Predicting happiness when making choices

From “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth” by Diener and Biswas-Diener, 2008:

There are several predictable thinking errors people commonly make that lead them to incorrectly predict their own future emotions in general, and future happiness in particular:

  1. Focusing on a single salient feature or period of time in a choice, rather than looking at the big picture.
  2. Overestimating the long-term impact of our choices.
  3. Forgetting that happiness is an ongoing process, not a destination
  4. Paying too much attention to external information while overlooking personal preferences and experience.
  5. Trying to maximize decisions rather than focusing on personal satisfaction.
  6. Confusing wanting something for liking it later, and forgetting to evaluate whether we will enjoy the choice once its novelty wears off.

The good news is that by identifying these errors and learning about why they occur, we can guard against them. We may never be able to overcome them entirely, but we certainly can reduce their impact on our lives. By considering a wide range of information, by remembering our ability to cope and adapt, by tapping personal experience, and by remembering that happiness is an ongoing process, you will be far more likely to make decisions that will make you optimally happy. To make good happiness forecasts, get some experience when you can, and check with others who have had similar experiences to the one you will have. Focus on the entire picture, not just on some salient aspect of it, and think what it will be like after a year, not just during the initial period when things may be either more stressful or more exciting. By becoming a good happiness forecaster, through practice and experience, you will substantially increase your psychological wealth.

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