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.


i.c. said...

...constraints should be connected to "rule rationality" from your earlier post also: e.g. habits can be very helpful - if they are "good" (e.g. not smoking is a habit and a constraint as is smoking -> choose?! -> ok not that easy, in our society / once you've been trapped).
Yet my favorite idea on all this is to act asymmetrically and at a quite abstract level (which paradoxically should include, of course, very concrete physical, intuitive, feeling aspects) - then the details will arrange themselves (they are not very important anyhow)

Also: lingering above all these posts is the (very open?) question what happiness could be and if it is a goal at all.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

some constraints are positive, for sure. We should deistinguish between positive and negative constraints (+if there is a general cost for having to few constraints (e.g. paradox of choice), the crossing line between positive/negative moves further)

1) Is this sonstraints - overally - positive for one's life?

2) Was the constraint imposed from the outside, or by the person? Does the individual have the ability to get out from the constraints (Even being able to take a very bold and strategic move to remove a constraints, implies some level of choice)

Constraints mean being limited. It fixes the man into a position. The ability to choose (as in Adam and Eve story) maybe costly. But the limits actually explains in part why people cannot improve their life. They are in prison, whether the prison is good or bad for them.

I love the asymetric bold stages.
It is related to "over-sophisticated" methods to improve happiness.

Here I try to explain why people do not get happier.
AFTER understanding why it is so hard to improve happiness, I will move to the optimistic side. There maybe advantagours methods for happiness improvement. asymetric/20/80 methods are part of this optimistic part.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

is "happiness" a goal at all?

First, that is a strong intuition by me. Even if I am not sure I have solid logical proofs for it.

Do people see happiness as the most important thing in life? Lots of weired logics there.

OK. In surveys people say they think happiness is one of the most important things. I have not looked into how the quesiton were asked, but it is cited as a persistent trend.

What counts?
what people say they want most ("expressed preferences")?
what they do ("revealed preferences")?
what they say/do after introspection?
what they say/do after introspection coming from the questions I am asking.........?

Quite baffling.

I will give an example. Kahneman did experiments showing that poeple miscalculate the summation of moments (they prefer worse things, because their order/saliency/end is different).
Dan Ariely and George Lowenstein argued in long. One of their points was that if we explain to people the inconsistency in their choice and they still maintain it, it could not be considered irrational. If someone consciousely chooses "irrationaly" is it irrational at all?

While being impartial, I happened to agree with a point with Kahneman. I am sure most people there did not fully understood the whole decision, moments, summations, the possibility that their intuition is very misleading them.

In a sense even after being told the logic, they still did not got hte point. They were still blind.

So far for the introspection issue. and why I consider seriousely that many times people really do not know what they are dealing with. And it seems (I hope......) that after thinking duefully, many would agree that happiness is above almost everything.

Enough for now. Got to sleep. I may continue.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

I suspect that the "choice" most subjects* in the Ariely experiment did, was not to accept/think about that they were mistaken and not to destabilize their whole decision making system. Not to consider seriousely the possibility of them being mistaken. Not to research their presumptions and the whole structure of thought that relates to the decision.

If so, their persistence for the decision what not a direct decision, but an indirect result of the other decision.

*those who did not change their mind after being explained how their choice makes no sense)

i.c. said...

some more things about constraints:

- constraints can increase the possibilities - e.g. in strategic situations, another example is language (which by constraining the sounds used enables a whole universe of communication - not my idea, of course, see e.g. Niklas Luhmann), the "borders" of your system protecting you from taking everything into account

- if we get aware of some of the constraints we use without knowing: what are the consequences (for happiness?) - this refers also to your remark on people not destabilizing their whole decision system - given that the base of everything is quite arbitrary

- "rational" decisions by people can always be framed as optimal if one chooses the appropriate constraints; and probably people try to "optimize" (with their heuristics) their perceived simple problems (the major constraint being that they usually are not ware of the arbitrariness of the valuations + constraints considered)

i.c. said...

about happiness:
my intuition is that it is (at most) a side-effect (or indicator) of doing things (somehow) "right"

Yechezkel Zilber said...

Selection processes are a crucial point about constraints, and how many things one should consider.

The more effectively (cheap cost, less mistakes, etc.) one chose, the more options would be optimal for him to consider.

I am reading now "The Mating Mind" and a crazy idea comes throught.
Maybe the concentration on happiness is realted to sexual selection?
Is this why people see "getting laid" as the strongest form of happiness - contrary to common-sense......

Getting aware of sonstraints, effectively means increasing the space of choice. We get into the "paradox of choice". Sometimes, choice gets you to the better. Sometimes to the worse.
The very "being aware" of a possibility is a irreversible change in your psychological situation etc.
Again, effective "selection process" may help. But nothing is for free.

The possibility of rationalizinatoins for everything, maybe misleading. Kind of reductio de absurdum. There is a difference between various kinds and levels of "constraints". Intuition tells me I do not like to include everyhting in this definition.

The idea that constraints can increase possibilities, reminds me of an optimization principle. Breaking a process to smaller parts is mathematically shown to lead to much better optimization.

I hope we are getting ahead.......
And many thanks for the comments.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

Selections: Of much interest is Taleb's Black Swan strategy. increase variance, but in a way that maximizes exposure to extremely positive incidences, and minimizes exposure to negative ones. (can be done via the variance increase itself, or as two separate processes)
Same idea to be used for expanding space of choice (even without the random element).