Monday, June 19, 2006

Daniel Gilbert on Father's Day

Daniel Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness, has a blog in which he has been posting his newspaper and magazine articles. What is really nice about the blog is that he provides references to the research he cites in those articles. His posts are short and sweet, and they are on a topic that I have been keen on learning more about: Happiness.

His first post has his NYTimes op-ed on the kinds of tricks our minds play when we judge ourselves to be unbiased and others to be highly biased. [we linked to it here]

His second post is on choices (or, variety) and happiness. Money quote: "The secret of happiness is variety. But the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it."

His post on "children and happiness" (published in Time) is interesting. Here's the thesis:

Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away. When the popular press invented a malady called "empty-nest syndrome," it failed to mention that its primary symptom is a marked increase in smiling.

Gilbert goes on to suggest ways of explaining this rather counter-intuitive (to me, at least) finding. This one -- his second explanation -- sounds the most plausible:

if the Red Sox and the Yankees were scoreless until Manny Ramirez hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, you can be sure that Boston fans would remember it as the best game of the season. Memories are dominated by their most powerful—and not their most typical—instances. Just as a glorious game-winning homer can erase our memory of 8 1/2 dull innings, the sublime moment when our 3-year-old looks up from the mess she is making with her mashed potatoes and says, "I wub you, Daddy," can erase eight hours of no, not yet, not now and stop asking. Children may not make us happy very often, but when they do, that happiness is both transcendent and amnesic.

You could also replace the baseball analogy with one to the current World Cup; while most of the games have been rather lacklustre (if not downright boring), we are likely to remember (probably fondly) this year's edition just because of THE GOAL.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Pl. see the second page of
    but he did not give any references for the claimed resarch. My own experience is that children have been a pleasure until they are in to their twenties (may be because my wife took care of most things) but now both of us wish they would leave.
    On a different note, I just noticed some thing which may be also relevant to the other discussions in the site.
    "Subsequent studies have tried to show that, more generally, a rise in the woman's status in the household tends to positively impact on the children's economic well-being.

    From the data from Anandan it is possible to seek an answer to a different but related question: Can a child's intellect be affected by his or her household conditions?

    What a first analysis of the numbers show is quite striking. A child's aptitude correlates very little with a variety of indicators like the child's mother tongue (the school has Hindi and Bengali-speaking children), the number of siblings the child has or, more surprisingly, even the income and wealth of the child's parents.

    But one variable that stands out as a strong correlate is whether the mother chats a lot with the child and, more surprisingly, whether the mother and the father chat a lot among themselves (this reflects, more than anything else, the status of the mother). If the answer to these is yes, then the child's aptitude is likely to be significantly higher.

    These are preliminary findings. One will have to do further tests to tease out the direction of causality."

  2. Anonymous said...

    Abi, Link correction. Gilbert's blog:

    The note of children making us (un)happy was quite a revelation to me some time back.

  3. Abi said...

    Gaddeswarup: Thanks for the links. The research summaries are interesting, especially the essay by Kaushik Basu.

    Selva: Thanks for pointing out the missing link. It's fixed now.