Happiness at work: mindfulness, analysis and well-being
We think we know ourselves. Ancient wisdom as well as modern psychology has shown this to be one big exaggeration. The motive source of our behavior or the so-called logic of our choices is enveloped in mist. We know not why we do what we do. In fact, some distortions of our mind and reasoning are universal distortions. All men are prone to the same distortions. Through systematic experiments, behavioural economists have demonstrated that we do have in us a distorted choicemaking process.
Some of our distortions are personal, not everyone has them. The distortion that Lady Macbeth experienced whenever she thought of cleanliness was personal. They arise because of our unique experiences, often from early childhood and our reactions to them.
Several human experiences are universal. Birth, being nursed or not nursed, childhood, puberty, motherhood, fatherhood, mourning attendant rituals, social sanctions and taboos (whatever they are) are universal. Our psyches, therefore, have certain common structures. But the distortions in them may be specific. Any and every such distortion stands in the way of our seeing the world accurately, truthfully.
Well-being requires seeing the world truthfully. It is about seeing it vividly, correctly, just the way it is. The stoics firmly believed that being un-deluded is being well. Just like poor eyesight can be corrected through glasses, can our distorted perspectives of reality be corrected? The answer, unfortunately, is a ‘No’. We cannot have perfect 6/6 vision. We are always vulnerable to distortions. You may ask, then why bother? The good news is that we can ‘minimize’ these distortions. When we do get distorted as we inevitably will be, we can snap out of them faster. This is one good reason to make the effort.
How to spot the universal distortions? How to spot personal distortions? Why should we have personal distortions?
Behavioural economics examines the way we make choices. The behavioural economists contend that the human being is not a rational person as classical economists believed. The rational person would see what is right for him/her and then make the choice. After several
observations and experiments, the behavioural economists have confirmed that human choice-making is flawed. The good news is that there are ways to minimize the flaws.
What is the origin of these flaws in the first place?
A short answer to this question was given by Daniel Kahneman: We have two systems by which we deal with our lives. One system that is deliberate, slow and logical in arriving at a decision and the other that is fast. The faster system is operational in us most of the time. This system is operational when we are tired or low on sugar. It is impulsive but error-prone. Subsequently, authors like Rolf Dobelli even identified 100 distortions inherent in this fast system of thinking and deciding.
Fundamentally, there are three major distortions of the fast system of thinking according to Kahneman. All the others are variations or combinations of these three fundamental distortions.
The primary distortions are (a) anchoring or priming, (b) base rate neglect and (c) loss aversion. These are cognitive distortions. Even the smartest amongst us suffer from these distortions.
anchoring or priming
Would you believe if I say that the decisions you took about which job offer to accept was influenced by some random pictures you happened to see 5 minutes before the decision? Would you believe that your estimation of an investment as risky or less risky was influenced by whether your toddler held or dropped the toy earlier in the day? Would you believe that your higher estimate of a certain bid was influenced by the number plate of the car standing in front of you in the signal this morning?
Am I in my senses, you may ask. What has the toddler holding a toy to do with the risk perception of an investment? Do you think one would increase the bidding price because the number plate of a random car in front of me showed a higher number?
Behavioural economists have proved that our lazy, snappy mind does not bother to think through issues. It is hard to arrive at a logical starting point for everything. In the absence of the logical starting point, the mind just starts with a random event it is able to immediately access. This random event serves to anchor the solution or decision or answer to the question in front of us. Since what serves as the anchor or starting point for our decision or estimation is random, we get different decisions depending on such arbitrary starting points. You can imagine what sort of wrong decisions this could lead to. We are anchored or primed by what just happened to us. The following experiments explain this bias in action in all of us.
In an experiment, 28 groups of 4 were assigned two different tasks. Task 1 was to rotate a roulette wheel and note down the score (0-100). Task 2 was to estimate the percentage of Amazon rain forests we have lost in the last 100 years. The only trick was that task 1 was not random but primed. 14 groups were assigned to roulette wheels that returned a number less than 20. Among the other groups, 14 had equally rigged roulette wheels that would return a number greater than 80.
When they went to task 2, an independent factual and rational question, an interesting thing happened. The first set of groups who had a number less than 20 in the first task, estimated the loss of rain forests to be close to 37%. The second set of groups that had a number greater than 80 in the first task estimated the answer to the same question to be about 66%.
Behavioural economists have proved that our lazy, snappy mind does not bother to think through issues.
R Anand SAGE Response2018, 232 pages, Paperback