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Home » The Riddle of Experience Vs. Memory: Daniel Kahneman (Transcript)

The Riddle of Experience Vs. Memory: Daniel Kahneman (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Daniel Kahneman’s talk titled “The Riddle of Experience Vs. Memory” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:

TRANSCRIPT:

The Fascination with Happiness

Everybody talks about happiness these days. I had somebody count the number of books with “happiness” in the title published in the last five years, and they gave up after about 40, and there were many more. There is a huge wave of interest in happiness, among researchers. There is a lot of happiness coaching. Everybody would like to make people happier.

But in spite of all this flood of work, there are several cognitive traps that sort of make it almost impossible to think straight about happiness. And my talk today will be mostly about these cognitive traps. This applies to laypeople thinking about their own happiness, and it applies to scholars thinking about happiness, because it turns out we’re just as messed up as anybody else is.

Cognitive Traps in Understanding Happiness

The first of these traps is a reluctance to admit complexity. It turns out that the word “happiness” is just not a useful word anymore, because we apply it to too many different things. I think there is one particular meaning to which we might restrict it, but by and large, this is something that we’ll have to give up and we’ll have to adopt the more complicated view of what well-being is.

The second trap is a confusion between experience and memory; basically, it’s between being happy in your life, and being happy about your life or happy with your life. And those are two very different concepts, and they’re both lumped in the notion of happiness. And the third is the focusing illusion, and it’s the unfortunate fact that we can’t think about any circumstance that affects well-being without distorting its importance. I mean, this is a real cognitive trap. There’s just no way of getting it right.

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