A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist says most people don’t really want to be happy

We think we want to be happy. Yet many of us are actually working toward some other end, according to cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics.

Kahneman contends that happiness and satisfaction are distinct. Happiness is a momentary experience that arises spontaneously and is fleeting. Meanwhile, satisfaction is a long-term feeling, built over time and based on achieving goals and building the kind of life you admire. On the Dec. 19 podcast “Conversations with Tyler,” hosted by economist Tyler Cowen, Kahneman explains that working toward one goal may undermine our ability to experience the other.

For example, in Kahneman’s research measuring everyday happiness—the experiences that leave people feeling good—he found that spending time with friends was highly effective. Yet those focused on long-term goals that yield satisfaction don’t necessarily prioritize socializing, as they’re busy with the bigger picture.

Such choices led Kahneman to conclude that we’re not as interested in happiness as we may claim. “Altogether, I don’t think that people maximize happiness in that sense…this doesn’t seem to be what people want to do. They actually want to maximize their satisfaction with themselves and with their lives. And that leads in completely different directions than the maximization of happiness,” he says.

In an October interview with Ha’aretz (paywall), Kahneman argues that satisfaction is based mostly on comparisons. “Life satisfaction is connected to a large degree to social yardsticks–achieving goals, meeting expectations.” He notes that money has a significant influence on life satisfaction, whereas happiness is affected by money only when funds are lacking. Poverty creates suffering, but above a certain level of income that satisfies our basic needs, wealth doesn’t increase happiness. “The graph is surprisingly flat,” the psychologist says.

In other words, if you aren’t hungry, and if clothing, shelter, and your other basics are covered, you’re capable of being at least as happy as the world’s wealthiest people. The fleeting feelings of happiness, though, don’t add up to life satisfaction. Looking back, a person who has had many happy moments may not feel pleased on the whole.

The key here is memory. Satisfaction is retrospective. Happiness occurs in real time. In Kahneman’s work, he found that people tell themselves a story about their lives, which may or may not add up to a pleasing tale. Yet, our day-to-day experiences yield positive feelings that may not advance that longer story, necessarily. Memory is enduring. Feelings pass. Many of our happiest moments aren’t preserved—they’re not all caught on camera but just happen. And then they’re gone.

Take going on vacation, for example. According to the psychologist, a person who knows they can go on a trip and have a good time but that their memories will be erased, and that they can’t take any photos, might choose not to go after all. The reason for this is that we do things in anticipation of creating satisfying memories to reflect on later. We’re somewhat less interested in actually having a good time.

This theory helps to explain our current social media-driven culture. To some extent, we care less about enjoying ourselves than presenting the appearance of an enviable existence. We’re preoccupied with quantifying friends and followers rather than spending time with people we like. And ultimately, this makes us miserable.

We feel happiness primarily in the company of others, Kahneman argues. However, the positive psychology movement that has arisen in part as a result of his work doesn’t emphasize spontaneity and relationships. Instead, it takes a longer view, considering what makes life meaningful, which is a concept that Kahneman claims eludes him.

Kahneman counts himself lucky and “fairly happy.” He says he’s led “an interesting life” because he’s spent much of his time working with people whose company he enjoyed. But he notes that there have been periods when he worked alone on writing that were “terrible,” when he felt “miserable.” He also says he doesn’t consider his existence meaningful, despite his notable academic accomplishments.

Indeed, although his contributions legitimized the emotion as an economic and social force and led to the creation of happiness indices worldwide, the psychologist abandoned the field of happiness research about five years ago. He’s now researching and writing about the concept of “noise,” or random data that interferes with wise decision-making.

Still, it’s worth asking if we want to be happy, to experience positive feelings, or simply wish to construct narratives that seems worth telling ourselves and others, but doesn’t necessarily yield pleasure. Meet a friend and talk it over with them—you might have a good time. 

5 Reasons Conventional Doctors Ignore Alternative Medicine

By now, you probably have come to realize that something is not quite right with the current health care system that dominates today. It has become a dictating, disease managing, and complicated mess that has generally left more people sick than healthy. Sure, it’s great for emergency and acute care, but when it comes to eradicating disease, it hasn’t even sniffed the coffee yet.

So when other options exist, such as alternative medicine, that have proven track records for helping people actually uproot the cause of their suffering, why has conventional medicine typically deemed it as quackery?


Turns out, there are 5 main reasons.

Closed Thinkers

The selection process of medicals students is primarily dependent on college grades, which simply means regurgitating what has been taught to them by presumed authorities. If they question this knowledge or authority, their grades typically suffer which will negatively affect their ability to land a job in their profession later.

Due to this system, a medical dogma is created that is incredibly hard to break and the very thought of thinking “outside the box” brings a level of cognitive dissonance and ridicule from peers that makes it nearly impossible for medical students and doctors to consider other options like alternative medicine.

Taught To Departmentalize

Medical schools tend to be organized into organ-specific departments. The idea that there may be an underlying link to disease originating in different areas of the body is not recognized in this type of framework. The body is treated as parts that are completely independent of each other with little bearing on each others function.

This makes diagnosis much easier when you don’t need to consider other areas that could complicate a diagnosis. It also makes it easier to slap a label on a patient, prescribe a medication, and send them on their way in 7 minutes or less.

So when alternative medicine considers more holistic factors that challenge departmentalization, it is a complete culture shock to departmentalized trained students, who can’t even fathom this “subordinate” system.


With abundant financial rewards in “rescue” medicine (interventions that treat symptoms), and much less monetary value in trying to prevent illness or correct it at the root (thereby losing a “customer”), it becomes very difficult for a medical student weighed down by academic debts to choose the latter.

Considering that the top 11 drug companies globally made almost 85 billion in profit in 2012, the thought of working for any other system seems implausible from an economics standpoint. Early indoctrination, huge debts, and a much more attractive financial reward system, makes alternative medicine an option that is rarely considered.

Nutrition Education Is Non-Existent

With medical schools so focussed on learning the intimate details of diagnosing and prescribing due to the profitability of such a system, the major factor for true health gets nearly completely ignored. That component is nutrition.

Doctors study nutrition for a few hours to a few days in what is a long and arduous degree. It is a mere fraction of what they learn, so if they do want such knowledge, they are on their own to get it. However, with such a profitable system in place that relatively ignores it, most do not go out of their way to learn this cornerstone of the alternative field.

However, some doctors are being “forced” to learn more about nutrition, as patients become more knowledgeable with proven information that is being freely shared on sites such as Natural News andHealing the Body.

Too Busy To Gain More Knowledge

Becoming a conventional doctor is a long and intense process of studying, testing, and working around the clock. This intense schedule often does not abate, and could get worse, depending on the doctors success and their location. As a result of increasing demands put on them by an ever growing sick population, continuing their education is often limited and often limited to events put on or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.

This limits professional growth and keeps the doctor firmly inside the conventional system, not allowing them to expand their knowledge significantly into realms of alternative medicine, such as nutrition. As a result, they continue to learn more of the same and never are allowed to fully appreciate and understand the benefits of alternative and holistic practices.

I am happy to hear that there are some doctors currently in the system who understand the limits of conventional medicine, and as a result are incorporating forms of alternative medicine into their practice, in order to truly serve the needs of the people.

However, your absolute best solution to become well is to put the majority of the power in your hands, since you make 99.99% of your health decisions on a daily basis. All you need is a strong working knowledge and some support, and you can become much more effective on creating your own health care system in your home.