Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Explaining the Parenthood Paradox


februay 20010 point 24. aelf delusion dynamics. too many want to believe that kids are good.
14 March 2009 point 23. Loss aversion.
13 March 2009: point 22. Social pressure not to talk about the negatives of child bearing.
18 Sep. 2008: points 21 and 21. Positive illusions and morality
10 Sep. 2008: Point 19 last line - studies are noly US UK.
23 Aug. 2008 Additional point - section 19. International differences in childcare experience
15 Aug. 2008: Additional reason for bias - section 18. Additional paragraph at section 13 ("the idea...")
16 Jun 2008: Additional note at paragraph 1.
Paragraph 6 has been updated (adding 6.3). Paragraph 17 has been added.
I made a few additions in paragraph 14 about Daniel Gilbert's view.

Explaining the Parenthood Paradox
Do children bring us happy? do they make us suffer?

Affirmative yes for both! There is joy. There is a huge cost. Practically implying suffering. But some will "frame" this cost as a cost rather than suffering.
Practically: Altogether is it worth it?

In terms of measured happiness, all research suggest it is a bad deal - happiness wise. (see references below).

A good example is the studies looking on happiness over the course of life. The happiest periods are between marraige and first kid, and between "empty nest" to death of one of the partners.

why people do it?
pretending no exhaustive knowledge etc. here are my thoughts. Enjoy (and cry, comment and disagree)


1) can be irrational. people are irrational. it is less surprising than our intuition thinks.
Note: see that soap operas may have caused decrease in fertility. If this is true, how can one think about these decisions in a completely rational frame work...............

2) Its a mutual decision. And you need a partner.
When everyone wants kids, being the one who does not want kids will make you a black sheep in the dating market. Practically, one will have to pay a huge price in his chances (or quality) of relationships. Even if kids decrease happiness, relationships certainly increases it. Taken together, it may pay to marry and have kids, rather than stay single, or hang out with some ugly date.

This is not a perfect explanation, because norms may change to accomodate. But under conditions it can help understanding. If there is a slow change in norms, it may explain why the change takes many years to meterialize.

3) Time ago, having kids was much more worthy than now (in agricultural soceities, cost of rearing kids is much much lower, and the benefit from them is much higher. They can work etc. Took care for old parents much more than today)

Maybe a cultural remnant of ages ago. problem is that one may prefer having an explanation that currently rational.

4) Maybe we are wired to have children? like we have a tendency to eat which is to an extent independent of our conscious goals?

Marvin Harris ("Our Kind" p. 209 onward) dubbed it "the myth of procreative imperative", and has interesting anthropological evidence against it, showing that humans are not totally helpless to their nature.

Harris shows that the birth rate changes dramatically between soceities and in great part depends on how much parents "earn" from having children. The higher the cost and the lower the material benefits - the less children.

4.1) How far does it go?
The above inference of "no procreative imperative" is incorrect.
What we see is that people will forgo birth (or an infant's life) in some cases. These cases maybe extreme i.e. when having kids is very costly. But it does not mean that people will not pay a little to have kids.
In other words. There is an upper limit for the suffering humans accept for parenthood. We may still be wired to have children when the price is not extremely high.

PS. I have discussed the whole idea of inferring from extreme cases to the average in my post Extreme and special cases and causes.

5) The handicap principle in sexual selection (Amoz Zehavi). Assumes that a good way to advertise fitness is to spend resources on useless shows (hardest to fake. if you are poor you cannot spend on a SUV). Willing to spend endless resources on kids shows that you have over enough and can spend.

6) The physical default is to have kids. Two implications

6.1) Loss aversion / "endowment effect" / status qou bias. Much research in Decision making shows that people will assign much more value to whatever is the default, sometimes valuing it as double what they can "earn". If the potential kids are framed as an asset, giving up having kids as a lose, and the price of kids as "cost" rather than "lose", we may expect people accepting kids insofar that the cost is less than twice the positive they get.
I think I heard women talk that they are afraid of "losing the possibility to have kids".
While strictly rationally, when the call is close there is as much to lose form having as from not having children, not having clikcs as losing. Maybe even losing the option feels something?

6.2) Defaults have also a strong practical effect. I think it works beyond the pricing in 6.1 above. It is very easy to succumb to the status quo. When prospects are unclear, one will have to act positively to avoid pregnancy. There are also more effects of the default that one can think of.

6.3) An interesting statistic says that half the pregnancies in USA/UK are unplanned. Which adds much support the claim that many child are actually not decided about directly. I am not sure to how exact the figure is, but it seems to be near teh truth (even if 30% of childs are unplanned its enough).

An in teresting research plan would be to check the happiness of these with planned vs. unplanned kids. While common sense says that unplanned kids would provide less happiness, I would not be surprised to find otherwise, given the weakness of humans affective forecasting (see Gilbert 2005)

7) The decision of having vs. not having children is not symmetric. you can avoid having kids for decades, and then have one in five minutes.

In principle, the more variance in the decision process the higher the effect of this asymmetry.

Like when one's preference for children has a random variable in it, and he will start a pregnancy as soon as having kids feels OK.

Variance can also come from a host of other things. changing partners. changing belongingness states. changing financial and work conditions. and more.

8) Human females do not know when they ovulate. Why? a possible explanation is that if they would know they would have less children. So natural selection favors those who could not avoid getting pregnant ("the cultural animal" p. 114). This may hint that evolution was having tricks to make us have kids against our will.

9) men-women asymmetry. Men's sex drive for sex is stronger than women, making them the weaker side in the sexual exchange (see Sexual Economics: Sex as female Resource for social exchange). These who have a stronger desire will in a sense adhere to the other's conditions. Women desire for kids is stronger than men. This double asymmetry may lead to women having a stronger hand regarding pregnancy decisions.

10) There are experiments showing that people are deciding quite differently when "hot" (See
The Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making). Across a list of decisions, being sexually aroused has a marked effect on decisions.
Simply, some pregnancy decisions are taken when horny.

11) The "paradox" assumes that happiness (or good vs. bad feelings etc.) is the central human goal.

This assumption is contestable.
(for example, section 44: Platonification & Commoditization of Happiness. paragraphs starting "I have been" and "but the worse". Robert Nozick on "experience machine". Dan Brock 1993 has a philosophical review about three definitions of "the good life".)

Maybe human goals are diverse (having distinct drives for many things) and contain contradictions. Maybe humans prefer "real life" to happiness. and more. Lots was said and should be said about this.

Ok. We are built to pursue various things. Maybe we "should" pursue happiness? that is an approach that one may accept of not.

Another approach to happiness is that it is the best single definition for "what is the goal of an average human". But a single definition of a complex question does not always exist. Being forced to have a single reply loses information and starts bei ng an approximation. But approximations may be more and more "loose" up to being impractical etc.

12) Love decision?

The decision making when pursuing love is fragile with strong brain mechanisms. People in love are sometimes in an "insane" state. In a sense, having children and raising them is a decision about love. I have no idea/analisys how this works and its relation to children decisions. Just hinting how the area of love is not always amenable to rationalistic analisys and decision making.

13) Baumeister's main reason (meaning) and others.

The great social scientist Roy Baumeister in his review references below, analyses the whole thing seriousely, and a good idea is just to get a copy and read. Some of his points:

Main theory: Meaning. Having a general purpose/meaning etc. in life is crucial, and people will go to great length to acheive this.

Having children provides a sense of "purpose" and meaning, as well as helping to organize one's life around something.

This idea of purpose is not just an illusion by the individual, it can be seen as a soceity wide effort to find a purpose of one's life after religion lost its appeal in recent centuries.

Positive vs. negative affect. If kids increase positive AND negative affect, some will prefer having them even if a summary of "happiness" (positive and negative feelings lumped together) is negative. maybe human value some positive affect even with a cost. Or prefereing to "be alive" i.e. more feelings etc. even when summation of overall positive minus negative is negative.
Effort justification. After people invest so much they have to justify etc.

Self-deception. A central way to get happier. This illusion regarding children works the same.

This is a very sketchy summary (I am lazy). Better reading the original.

14) Daniel Gilbert - Selection dynamics:

Great decision making researcher Daniel Gilbert says that soceities who do not believe that children make us happy, may be happier, but they will get out of business in a single generation.

If we are here, it is because our parents thought children bring happiness.

Assumes that the belief transmitting system is somewhat strong and follows evolutionary principles etc. I only know there are arguments about the whole validity of the "meme" concept.
Good for the long term only. If beleifs of this kind have short-term flexibility, it may be a problem.

It is in Gilbert's book Stumbling on happiness (a must read). p. 220-222.
See also Gilbert's article in the Time

more reason by Gilbert:
Affective forecasting errors: People are notorious in misjudging their future happiness. Childern maybe no exception.
After we invest in something we get convinced it is valuable. A general pehnomena and kids are no exception.
These moments of joy from children are such that make a strong memory on us, we forget the effort etc.
The reward is great but the price even higher. We remember the reward not the cost.

15) The rationality of accepting our irrationality. many times it is rational to be "irrational". A dieter that knows he is unable to hold a diet, will find it more rational to avoid dieting altogether. Because, dieting and stopping is even worse for health. (+ a waste of so much energy and pain).
Given his practical realistic irrationality he is rational to be irrational intentionally.

The same applies here as well. Given all (or some of) the thought above, one may find it rational to have kids, even if he do not like the deal. Given that we are doomed to do various things and our environment is fixed etc. etc. we may be better off not fighting all this and be better off than those trying to fight the circumstances.

(example: If I am doomed by natural desire to have kids some day, I would be smarter to plan it with best partner etc. etc.) This strange but very important and general point adds another reason why it is rational to have children at times.

16) There must be more reasons and facetes of reality I did not thought on.

17) The effect of the extremes. A central problem with much of scientific research is that it sums up a population and ignores individual differences. In happiness this has been shown in a fascinating paper about the effect of marriage on happiness (longitudinally. Lucas at all. 2003). It was shown that ten years after marriage almost all the effect is gone and people are as happy as before they marry. However, the long-term effect of marriage is not equal in all marriages. a significant group get significantly happier even after a decade, while there is a group who get sadder in the long-term (gonna marry? beaware).
If there is a strong variation in the happiness effect of children, we can expect that quite a few will actually get happier with children. Which adds to the confusion of public opinion about happiness from children.

17.1) If the happiness effect of children is variable but negative on average, we can understand much easier why so many think that children bring happiness. It is enough to let the happier speak and make the less happy shy (as is actually the case. It is unacceptable to say that you do not enjoy your kids). You only play by selecting those who speak. Or select at whom you look.

18) End of life effect.
If a person judges his life backward before his death, his children will be seen only positive.
Then, the financial costs, the sleepless nights and the teen headaches are long forgotten.
This lead to the person judging kids as a blessing only decision.
Mistake based on the time one sums it up, and how.
(sure, including the older years in the utility calculation about having kids is right. Giving special weight for one's story about life has also a point. But still what counts is taking everything into account includeing the high costs of the child rearing years and the fact that older people with kids are not necessarily happier.)

It reminds me of Kahneman's "peak-end" rule, where people summarize a long experience by looking at the last moment and the most vivid one. Can it be that the strongest moment about kids is also positive? adding to a mistaken conclusion?

Idea from the book "losing control" of baumeister at all (1994)

19) Differences between US and France may give a hint
In a research by Kahneman, it was found that the experience of raising children is dramatically different betweenn the US and France. The momentarily happiness felt when caring for kids is
-0.22 for American moms and +0.09 for the French. This may imply that the children effect on happiness is especially negative in the US where much research is done. I looked at five studies about children reducing marital satisfaction. Four were US and one UK (a culture whihc resembles US in many variables) One can confidently say, that we do not know about children and happiness outside of US-UK

20) Positive illusions are an important part of a healthy psych. Who does not have kids do not know how it feels. Whose who have are stuck with them for good. It makes sense for them to fool themselves that they enjoy the kids. It helps actually enjoying the kids company, helps self feeling that I did not made a huge miscalculation in having the kids, and so on.

21) Morality. Seeing children negatively is considered immoral.

22) Preferences falsifications.
From personal experience, it is highly damaging to one's reputation to say that children do not bring happiness. You got to be painted as a heartless and immoral person. And stupid, too. Lacking emotions, and so on.

Such social dynamics have serious effects on the sharing of information and on the sincerity of people when talking their preferences.

Private Truths, Public Lies, is a book by Timur Kuran, discussing the strong effects these lies have on choices and expressed opinions.
I have not doubt that there is a role for that social norm. Where it is illegitimate to say that you do not like children or do not want to have, it should bias actual responses of people towards that.

23) Loss aversion.
Females cannot have kids after age 45. Not having children means losing the option to have children.
Technically, having kids is also irreversible. But loss aversion is a matter of psychological framing (it is how you define the choice rather than its objective properties). It feels like losing the option.

I have heard this point several times form women.

24) Self delusion dynamics. Self delusion is generally beneficial for mental health. Depressed are generally mnroe realistic, while happy people are deluding themselves that they are smart and so on. Generally, people manage to switch out of self delusionary state when making a decision, and then going back to happy delusions. Yet in kids too many people and stages in life we want to believe kids are great. As kids we do not want to think we are a burden on our parents. We want to belive they have fun sponsoring us and suffering us etc. as people wiht kids we want to belive same. Even without kids we have an interest to enjoy our fantasies and indulge in the idea of a better future oncre we sedttle down and create a family etc. dreams. Possibly, there is not much possibility to switch back to realistic state.

It is also possible that much of opinion creation about kids value is done without a decision mind state. Moreover, many may not even deliberately think whether kids are good and whether they want them. (maybe it is generally good not to think too much, but it fires back for highly important decisions especially if the natural default is not beneficial)

Curious point. I have never heard of a scientist working on a campaign to convince people aobut the parenthood paradox to convince people to avoid having kids. Why?

PS. Curious about the financial cost of raising a child?

Says $125,000 in after tax amoney.

I haven't reviewed the numbers.


For a great review see:
Appendix B: The Parenthood paradox, in Baumeister Roy, The meanings of Life, 1991

Baumeister RF, Heatherton TF, Tice DM (1994): Losing Control:
How and Why People Fail at Self-Regulation. San
Diego, Academic Press

The Cultural Animal is a book by Roy Baumeister, 2005.

Stumbling on Happiness is a book by Daniel Gilbert, 2006, Knopf, NY

Lucas, R.E., Clark, A.E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003). Re-examining
adaptation and the setpoint model of happiness: Reactions to changes in
marital status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527-539.

See also

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Books that had a personal influence on me

The 20/80 principle
by Richard Koch.

I guess this book has changed my life. Even if you do not find new things reqading a few pages, do not give up. There are various diamonds. easy to read and very deep on some points. You can ignore the business part (part 2 of the book). Give special attention to chapter 9. much about having a 20/80 perception of life etc. Chapter 15 about 20/80 and happiness strock me at the time. After several years of studying happiness, I have not got back to re-read it and have a fresh opinion. But I am sure it is worthwhile reading.

Fooled by randomness
by Nassim Taleb

Great. Must read.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mathematics, logics, and "correct thinking"

A known sceintist told me that "mathematics teaches you to think straight".
Probably assuming that thinking logically correct thoughts is what one needs in life.

Focus on the logical ignores at least the following very important parts of reality:

1) things that cannot be quantified, cannot be abstracted. can you put love into logic? can you define the specific ffeeling you got today near the tree?

2) the unknown. There is so much we do not know. we should be aware of it. look for it. manage life while knowing that there is a lot unknown.

PS. I did not wrote a few weeks. I hope to resume writing soon. I apologize toward those looking here continiousely.
if you wish to get an email notice everytime this blog is updated email me at

Friday, August 31, 2007

WWDNGH 3: Crazy mathematics

psychological and personal things are not linear.

Many properties of life related decision do not work in a simple 1+1=2 way.
The principle is - examples below - that values of the same experience vary wildly with time quantity etc. Sometimes, more is actually less. And other strange qualities of real life experiences as opposed to simple calculations.
It follows that it is pretty complicated to get the right calculations as to what, how and how much to pursue things.

No wonder that results are not always optimal.
On the contrary, it is fascinating that we manage our so convoluted life so smoothly.
Nevertheless, one may exopect that some of our "fast and frugal" intuitions that help us manage are not optimal.

Here is a short list:
Concave utilities convex ones. and ......... crazy ones.
Non-monotonic functions (i.e. more is less).
Counter-intuitive logic
fancy complexities
Wubdt curve

Concave utilities are well known to economists. The practical value of the first $1000 in a month is quite higher than the added value one gets from the second $1000 (the difference between earning $1000 and earning $2000).

First $1,000 give you basic food some commute, a cheap dwelling etc.

Second $1,000 will give you more possibilities. Better food, a better sleeping room, etc. But the difference between having theses added conveniencies and not having them, is meaningless compared to the difference between having the minimum $1,000 and having nothing being left to sleep on the street and collecting food from the garbage or othe sophicticated sources.

The generalisation of this idea says that the "utility" of money is concave, meaning that the more money you have the less value yo get form each additional dollar.

A similar idea is covexity. The opposite of oncavity. It means that he second hour of sleep missed is more damaging than the first hour, and the third hour even more.

Concave and convex curves are everywhere. the usefuleness of the second cup of icecream is (usually) less exciting than the first one. The joy from the second hour of a conversation is usually quite less exciting than the first hour. and so on.

Suffering works the same way. After an hour of staying in line you sometimes become quite numb and do not care too much about more waiting. Sometimes it is convex. After three hours in line, the additional fifteen minutes are these that bring you on the verge of being hospirtalized for mental distortions.

Traffic jams, indoctrination sessions with bosses, fatigue from prolonged courtship games, may follow convex feeling. Anger builds up. One can even predict quite accurately at which time forehead veins break up and certain acts being taken.

As a very broad rule of thumb. Positive experiences resemble somehow a concave slope, while negative experiences resemble at times a convex slope.

Non-defined or crazy curves. The example of waiting painlessly for three hours, and than feeling like the world is exmploding unless I am accepted now, illustrates that real life does not neccesarily obey symetric curves. There are crazy jumps, as if the minute no. 187 of waiting in line is the one that causes most of the suffering. In a generalized way one can still say that the expected pain from a minute is averaging somehow. But this is a way round the problem. The fact remins that things do not behave nicely etc. and that values may change quite capriciousely.

non-monotonicity. Monotonicity means that values do not go backward. That you cannot feel worse with too much icecream, or too much mates (sarcastically). It may work with money (?). Even if too mcuh money even if almost useless (the 10th million does not confer much value in real life), it may not make one worse of. But too much eating confers less and less enjoyment until eating becomes painful, stomach gets swollen and sick, not to speak on fat that accumulates on belly/bottoms/thighs.

Recent research shows that having more options may render us worse off (no mistake!). In an experiment, people offered to choose between 6 tastes of jam bought more and enjoyed the taste more than those offered 24 tastes to choose from. The examples of to many girlfreinds would clearly be intuitive. two lovers is where many would agree that more is less.
Ability to choice itself may lower satisfaction. People given the option to return a picture and replace it, felt the picture was less nice. The very option to replace, while technically meaning more, was practically less, in terms of psychological joy.

Counter intuitive logic
The emotinal side of life offers many examples. Eating really tasty icecream on an Italy trip is sure enough to be worthy. But if you remember it and your hometown icecream feels less exciting? is it worthy to lose years of icecream joy for a single cup?
I may give moe examples in a sebsequent post.

Fancy Complexity
A seemingly single decision can account ofr so much things.
How much should I charge for a hour of work? Feels a neat question. An hour = ???
How much will I enjoy this specific task?
How much energy will it take? If I will I afterward be exhausted for five hours, maybe I should charge for five.
What are the expectations of future works from this guy? Maybe this is the ticket for my next job?
Am I getting any experience form it?
Will I get more phone calls from him, making an hour into seven.... and life long commitment?
What are my alternatives for money making?
What is the marginal cost of my time now in emotional terms? is it the first hour of the day, or the 13th after a crazy day, just the hour needed to make me formally sick?

on and on it goes. I may put a real life example in a subsequent post

Point. Calculating and udnerstanding life is less simple because of the huge complexity in real life decisions.

Wundt Curve
Much of our experience goes around our arousal level. When bored it means too less arousal - which hurts. Being too excited is also painful. Our subjective joy if only arousal is the question looks like a one-sided (skewed) curve. Like this:

A classical Wubdt curve (click to enlarge)

The book "The Joyles Economy" (must read) discusses in length how this arousal business affect our life boredom etc.
The interesting property of the curve is that you feel a little better as arousal gets higher, but as ou cross the peak of the graph, your joy declines fast, reaching the suffering area with just a little too much arousal. It has much implications for how to arouse ourselves optimally (do not run too much. Beaware the suffering of an overdose), and explains the puzzlng feeling we have when from sheer joy we feel falling into a deep hole very fast amid a big exciting experience.

More pecularities
. A most things contain positive and negative sides. Knowing them, calculating them, and comparing them........ Except from the emotional effects the very calculation bear.....

Time mathematics. Difference between our value for different ages, different times in the day, etc. diufferent wakefullnes levels etc.

Strategic effects. Everything we do change our personalities, future preferences etc. etc.

In Summary
This ambigouos and complex nature of experience, explains partly why it is hard to optimize our hedonic experienece as well as other kinds of positive experiences (these maybe even more subtle and complex).

It is not clear for me whether being aware of all this would help people make their life better.

I was tempted to think that the very understanding of these curves, and of all the factors above, would itself help in doing better decisions.
I am very skeptic now.
Not sure that it is feasible to engage in too complex decisions. We are not computers.
It is costly to calculate.
We may calculate mistakenly.
We may concentrate on the math, and forgettnig other, maybe more important factors.

Research by Timothy Wilson and others shows that sometimes, being aware of our decisions and considerations deceases both, Decision quality, and actual satisfaction from the decision.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

WWDNGH 2: Constraints

(Why We Do Not Get Happier)
The amount of constraints imposed on the average person is astonishing upon inspection.

Most people are employed most of their day. This limits their choice, and even the possibilities they dare to think about.

Coming home after 9-10 working hours (including commute), can we expect much to "do" then? I suspect that after a straining work day, the very consciousness, self-control, even thinking may be a weak option.

Take sleep. There are reports that plentiful of sleep makes mood and health much better. Now, after a working day, there are few hours left for socialization, relationships, dancing etc. We are usually limited by habits of freinds. So we are faced with a very strange choice between losing sleep for the sake of getting the minimum of socializatin "fun" and self-centered activities, or give up the little left ofr ourselves for the sake fo healthy sleep.

Both options are problematic. Now the average person is practically limited to these two choices only. Whatever he chooses I cannot criticize him. He does not have a third option (ok. there are always zillion more options. I am talking on the most basic level).

Self-control. We are so limited with our ability to control ourselves. "Be disciplined" turns out to be a stupid advice many times. Social scientist Roy Baumeister shows that our capabilities for self-control are limited. after exercizing self-control we get "tired" and much weaker at it. (excersices involving self-control actually improve our self-control ability).
Limits in our ability to self-control ourselves are constraints like any other constraints. If I cannot hold myself into things I cannot. Period.

Earlier habit, opinions, and perceptions. The things we got accustomed to, control us. No matter how sharp and decisive we are. Our opinions. The questins we ask. What we consider changable and unchangable. While in a very loofty theory one do not see how these things control us, the do.

Example: Which marraige is better "arranged marriage" or "love marriage"? It is a tought call and as Cognitive/happiness researcher Daniel Gilbert says "there is little good data about this". As far as we know arranged marraige are better and at least not worse than love marraiges.
Does this imply that the average Westerner shoudl prefer arranged marraige for himself? I do not think.
Constraints 1: Living in our society, one do not have the mates to marry by "arranged marriage". You can have a wonderful marriage but no mate.
Constraints 2: Growing up here, one does not have the mental capacity to enter arranged marraige. It will feel so weired. Maybe one would not hold in the arranged marraige even if he will start it.

The principle
So life is full with constraints. and the whole bunch of constraints disable us form many things. Many things that feel on paper doable, are impractical in reality.

Much of why people do not improve their life lies in the constraints business. There are so many constraints. They are so convoluted at times. So taking hold on us, on the management of our time, on all little details that are crucial for the very execution of things in life.

Changing things with all constraints in mind maybe a direction to improve life. But it is quite tricky. I may talk more on it in a later post. When I will start about optimistic direction to imporove happiness.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

WWDNGH 1A: examples for rational decisions that do not look so

PS. I am writing this as an example, and confess for not thinking it throught too much. Take it as an illustration etc. and do not sue me for every line. Comments and criticism are welcome, as always.

I had a freind that has a legal case. There were some documents that would inccrease the probability of the closure of a lagel case hanging above her head. Effort was not that big. She did not make the effort.

I tried to persuade her for that. She refused to take care. While screaming at me not to make her crazy, she explained:

"I know myself. Realistically, I will not do it. Only value of your nagging is making me angry".

So, given the fact that she will probably not do that, she is better off hanging up my phone calls, as far that this subject is the issue.

But she still sounds irrational. But only on the surface.

There was a psychological element here. In order to persuade herself to work on the issue, she should have adopt a different outlook at reality. A different way to go about her whole life. Would her whole life be better with a more "rational" management? Not so sure.

This is what Robert Aumann calls "rule rationality" when you make a very general decision how to decide your actions, instead of deciding for every case separately. Sometimes it is more optimal to have a rule to follow. Moreover, in some cases the decision involves complicated systems (emotinal, or perception mechanisms, and others) that force oyu to have a big decision about various cases instead of a local decison every time.
In such cases, local irrationality maybe a result of a rational decision about the rule.

Other issues are also involved, such as limits of life management. I guess that there is kind of natural limit of how many things one can "care for" in a day. having too much tasks has a high cost, and even impossible for some. It is not the local cost of the very task, but the space available in our psych's "do to" list. (It is not necessarily in the number of tasks but depends of their emotional current and more).

Here, too, there was a point in the above example. "being responsible" to gather the documents, would cost much more than its net working time. Most probably, the task would hang on her mind for a week or two, costing high amounts of energy and burdening her with stress all over. It was not so cheap after all.

Clarification arising upon discussin in the comments of the earlier post.
The definition problem of rationality
I am realizing that at the edge (i.e. with reductio de absurdum), if one says he is rational but has limits, there will be no use for the term rationality.

Example: on the reason-passion axis. Saying "the guy has strong passion which hings on his ability to be rational, but given his passions as constraints he is rational" is kind of making fun of the very saying "he is rational". Everything will be rational that way.

Intuitively, however, one can draw a line somewhere and maybe perserve some meaning for "rational". So that there is a decision maker that has rationality and limits, and tries nevertheless to achieve his goals. Not sure whether I make sense or just babbling.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

WWDNGH 1: Rationality of personal decisions

(Why We Do Not Get Happier)

There is some rationality in the way people decide things in their life.
People do try to make themselves better off, ubt it is not easy.

Advice givers think that there are simple ways to make life better. Are there?
not always. what seems to be an easy improvement, is many times a trap, not easy not improvement, or unrealistic.

Most advice we think is smart is practically foolish. There are so many circumstantial differences. So many othjer things people have to care for. So many taste differences.

On balance, many decisions people make are more rational than they seem to be. Many things that we (and grandma) think

I am very much of an advice giver free of charte. I love to throw good hearteed ideas into people how to improve their lives.
Slowly but surely, I learbed how much people can be smarter than they look.
How many things I thought are easy and simple to do, are much harder and not worth the trouble.

Poeple are already trying to make themselves better off. Any "better" advice should be viewed with suspicsion.

Not that people are always rational or that irratinality is a rare exception. Just that people are more rational that it seems, at times. And many seemingly smart advice is realistically useless and even irrational to follow.

More discussion in the comments of this post.

Next post will give some examples how decisions can be smart contrary to initial impression. Then, we will go on to other reasons for WWDNGH (Why We Do Not Get Happier)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Why do not we get happier?

intuition tells us that there are ways we can make ourselves happier.
Research tells us about various things that can make us happier.

Why do not people use it in practice?
While thinking theorizing and looking for various ways to enhance happiness, I realized that I am almost wasting my time. If no one is going to use progress in this area (i.e. advice how to get happier) what use there is to any "progress"?

So I am bothering myself in what things can be thought of that will practically benefit people (I start sounding like a saint). But first we need to....

Understand why!

why do not people make themselves happier?
do not they want it?
they cannot?
there is no way to do it?

Following posts will detail various facetes of reality that may explain parts of this puzzle.
Understanding may actually help in advancing things, if there is any value in making people happier.

Friday, July 20, 2007

When should we give up short-term?

Common problem. You are in an unusual bad mood, some extreme stress, or whatever.

You feel that it is hard to keep control. Reason also says that some things can be given up at hard times. Is it true?

A rational calculation says that the value of cheering yourself up is higher in hard times, so the revenue from something (like a high calorie snake, or other mischevious acts) is relatively high. Also the cost of holding yourself up is sometimes higher in tough times. Maybe save some of the self-control ability to more urgent current goals? *

But the "expensive" actions are of two kinds. long term costs verus short term costs.

Long term costs: Spending instead of saving, entails long term costs. For that the reason of "now it is more cost effective to spend money" maybe wise.

Short term costs: Giving up and eating some heavy food. Spending concentration ability on a computer game that only makes you immedyately less focused and much more depressed. Not sleeping on time.

All these things bear immediate costs. So in a sensitive time, their cost may actualyl go up. Getting the stupid feeling in hard times is even more costly in bad times.
Contrary to intuition, hard times is when self-control against short termish costing behavior is most important.

Bottom line. In hard times it maybe worthwhile giving up on things whose cost is long termish, since in hard times the value of seering yourself up is higher. For mischevious actions costing in the short term, the opposite. Be even more disciplined than relaxed time. Now is the time when short term costs are most costly. And life balance etc. most important.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Extreme and special cases and causes

Static vs. dynamic causes of phenomenons
Latent possible effects may always be there
Inference form extreme/artificial cases is problematic

Looking for relationships between a resulting phenomenon and various causes is very common nowadays. Part of the following is very confusing. So, turn off your logical powers, you will need them here.

Static = the "default" case. What causes things in the "usual" case: No special treatment was applied AND not for a very special group/case you have selected.

Dynamic = special cases. Extreme behaviors of one of the parameters. duefully applied intervention. Some effect was introduced that is never there in the "normal" case.

Potential = a latent effect that can be used to cause a huge (or small) effect. But when not applied it has zero effect.

An example for a latent "potential": Heart disease has various causes and surgeon knife is not one of them. But miracousely, a bypass operation can have near 100% effect on the heart state once applied. Hence, bypass surgery is a "potential" cause, that is totally absent from the causes of the static case, and strictly there in the dynamic/interevention case.

A big difference exists between what causes things in the static case, and the dynamic case.things that have zero or negligible effect in the static case may have a main effect when done on purpose to have an effect. This (1) gives hope to find - for example - effective intervention to improve happiness, but it also implies that (2) the inference form extreme cases to the average is limited. I will start with (2)

(2) The inference problem.
You cannot always infer from extreme cases to the normal case. Extreme cases may practically be different things.

Example 1. Are reshus monkeys violent (relatively) because of their genes, or because of culture? Frans de Waals has two pieces of evidence that culture plays a role. young reshus monkeys that grow up for six months mixed up with other non-violent monkeys, got used to live much less violent. Similarly, a group whose big aggresive males died, started to live peacefully for a decade, even after all males in the group were totally new (males change troops as adolescenes). This can be explained in two ways. The favorite way is that culture palys a big role in the violent behavior. I feel the more correct definition is that extreme cultural effects may change the behjavior, but I would guess that it is mainly genetic. It is only in very special cases

Example 2. The great psychologist Roy Baumeister in his book "meanings of life", says that people need their life to have value. One of the evidence is mothers that killed their babies. They show strong signs of distress for the anti-value acts they did etc.
Does it show that peolle need value in life? not at all. It only shows that extremely unjustified action carry a strong negative feeling. But it is quite possible that in the average case value does have to be there.
("need for value" may have other evidence. It is hardly the point here)

This problem is rampant with experimental and other kinds of scientific inquiry. Elegant and logicaly strong conclusions are many times exactly the kind I am condemning here. An extreme case can show minute details on how things actually work. You can iron out alternative hypotheses, and be clear of various biases and protocol problems etc.

That we have reason to choose a line of inquiry, does not eliminate its build-in problems. Truth does not work in our service. Reality never apologizes for being sonfusing and hard to decipher. Saying "that is the way to know" when you do not really know is stupid and pathetic.

(1) There may always be strong unknown potential cause.

The analisys of the static/default case does not tell us what potential causes are not being applied.

Example: Happiness research may give a gloomy feeling that we cannot improve happiness much, as half is genetic, 40% unknows, and the rest 10% are correlates we have little control of.
This is the static picture. Are there effective interventions? maybe. these shold be things not seen in the static case, but very powerful once discovered and applied in practice.

To sum up:
Static vs. dynamic causes. in default cases have one set of causes, while intervention may actually change part of the very structure of waht causes things.
Inference form extreme cases is problematic, as extreme/artificial cases may be very different in waht causes what.
Looking at static causes alone, one cannot conclude that there are no potential other causes.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Short term is the place to look for in happiness improvement

the stable component of happiness (in ten year terms), is probably 80% genetic. This is the results of research done on identical twins (Lykken & Tellegan 1996), it accords well with research on the stable component of personality whihc is also 80%. And remember that happiness is strongly correlated with personality traits. (I do not know on any study contradicting the above data).

There maybe sophisticated ways to get around these thing. I will ignore them now.

Most of the variation in personal happiness is in the element changing over time.
Practical implication: Only invest in improving happiness at this second, this minute, or maybe this day etc. long term improvement, are on the face of it, impractical.

Intuitively speaking, improving next day mood is much easier. While "long term" stuff is kind of fantasy.

Aside from the above, there are other reasons to be short term.
1) The longer the horizon the less reliable our opinions (see Gilbert' Stumbling on Hapiness for a great read AND much interesting stuff)
2) Uncertaincy grows with time. We know so little about ten years from now, that it is simply stupid to assume knowledge and even suffer now for then.
3) Usually, the longer the horizon our expectation plans etc. are more complicated. Reliability of a chain is practically the product of the weakness of its chains, implying that long chains of causation are worthless. Reminds me the teacher telling us at age 11 "You be good boys now get accepted to a good school, be good boys then, get accepted to a good college, then you will get a good wife and have a happy life". I was so young, but felt that going throught life that way is utterly stupid. Not just stupid, uttrly dtupid!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Interdisciplinary need. Happiness, economics, and decision making

I have some impression that sometimes, happiness researchers and economists just live in two different worlds. Different languages assumptions etc.

The sad part is that much of the happiness research is not adopted by policy makers, because economists have much more power. But also that the language differs so much.

It touches on:
Convincing, as some happiness research is not conducted the way to "force" the conclusionson skeptics.
Usefulness, as it is hard for psychologists to offer practical economic advice etc. + considering reality of markets etc.
Good heart. The value gaop is sometimes quite high. And psychologists talking on values, life etc. can hardly sound rational to an economist ear. There is enough strong data that would convince even the most cynical "maximizer" economist about stuff. But once "nice" words enter the discussion some start feeling strange.

An interdisciplinary center is very needed to integrate psychological hard proved findings with practical and theoretical maximization principles of economics etc. etc. as well as considering the practical (various intersts, dynamics etc.) forces in the way of positive change. Decision making perspective is also criucial whenever things relate to real persons making decisions.

A conference integrating the parties, would also help. provided it is with the purpose of mutual learning and cooperations as mentioned above.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

trouble gets superimposed on us. Why? Any escape?

I was running to the airport dragging my bags, somewhatg suffering along the way, but totally consumed in this bad feeling of the bags the hurry and the train.

I was amazed. How come that all of me has only one thing in my being at this moment. Is this baggage dragging (with ailing bag wheels, for sure) all there is in my world?
I tried to make a little thinking into other things, totally unsuccessfully.

1) why is it so consuming? (some fight-flight comes to mind. Or that body is what counts cf. Damasio. Only reflective reactions here.)
2) Can we do something about it? Idea etc.? Below I tell what I did, but what counts is whether there are essential ways to feel better in such situations.

I tried to do meditationm along the way (it helped a little), and technical triocks like escaping the queue while others save my place and going for a walk.)

Very essential point, since muhc of our lives is dominated by such stuff and other things that fall broadly under a similar point.

Content of mind. the flexibility

I woke up in the morning like a rat I jump to the computer some emails etc. etc. and my mind is there. Fixed of the things I were reading there. They are small incosequential and uninteresting things. But there they stay filling my mind. I even do not remember what was in my mind before that.

the content of our mind is so influenced by outside influence or by things we do and look after just by sheer impulse. But it is many times a big waste, of mind of energy and of life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

do people pursue happiness seriousely?

It feels at times that people's way of going throught life is not like they are trying to maximize happiness.
Sure, people try to feel better and have various lovely things. But they are laso running after a whole bunch of things that do not look like happiness maximizing. If you start talking to people on the street about happiness you will find that while in theory they value it, in practice it does not stay in their mind, and does not alway gets "due" weight in decisions.

Several explanations are possible. but this is not the point here.

If people actually prefer some other things to happiness, or if they do not have it in highest priority, shoudl we try to convince them about this? can we say that happiness is most important when people do not think so?

flexibility of preferences and kinds of happiness and self

We have various kinds of happiness, various preferences, and various facetes of the self.
Lots of our decisions and preferences are innate, while much is also subject to framing effects dynamics and various biases as well as intentioned actions (?).

How should we look at this?

PS. Even the ways to sum up events and moment are flexible etc.

Leverage for good and for bad

We leverage our experience in life. A good event is savored time before vai anticipation, and afterward. Same for bad.
Can we leverage good experience more and bad ones less? taht would be great!