Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Does our Pursuit of Happiness hinder Getting Things Done?

Taking a bit of a flyer on this one. Not particularly thought through, but it struck me in preparation for a talk entitled The Science of Happiness.

In a line from Daniel Nettle’s great book ‘Happiness, The Science behind your Smile’   he states ‘…happiness, though, is not calculated by a simple summing up of all the positive moments and a subtraction of the negative ones. It also involves more complex cognitive processes, such as comparison with alternative possible outcomes (note: this quote refers to something he calls ‘level two happiness’ which is all about ‘judgements about the balance of feelings’. A hybrid of emotion and judgement about emotion.

Now it’s a very pop. psychology way of thinking about it, but could this element of our happiness ‘assessment’ also operate as a pre-assessment in advance of activities?

Mark Forster’s view in Do It Tomorrow: of the ‘Reactive Brain as a lizard sitting on a rock in the sun. If it sees a threat, such as a predator, it scuttles under the rock and freezes’ analogises what came to mind.

We assess happiness post-event against a comparison with alternative possible outcomes. ‘What we are programmed for by evolution is not happiness itself, but a set of beliefs about the kind of things that bring happiness, and a disposition to pursue them’ (Nettle p14). If you put these two things together, could you not argue that we have an inbuilt procrastination tool as the downside of our pursuit of happiness?

If we are disposed to pursue the things that bring us happiness then there is the obvious answer that work will be hard to motivate to do. But is the problem mainly that without specific pre-work activity we can’t model the alternative possible outcomes to judge our happiness against? Do we have to plan for the successful outcome? Does procrastination arise mainly where we cannot directly deliver to our disposition to pursue those activities that bring us happiness.

IkesWorld post and quote from British prime minister and author Benjamin Disraeli, “Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.” nails it for me.

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