Not So Smart is positively one of the smartest books to come by this year — no illusion there.

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