Pascal's Pensées: Week 8, Affective Forecasting


We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty.

We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death.

We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.


In psychology there's an area of research on what is called "affective forecasting." Fancy name for something we already know. Specifically, when facing decisions we make them by forecasting how we think we'll feel after choosing X. If I choose X will that make me happier? Or not? That is affective forecasting. We make choices by predicting how we'll feel after we make a choice. We try to choose happiness.

The affective forecasting research is interesting because one of its main findings is that we're pretty bad at predicting what will make us happy. We think X will make us happy, but it doesn't. 

A few years ago I was the commencement speaker for my son's High School graduation. During the talk I made a very uncommencment like observation. I said, "During commencement addresses you're supposed to tell the graduates to 'follow your dreams.' But if the research is to be believed, that is bad advice. What we dream for often doesn't make us happy."

I think Pascal would have approved of that sentiment. We are the freest and wealthiest people in the history of the world. And just look at us. As I describe in Hunting Magic Eels, we're lost. Mental illness statistics are skyrocketing. Loneliness is a scourge. We desire both truth and happiness, but are incapable of finding either.

In this modern world we are the captains of our own ship. 

Too bad we're so awful at navigation.

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