Intriguing article that Ephrat Livni’s article of December 21 in Quartz describes the thinking of cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics. If I summarize well what is already, in this article, a summary, Kahneman proposes the distinction between happiness and satisfaction.
As we know, human beings seek happiness. The road to it is difficult, perched on good intentions and obstacles. Companies are scrambling to make their employees happy, even creating positions as happiness managers, promoting “fun” at work as a value. As for advertising, aren’t they the Gospels of modern times ? Everything will be clearer, tastier the day you buy, dear consumer, this eco-responsible and refreshing toothpaste. Everything will seem accomplished when you have done your laundry, which will make the white whiter with, as a bonus, a smell of lavender that will make you dream of an impossible Provence.
Being with your family on Christmas Eve makes you happy, having a drink with friends makes you happy. This has been proven and we must encourage it. A single person is doomed to die like a fruit fly in vinegar. The emergence of social media is like so many champagne glasses with ephemeral bubbles and so… quantifiable. From now on, there is no point in meeting each other because we can love each other at the right time. It is almost the same without the risk of catching each other’s colds. And all those statistics, all those memories…
Oh, of course, there are those fluid exchanges that can only be done in person, there are those feelings that have not yet been the subject of sophisticated algorithms. Take, for example, the colleague who, every night, near me, says to me “Noooooo” when he sees me leave. This little game is almost a declaration of love even if I know full well that it is not. It is part of our daily happiness to which we are attached as if this represents the missing link in our chains of existence.
But, Kahneman warns us, happiness is not satisfaction. This term hides another one : satiety, and this other one : memory. Feeling that hunger is satisfied, that thirst no longer exists. To be sure that these senses are full. Is this possible if we do not have the proof, the memory of what we have experienced ? And what does that mean ? That’s where it leads us, to the meaning of life.
At the end of our lives, are we full ? Have we reached that something that makes us say that we have realized ourselves ? But then what ? After the banquet, the party ? Life goes on ? Maybe, but usually without us. What remains is memory, the sediment that underlies History and Culture. People are only fulfilled if they know where they come from and think they know where they are going. It is therefore not surprising to see them curl up when the illusory Facebookliers and Instabubbles return the futility of their impoverished memory to them.
What makes us satisfied is not the quantity of visits made to friends and relatives, but the quality and memory of these meetings. At a time when the St. Lawrence River was freezing all winter long, entire families were divided, seeing each other only during the long cold season. There were the letters that took three months to arrive. This memory was precious, a quiet little stream.
But now modern times are flooded with new rivers of interaction. Kahneman says he is dizzy and has stopped wanting to respond to the thorny quest for satisfaction. He has moved on to something else, to quantifying data noise, to listening to Big Data.
For my part, I breathe calmly. There is a great satisfaction in being satisfied with the mystery of life, in listening to his heart smile to this friend who says “noooooo”, to my dreams that only want to enjoy.
I can only hope to meet those who will bring me the pleasure that I can sow in the soil of my memory, where the only opaque and sincere satisfaction seems to last. For whose benefit ? I don’t know. I rely on my ignorance of things.
Yesterday, it was raining dogs and monsters, today it is snowing. My neighbours have three cats. One is black, the other white and the little fool is grey. This summer, a tree shrugged its shoulders.