Happiness Experienced Versus Remembered
A friend of mine sent me a link to a lecture given by a Noble-prizing winning economist. The topic is happiness — yes, I’ve been into this topic on-and-off during my sabbatical. He talks about two different ways to look at happiness. When most people talk about being happy, or unhappy, they tend to be unclear about which kind of happiness they’re referring to.
Briefly, this guy talks about happiness in how it’s experienced, versus how it’s remembered. It’s the difference between asking “are you happy right now, at this moment?” or “have you had a happy life?” If you dive into this a little bit, you’ll realize that these are very different things, and they more often than not don’t correlate with one another.
It was said that anyone who’s ever lived in the Sahara for sometime invariably remember the experience as the best in their lives. I cannot imagine that living in terrible heat, dryness, sand storms brings happiness in the present tense. But I also believe that people who experience it will in fact remember it fondly. Conversely, we can all think of things we did that made us happy there and then, but our memory of that experience is painful. And most the happiness or misery experienced don’t register at all in our memories. (Although I think our experiences, even if not remembered consciously, do change who we are.)
Picking up where this lectures leaves off, it seems to me that our lives exist in the mingling of these two streams. Many of our core values, when examined deeply, reflect which of these two types of happiness we value more. The stoic, the industrious, the religious, tend to value memory. They toil and struggle in order to be satisfied looking back at what was accomplished. Religion makes a difference, because if you believe in afterlife, you probably also believe that you’ll take your memories with you for eternity. That makes memory far more important. An atheist would believe that momentary happiness, even if it leaves no imprint, should count for something because memories are ultimately ephemeral too.
You can watch the video here.