Things We think make us happy : True Love, Perfect Body & Good Grades

This wasn’t mentioned in our discussion and I think it comes up, which is one of the goals we have. One of the ways we spend our money is, we like to acquire awesome stuff, right? If you don’t believe me I bet some of you could fill this in, if only I had blank, I would be so happy. And you going to fill this in with little things, if only I had like a new pair of boots, I only I had a jacket. Today I was thinking, if only I had a pan that didn’t have scratches on the bottom of it when I was trying to make your banana bread today. Or you could think in terms of the big things, like when you get out of here, if only I had like, a house with this awesome pool in a pretty, sunny neighborhood. If only I had a nice Benz, they go through this like, this is what we think of is good stuff that’s going to make us happy, otherwise we wouldn’t buy stuff this expensive, right? Presumably, we buy it to be happy, and because some of you know from my other class that I really like old school hip hop. i have to give a nod to, I think, the one cultural genre that really tells us to like awesome stuff.

Here is back in the day when you really wanted your JVC boombox and your hat and your gold. That’s the old-school hip-hop, but even hip-hop today has all these things. One of my favorite ones is, if you look at references in hip-hop songs to awesome cars, this website actually quantified this, which I love because I’m a data nerd. But here’s, quantified by, all the mentions of different expensive cars in hip-hop. >> [LAUGH] >> And as you might expect, if you listen to hip-hop, this is the Benz, there’s 5,000 references in hip hop songs. They even quantify particular cars, like that one, the Cadillac, it’s an Impala, that’s the best Cadillac. Anyway the point is, these are songs that are mentioning all these stuff.

If you didn’t think that is going to make you happy or make your life better, they wouldn’t mention it, right. Not just cars, if you listen to hip hop, also good drinks, specific drinks are good. This is like the, it’s a different, Hennessey, Cristal, right. But the point is, do you think this awesome stuff from awesome drinks to good clothes or, we think this is going to make us happier. Otherwise, we would not pay the money to get this stuff, right, but does it actually makes us happier? Is awesome stuff making us happier? Well, you already saw data suggesting that that’s not the case right? These folks in the 1940s didnt have half the awesome stuff that you guys probably buy to make your lives happier, like a new iPhone or a new laptop or a new kind of clothes. They just didn’t have that stuff, but they were just as happy. In fact, as we’ll see, there’s lots of metrics showing that stuff doesn’t actually make us as happy as we think.

The other thing that science is learning is that thinking about stuff, kind of being materialistic, wanting stuff, and sort of striving to get it. Seems to actually make us worse off than we would be at baseline. And we know this from another survey of freshmen that Nickerson et al did. This time they’re surveying freshman attitudes, it’s a little bit old, but I think it’s even more apt today. Freshmen attitudes about materialism, like how much do you want nice stuff? How much do you want a nice computer, how much do you want these nice things? And then what they did was, the reason it’s in 1976 is that they were able to go back 20 years later and test what predictions those materialist attitudes had about life satisfaction much later. So they ask you guys now when you’re in school here, and they come back to you 20 years later when you’re my age and say, how’s your life? And they say does your materialist attitudes predict anything later?

And what they find is that those people who reported materialist attitudes that wanted stuff had lower life satisfaction than these non-materialists two decades later. It’s kind of like, if you spend 20 years seeking out all this stuff, you are not necessarily going to be happy.

So it doesn’t just make you happy, it makes you unhappy, and in fact, if you actually look at DSM diagnosed mental health disorders, those materialists had more. So get rid of those of materialist attitudes now, it’s not going to help you later. And so does awesome stuff really make us happier, not really. And seeking it out might actually make us way less happy than we could be. So awesome stuff, if you’re spending your money on that, not happy. Okay, let’s jump to some of the other stuff, true love, this day I’ll be making this very cute coy face right, true love, the love the thing. Many of you kind of believe this, right, that if you just meet somebody. If you just kind of get out of hook up culture and get in a real relationship eventually.

Or maybe even get married, that this is going to make you happy. Lots of lay intuitions, we could go through the cultural intuitions that predict that true love is going to make us happily ever after, like all the Disney movies you guys grew up with, but is this really true? Is kind of falling in love, particularly getting married, actually going to make us happier? Well, we can look to data to look at this, as Lucas and his colleges did. They were surveying a big group of people over many years. And what happens if you survey a big group of people is, their life circumstances change. Some of these folks are actually getting married in their sample that they started in college, so it was a little smaller. A certain number of people got married and they got asked, aha, are those married folks happier than the non-married folks? And if they are happier, how long does it last? What do they find, well, what they find is that married people are in fact happier in that first year or two. There is this honeymoon effect where you report being happier. But sadly, after that, it goes back to baseline. Married people are just as happy as the non married people. And if you self report that your marriage is not a happy marriage, it can get even worse.

Here’s just another data set on that, from a German population that was studied by a different group of researchers. This is reporting happiness relative to point zero, which is the time that you get married. And all those bars with the star, or the dots with the star, are ones where your happiness is statistically different from baseline. So right in the two years when you meet your partner right before you get married, your happiness is statistically higher than baseline, it goes up. And then in that honeymoon, it stays up, but then basically after year two, you’re just back at baseline again. Here’s a case where yes, maybe true love makes us happier a little bit. You get that little two year window, but it also kind of pops you back to baseline. This big life event that you think is really going to change things around. Finally, so we drop off true love, because we’re in part here for the new year and we’re organizing all these wellness activities and so on.

Another thing that didn’t come up that you might think might make you happy, or at least people spend a lot of money on to make you happy, Is this idea of maybe having a perfect face of body or so on. And we’re a couple of weeks into the new year, so if you’re in Facebook and things, you’re seeing images like this. In magazines, People Magazine talking about people losing weight, and you think if you use ten pounds, you’re going to be happier, and so on. Does this really actually make you happier? Well, again, we can look at the data as Jackson and colleagues did. They had actually had a survey of about 2,000 obese individuals. So individuals for whom they really, at least in terms of the health, maybe should be losing weight. And so what they do is they follow these folks for about four years during their diet program. And the neat thing is that they just picked these folks to follow, they’re all doing the same program. And a couple things are going to happen, some people in this program are actually going to lose weight, which is what the program was aimed at doing. Some people in this group are going to gain weight, because that’s what happens, by chance. And some people in the group are going to weigh the same. And the question is, from time one to time two when they started this program, are they going to be happy? All of them that started this program because they thought weight loss was going to make them happy. So here are the data, I’m just going to plot how much of folks have a depressed mood, so now bigger bars are worse. And so here’s folks that lose weight, folks that are stable on their weight, and folks that gain weight. And at baseline, they’re about the same, but four years later, in fact, the folks that lost weight are actually in the worst category. They’re the ones reporting the most depressed mood. And if anything, it’s almost like double the kinds of depressed mood that we see in other folks.

The only thing, the sad thing is being in a weight loss program, no matter what your result is, seems to make you more depressed, which is kind of sad. But particularly if you’re successful with this weight loss program, you get more depressed. So it seems like all these things about losing weight, we predict that it’s going to make us happy. But it’s kind of like a visual illusion, it’s just not going to make us as happy as we think. What about more extreme forms of body changes like cosmetic surgery, people who are really, really worried about their own nose or their breasts or something? Is actually getting these changes going to make you happier?
We have a little bit of data on this from Von Soest and colleagues. They actually looked at a particular group of individuals who can maybe get cosmetic surgeries, such as teenagers. So they’re surveying adolescents across time over 13 years. And again, just by chance, they’re going to have some population or some portion of this folks who undergo cosmetic surgery. And so the question is, does that actually make them happier? The first thing they worried about, since there’s a small percentage, they said, well, maybe the adolescents that actually get cosmetic surgery are just at baseline less happy people, right? Maybe there’s something about them that makes them get cosmetic surgery that makes them different from the other group. And so that’s what we’re going to report here, this is just before surgery, who gets plastic surgery, is that the kind of thing that makes you unhappy? And the answer seems to be yes, if you look at these different measures of physical appearance, obviously they’d probably like their physical appearance less. But also kind of not great things like suicidal ideation, alcohol use, conduct disorder problems.

The cosmetic surgery people, the people who’d eventually get cosmetic surgery, were already worse than other folks. So actually getting it is probably a bad sign anyway, but what happens after you get it? Well, the answer is that all those negative measures actually get worse. So all the negative measure’s they’re looking at get worse, after the fact. So it’s kind of not actually helping you, if anything, it seems to be making it worse. And so does beauty really make us happy? Do these changes in beauty we think are going to make us happy, like losing weight, or changing our hair, do they make us happy? The answer seems to be no, in fact, these extreme changes in our looks or maybe even having these looks goals at all seems to actually reduce our well being. These things that people spend all this money on not actually making them happy. Finally, because you guys, all right, so cross out having a perfect body.

because you guys are Yale’s and the first thing you said, which I was so happy that you said is that, the thing that you want most this semester is getting the perfect grades. This is the thing I think of all the visual illusions, the one you believe most strongly, is this going to make you happy? This is from Overheard at Yale a couple years ago. >> [LAUGH] >> And everybody’s so scared about this, this is like looking at this the system when your grades come in, so you probably just had this. But is it actually going to make you happy? Well, luckily, there are data on this, Livia and colleagues actually did a big survey, thousands of students in the UC system. So these are the students, making you predict how you will feel if you get grades that are better or worse than you expect. So here’s the prompt, it says, if you get a grade that is lower or higher than you expect, how happy will you feel? And so here’s their scale, all the scales are going to change around across different studies. But this is a one to nine, where nine is the most happy, one is the worst happy.

So let’s play along, pick the class that first comes to mind, or the class you’re going to have this semester. And how will you feel if you get a grade in that class that’s higher than you expect, on a scale from 1-9? You’re like, I’m going to get this grade, and open the Yale system, and it’s like, it’s better than you thought, what do you predict?  Nine, eight, nine, okay, very high. Okay, so now the same scenario, that class you’re thinking of, you have this grade that you think you’re getting it. You go in sys, and it’s way less than that, it’s lower than you expect, how are you going to feel, one to nine? Four, five, one, there’s some ones in there.

Okay, you guys are honest, that’s good, okay, so that’s the prediction. And in fact, if you look at what people predict in the study, you get results that look a lot like this. So here’s their predicted, when you get higher than expected, people are like, I’m going to be super happy, on maybe an eight. You get what you expect, you’re still pretty happy what you expect. But you get lower than you expect, you’re low, around a four, almost exactly the average you guys just said. So what really happens, what horrible things happen if you get lower than you expect? Or wonderful things happen if you get higher than you expect? Here are the actual data, so they actually go back and tell people to log in with sys. When they see their grade, they’re like, hey, how do you feel? What you find is that the higher than you expected is way less high than you expect. It’s still good, you’re still kind of mostly happy, but not as good as you expect. In fact, not really any different from getting what you expected on getting higher ones. But the amazing thing is that getting lower than you expect, yeah, it’s a little less. But not statistically less, and in fact, it’s way better than you guys actually predict. Basically, it’s not actually going to affect your happiness that much. And this is right when you find out what your grade is, not months later, when you’ve processed it and come to terms with it, like you guys are now, for your fall semester.

When you find out, it doesn’t matter to you as much as you think. And so, our grades, perfect grades will make you happier, not as much as we think.