You don’t know what makes you happy

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We all love genies, don’t we? Three wishes and poof our life changes just like that. More money, more happiness, shiny washboard abs, big creepy houses, perfect spouses that pop out kids who devise crazy 5th dimension theories on their day of birth… Our wishes are endless. We know what makes us happy, or DO WE?

When Fraser in the movie “Bedazzled” wishes to be the most sensitive man, he ends up crying for the sunset. He wishes to be an athlete, ends up being a 7 feet basketball star with a tiny heat-seeking moisture missile coupled with low intelligence. And things go berserk when he wishes to be the president. He ends up being Lincoln on the night of his Assassination.

What packages do our wishes come along with? Do we really know what we want?


Our brains aren’t as reliable as we think them to be. Don’t believe me? Hear this out…

Say you’re sick and have a doctor’s appointment. What first comes to your mind? Waiting for your turn, finally seeing the creepy doctor who looks like a mad scientist from 1950s. He examines your tongue, checks your breath, loads medicine into what looks like a tranquillizer with heinous look on his face, shoves the injection straight into your butt and looks you straight into your eyes with a sinister look, that makes wanna you poop your pants. Ain’t I, right? But…

I bet you would have missed these: Your way to doctor’s office, or fixing an appointment, how the receptionist behaves to you, the conditions of your fellow patients… I could go on.

We imagine the central details that directly affect us (Positively or Negatively), but we don’t think of the indirect events, our car could break down on our way to doctor’s office, we could pass out before we even get to see the doc, or the doc could be a kind empathetic guy than what we wish to believe.

We aren’t very good at anticipating. Our brains react very differently than how we imagine them to. It’s better to look at yourself as two individual selves. The imaginary self and the future self, how you wish you will react vs how you will actually react. Here’s another reason why you shouldn’t trust yourself blindly.

Let’s say you’re 18. How will you change in the next 10 years? Will you love going to late night clubs, hangovers, partying all day with your friends? Will you love listening to “Despacito” on loop till your ears beg you to stop? Whatever you love doing would you still love doing it even after 10 years? Rate on a scale of 1 to 10. (1= least change, 10 = most change) You probably would have gone for the low numbers.

But when 28-year-olds were interviewed, they tell us that they changed significantly in the past 10 years. We believe we would stick with our current beliefs, ideas and under-wears like forever. But the truth is that we change significantly.

If that’s not enough to prove that we don’t know what we want, consider this. You’re asked to go on a blind date. And you are given two options.

  1. Get to know all their details prior to the date. Interests, hobbies, favourite foods OR
  2. Inquire about the experience of someone who had already gone on a date with them.

You would probably choose “a”. But research shows that people who chose “b” where much happier. If the latter option was right why would the trickster residing between our ears lie to us that “a” was better? Check out this podcast


Our memory sucks and I am going to prove it to you.

  • Munch
  • Chew
  • Dine
  • Feed
  • Swallow
  • Digest
  • Devour
  • Ingest
  • Gobble
  • Bite
  • Snack

Now scroll down to hide the list, here’s a question for you. Which of the following words was not on the list? Dine, bite, eat or Internet? Internet is the right answer but the other right answer is “Eat”. As you read down the words your brain stores “a bunch of words related to eating” rather than storing every word. Though this a good strategy for remembering, the fact that we were tricked by our brain remains unchanged.Daniel Gilbert. (2006). Stumbling on happiness, Part 3 – Realism, Your brain reviving the tapestry of your experience, it mistakenly included a word that was implied by the gist but that had not actually appeared, Page 89.

Ninety per cent of long term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.

Shawn achor

Every time we make a decision “on our own”, unconscious biases pop in like uninvited guests working against our big-fat ego distorting objective reality.

Here are a few elite performers…


Let’s say you believe “Left-handed people are more creative than right ones”. Your belief gets strengthened as you cross a creative left-hander. Stronger the belief, harder it becomes to accept contradictory beliefs. Whenever someone tells you that their friend is creative, you cannot help but wonder “They’re creative which probably means they must be left-handed”.

Your friend argues lefties aren’t creative but you refuse. And you intentionally seek out for creative lefties; considering them as proof, disregarding contradictory examples (i.e., Creative right-handed people or non-creative left-handed ones). Confirmation bias is to be blamed. And this affects life decisions too. I cannot stop but wonder what happens if we believe “Penises could fly” and confirmation bias did its job. Fascinus, the winged penis god in Ancient Rome(Guess what these people did) What sort of evidence would we look for? Gross!


You believe a boatload of money will make you happy. And confirmation bias goes to work. You intentionally seek out for “happy” rich people as proof, disregarding contradictory evidence. And guess what? You work in shitty jobs that you don’t love just because it gives you money. And you aren’t satisfied either.


Be open to disagreements, accept that your beliefs are flawed, question your beliefs and break the cocoon that you have built around yourself.


How will your life change in the next ten years? Maybe you get a promotion, a better job, pop out a couple of intelligent kids, buy a house, a fancy car, become more fit, have a gorgeous spouse? Sounds perfect? How about suffering a divorce, die of a car accident, make wrong career decisions, overestimate the success of your stock market predictions only to end up broke?

Optimism bias
Typical, right?

We love flying over rainbows on our pink unicorns and believe our house wouldn’t be swooped off by a goddamn tornado. We love to imagine that we’re less likely to suffer negative events than that of positive ones, exactly what optimism bias does.


This leads us to make faulty decisions, not considering risks and engage in risky behaviours. Consider something as simple as not wearing your seatbelt, or jumping off a cliff with no parachute(Huh?)


Wear your helmets, seat belts and get health insurances (Seriously!). Don’t take a leap of faith with mutual funds and stock market decisions. Take calculated risks.


We always cringe that our hard work goes unrecognized. People fail to acknowledge us as Stephen Hawkings and Michael Jordans that live amongst the mediocrity. Don’t we? But what if we were average? What if we weren’t as talented and as successful as we thought?

This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a bias that disillusions ourselves into overestimating our ability. This effect disorients us with a false sense of confidence. People who are starting to learn something new are more likely to fall for this.

Dunning-Kruger effect
That’s what you call real talent!


Not being aware of your shortcomings plants the seed of ignorance in you and might place a halt in your growth, leading to a plateau and finally you give up without realizing your true potential.


If you’re a budding photographer, programmer, graphic designer, or any field you choose to excel in, the best thing to do is to step outside of yourself and seek for the objective truth. Testing your skills constantly and considering the opinion of other people would help a ton.


You go through your mundane life, day in, day out. But something feels different today. Your fellow colleagues love your dress and appreciate you for getting a new client. Your boss halts the entire office, calls you up the spotlight, hugs you and announces you the employee of the month. (Okay! That hugging part happens like never-on-planet-earth) You walk back home wondering how great this day was, but someone runs into you. He doesn’t stop, curses you a bastard and runs away.

You turn from a mouth-watering iced chocolate cake into a walking TNT, ready to combust at any given second. Why? Despite your great day at the office, why does some stranger’s curse hurts you so much?

Negative stuff takes a bigger toll on our brain than the positive ones, negative bias is to be blamed. Baumeister, Roy F.; Finkenauer, Catrin; Vohs, Kathleen D. (2001). “Bad is stronger than good”Review of General Psychology. (4): 323–370. Remember your childhood humiliating moments that your friends would have forgotten, but still stings you like a stab in the stomach? I do! Like once when I had a crazy haircut, my friends… never mind!


It impacts your behaviour, relationships and decisions. You avoid risks at ANY COST, for instance: You reject big career opportunities for risks that have little to negligible negative impacts. Like turning down a career just because people don’t find it “normal”, though you love it and have significant skill in it.


The next time things you worry about things that could go wrong, ask yourself. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Is it something I need to worry about? What’s the worst that could happen? Most probably it won’t be something significant.


How will you be happy if I gift you a brand new Ferrari? Or say you won a billion-dollar lottery? Won’t you be happier? Now, will you be happier if you lost both your legs in an accident, or become paraplegic? That sounds tragic, but research suggests that after one year of winning the lottery or losing your legs your happiness levels remain the same.“Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1978, Vol. 36, No. 8, 917-927. Impact bias does its homework. The tendency to overestimate the length or the intensity of future emotional states. This is called impact bias.

We believe love will complete us, money and fortune will make us happy, run around in circles preaching “SPD emergency” believing it would give fancy suits and powers(Wait you haven’t?). We buy fancy cars, go on exotic vacations that we can’t afford thinking that it grants you life-satisfaction. But it doesn’t. At least no the way you wanted it to.


We end up chasing pleasures that wouldn’t contend us the way we expect us to and make our current lives nothing short of hell.


The realization that nothing you crave for satisfies you, would surely help. If you catch yourself imagining “I would be happy if I had X”, ask yourself “Really is that so? Or is it just another craving?”


Cringing about your brain for the past 10-or-so minutes will make you wonder “If I cannot trust my brain, whom should I? The couch potato neighbour, who pees in his pants finding it lazy to go to the bathroom?”

Hey buddy wake up! I need your help!

It’s about creating a sense of doubt, questioning your beliefs and realizing your thoughts are not as important as you believe is more important. This simple awareness improves your relationships, helps you make better choices and you become a less awful person. The human condition is to lie to oneself and forget that one is lying and the importance of being aware of your shortcomings, biases, achieving intellectual humility cannot be exerted enough.

We’re unreliable, we cannot trust ourselves, we’re flawed. Though we feel as if we know everything, we don’t. That’s what makes us beautiful, imperfect and human being.

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  1. Check out this podcast
  2. Daniel Gilbert. (2006). Stumbling on happiness, Part 3 – Realism, Your brain reviving the tapestry of your experience, it mistakenly included a word that was implied by the gist but that had not actually appeared, Page 89.
  3. Fascinus, the winged penis god in Ancient Rome.
  4. Baumeister, Roy F.; Finkenauer, Catrin; Vohs, Kathleen D. (2001). “Bad is stronger than good”Review of General Psychology. (4): 323–370.
  5. “Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1978, Vol. 36, No. 8, 917-927.

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