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  • Reviewer: Peter van de Ven

  • I remember being shocked the first few times I went to Africa.

  • I was shocked when I met a one-legged taxi driver in Kenya.

  • I was shocked when I met Sonia, an orphan schoolgirl in Rwanda.

  • And I was shocked when I met a disabled subsistence farmer in Mozambique.

  • What shocked me wasn't their poverty, but their happiness.

  • I found their happiness confronting, far more confronting than poverty.

  • Of course, not everyone was happy,

  • but of those above a basic subsistence threshold level,

  • I was surprised at how genuinely content many of them were.

  • And I became fascinated by this notion, this idea of happiness.

  • And since then, I've researched it, I've worked on it, I've thought about it.

  • I'm interested in it from an economics perspective;

  • it's one of the things that I research at Oxford.

  • And I'm interested in it from a social enterprise perspective

  • because happiness is, after all, the ultimate social outcome.

  • I think it's particularly appropriate to talk about happiness

  • because we have with us the Prime Minister of Bhutan,

  • the very man who pioneered, who introduced,

  • and who championed the idea of gross domestic happiness,

  • rather than GDP, as a way of tracking a country's progress,

  • as a way of monitoring how governments are doing.

  • But before we go into that, I want to begin with a little quiz, a game.

  • It's just a simple multiple-choice quiz,

  • and I've invited some other participants to join us on stage.

  • So, I want you to just raise your hand,

  • I want you to answer honestly when I give the questions.

  • So the first question.

  • Imagine that you're competing in the Olympic Games,

  • representing your country,

  • what would you prefer out of the following:

  • would you prefer to come second, to come third, or to come second last?

  • Answer honestly: who would prefer to come second?

  • Raise your hand.

  • Excellent!

  • Who would prefer to come third?

  • And who would prefer to come second last?

  • Excellent. It seems a large chunk of you wants to come second last.

  • I'm not sure I'd be selecting you for my Olympic team, but -

  • (Laughter)

  • The monkeys, they select a third, a third, a third;

  • they don't quite understand the question, but they knew there are three options.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's probably no surprise that amongst the general population,

  • most prefer second.

  • So that's question one.

  • Question number two.

  • Imagine that you're given one of two options:

  • either you win the lottery, and you get ten million dollars tomorrow,

  • you can spend it however you want;

  • or option B,

  • alternatively, you get a very small payment tomorrow,

  • but you get gradual payments throughout your lifetime -

  • increasing payments,

  • and in total, you get eight million dollars

  • over the course of your lifetime.

  • If I gave you that option right now, what would you pick?

  • Who would pick option A?

  • A lot of people.

  • Who would pick option B?

  • Excellent.

  • Amongst the general population,

  • most people seem to be quite short-sighted;

  • most people like the ten million dollars tomorrow.

  • Again, the monkeys 50:50.

  • (Laughter)

  • They did recognize there were two options, not three.

  • Third and final question.

  • You get to choose your salary: what do you pick?

  • You get 50,000, and everyone else gets 50,000.

  • You get 50,000 and everyone else gets 60,000,

  • or you get 40,000 and everyone else you know gets 30,000.

  • Who would pick option A?

  • Who would pick option B? Virtually no one.

  • Who would pick option C?

  • I think there's one person in an audience of about 200.

  • You're pretty consistent with the general population,

  • most go for option A.

  • The monkeys, no surprises there.

  • But let's now think about what the actual answers are.

  • What does the research say about what actually makes us content,

  • what actually makes us satisfied,

  • what actually makes us happy?

  • To question one,

  • the answer is actually to come third,

  • which I think was the lowest of the three options that you all gave.

  • There's no shortage of silver medalists who appear unhappy.

  • (Laughter)

  • So that was question one.

  • Question two, I think you did better on.

  • You picked option B, you went against the general population,

  • and I think you beat the monkeys on this occasion:

  • they beat you on question one; you won question two.

  • And for question three, the correct answer was actually C,

  • which I think only one person got correct.

  • And so the monkeys beat you on two out of three on those,

  • in terms of what actually makes us content, satisfied, and happy

  • as the research has shown.

  • So I think it's fair to say that in general,

  • you're slightly better predictors of happiness than the general population,

  • but you're still pretty pathetic, I'm sorry to say.

  • I think the monkeys beat you, maybe that's why they're smiling.

  • They won two out of three.

  • And what's interesting is that it's not only us

  • that's bad predictors of happiness.

  • The macro data actually support this as well.

  • We're wealthier than ever, but unhappier than ever.

  • We're more prosperous, but more depressed.

  • We're less satisfied.

  • We have faster and faster transport,

  • but we're faster and faster to complain about it.

  • In many countries, there are now more suicides than homicides.

  • We now have more goods and services than ever before.

  • We have technology improving exponentially,

  • but we don't see a corresponding increase

  • in our life satisfaction, in our happiness.

  • It's perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our time.

  • And I think the obvious question is,

  • Why is it that governments and individuals are such bad predictors of happiness?

  • Why is that we get it wrong so often?

  • And I think it's because we don't really understand

  • why it is that we're often unhappy.

  • And so the obvious question is, Why is it that we're unhappy?

  • What's the explanation?

  • Now it's not an easy question to answer,

  • but it's one that I've thought about, researched, and delved into.

  • And through my research over the years, through thinking about it,

  • I think there's one explanation that I find far more compelling,

  • far more plausible, far more persuasive than any other.

  • And that explanation

  • isn't that we have so much choice that we get stressed.

  • It's not that we are economically worse off;

  • in many cases, we're economically better off.

  • It's not that we just have great reporting of depression and suicide;

  • that's true, but it only explains a small portion of the data.

  • It's not due to family breakdowns or reduced freedom.

  • You know, the reason why we're unhappy, the most compelling reason -

  • as shown by the data, as shown by research -

  • relates to expectations.

  • At a very basic, simple level,

  • we're unhappy when our expectations of reality

  • exceed our experiences of reality.

  • When our expectations exceed reality.

  • And I'd like to call this an expectation gap,

  • when our expectations are greater than reality.

  • It's a very simple concept, but it's a hugely important concept

  • to fully understand, to fully get our head around.

  • And to help us get our head around it,

  • I'd like to think in terms of three different types of expectation gaps -

  • three different types of gaps

  • based on the different ways in which we form expectations.

  • I think we form expectations based on our imagination,

  • based on those around us, and based on our past experiences.

  • So to this first type of expectation gap, the imagination gap,

  • which occurs when our imagination exceeds reality.

  • You see, when we choose to buy goods, we choose from a range of options.

  • When we choose where to travel to, we often choose from a range of options.

  • When we choose which leader to elect, we often choose from a range of options.

  • And how do we make that decision?

  • What we do is that we choose the one that we think will be the best.

  • We choose the one that we imagine will be the best of all the options.

  • What we do is we try to maximize our utility at a given price,

  • that's how most people make decisions.

  • To do otherwise would be

  • to choose an option that we didn't think would be as good,

  • which seems a bit counterintuitive.

  • Now the problem here is that the very act of choosing the thing

  • that we think will give us the greatest happiness,

  • that very decision-making process

  • is the thing that actually undermines our happiness

  • because what it means is that when we then see reality,

  • when we then experience it,

  • whether it's the good

  • or the place we travel to or the leader that we elect,

  • it's highly likely that that reality won't live up to our expectation.

  • And that leads to disappointment.

  • And technology makes this so much worse.

  • What technology has loused

  • is things that are actually unrealistic to appear real,

  • things that aren't even on the happiness scale

  • are made to seem as though they are actually possible.

  • We photoshop things in, we airbrush things out,

  • we digitally enhance photos.

  • And what this does is it makes us romanticize travel

  • and makes us come up with fantastical ideas

  • about places that reality simply can't live up to.

  • So we think Sagrada Família looks like this,

  • when it actually looks like this.

  • (Laughter)

  • We think the Taj Mahal always looks like this,

  • when, actually, often it looks like this.

  • We think that the Mona Lisa looks like this,

  • when, actually, if we go and visit it, it's more likely to look like this.

  • (Laughter)

  • What technology does is that it skews our vision, it distorts reality

  • and makes the unreal seem real.

  • Indeed, many of the times

  • that when we're happiest when we go travelling,

  • they're actually the times when we stumble across things we didn't expect,

  • when we discover things for ourselves,

  • where we don't have preconceived notions of different places.

  • And what also makes this worse is selection bias.

  • Many content-based algorithms,

  • whether it's a Google search or Facebook News Feed,

  • the way that it presents information

  • is that it prioritizes those things that are the best images,

  • the most shared images, the most liked images.

  • You're more likely be shown a photo on Facebook

  • if it has 200 likes than if it has 2.

  • And so we come to think of the best images as being normal, as being average.

  • And this also plays with our imagination.

  • That's selection bias.

  • Then there's persuasion,

  • because politicians often get elected on the basis of promising things

  • that they can't deliver, by raising our expectations.

  • Who would you be more likely to vote for?

  • A politician that says, "I'll fix your problems if you vote for me,"

  • or someone who says, perhaps more honestly,

  • "Things will probably be the same, whether you vote for me or not"?

  • Probably you'll vote for the former,

  • but you'll probably be disappointed as well.

  • And so we're in this constant cycle of expectations being raised

  • and hopes being dashed.

  • It's the same with companies.

  • I mean, companies are more likely to tell us

  • that watches have never performed tasks so quickly.

  • They're probably not going to tell us batteries have never run out so quickly,

  • both of which are true.

  • And so when you have technology,

  • when you have persuasion, and when you have selection bias,

  • what that means is that we imagine and demand and expect more

  • than reality can provide.

  • And when the limitless potential of our minds

  • is met by the confined nature of earth,

  • we're disappointed, we're unhappy.

  • Expectations and disappointments irrevocably intertwined.

  • In terms of beauty, it's no wonder that self-esteem levels are so low.

  • I mean, advertisers learned long ago

  • that if you can make people hate themselves,

  • you can sell them things.

  • Now they're applying it time and time again,

  • and we see this.

  • What we see is advertisers showing only the best before-and-after photos.

  • What we see is pictures of models who are made to seem perfectly

  • even though they're not.

  • We've become a society of complainers, of perfectionists,

  • of counter-factual historians -

  • people who always imagine different and better outcomes for ourselves,

  • but people whose imagination can't be satisfied.

  • So that's the imagination gap.