Monday, June 15, 2009

Happiness

In the previous post I mentioned my scores on this Big Five personality test. Someone immediately doubted whether I (or any theoretical physicist) could really have scored at the 99th percentile for Stability (opposite of Neuroticism). Upon further reflection, I find the result a little puzzling as well!

One contributing factor I can point to is that I've been thinking about the problem of happiness and the hedonic treadmill for some time.

It's also true that my father passed away while I was still fairly young, so I had the impetus to consider his life in its entirety and to evaluate which of the things he did really mattered, and which didn't.

If you're interested in optimizing your own life satisfaction, I recommend the Happiness Project blog, written by Gretchen Rubin (she is Robert Rubin's daughter in law; I once worked with her husband who was at the time an investment banker). I especially recommend her short movie The Years Are Short (it's only a minute or so long) to any parent with small kids.

I guess I would describe myself as something of a stoic. My favorite bit of advice for academics comes from...

Marcus Aurelius

"Or does the bubble reputation distract you? Keep before your eyes the swift onset of oblivion, and the abysses of eternity before us and behind; mark how hollow are the echoes of applause, how fickle and undiscerning the judgments of professed admirers, and how puny the arena of human fame. For the entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner in it; and how many are therein who will praise you, and what sort of men are they?"

11 comments:

adamchristensen said...

Reminds me of a post from the NY times happy days blog from last week:

http://happydays.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/the-joy-of-less/

The key to happiness, in many respects, is decoupling happiness and circumstances.

martin said...

I saw this poem by Rumi the other day:

This is now. Now is,
all there is. Don't wait for Then;
strike the spark, light the fire.

Sit at the Beloved's table,
feast with gusto, drink your fill

then dance
the way branches
of jasmine and cypress
dance in a spring wind.

The green earth
is your cloth;
tailor your robe
with dignity and grace.

Paul said...

Wonderful quote by Marcus Aurilius. How 'bout...

"Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness"

Chuang-Tzu

A. said...

Hey Steve,

Your anomalously low score on the neuroticism scale, if in fact a true reflection of your personality, may indicate why you are not as eminent a theoretical physicist as you could be. (Compared with the typical theoretical physicist, you may be less worried about citations, reputation, etc.) On the other hand, the low score may also be directly correlated with the ratio of your personal wealth to that of the typical theoretical physicist. In any case, I like the Marcus Aurelius quote and have it pasted on my computer.

Steve Hsu said...

"Your anomalously low score on the neuroticism scale, if in fact a true reflection of your personality, may indicate why you are not as eminent a theoretical physicist as you could be."

It's nice to think so, although perhaps I am just too limited in brainpower ;-)

When my dad died I had the opportunity to consider the books and papers he had written, the family life he enjoyed, and his personal philosophy of life, which was pretty "eastern" for someone like me, born in Iowa. It sort of clarified to me that much of life is wasted energy -- sound and fury and all that. Academic disputes over credit seem to me like tempests in teacups -- all the fiercer because so little is at stake!

Dave Bacon said...

My stability percentile was 4. So that's why I'll never get a physics (or computer science) job? :)

Steve Hsu said...

I hope that's not true!

(4 means very stable, or very neurotic?)

Siddharth Sharma said...

i got 1 too on neuroticism. Seems like its not that uncommon and the test doesn't test for many neurotic behaviours.

anon said...

"I find the result a little puzzling as well"

That you take personality tests seriously, like your taking economics seriously, means one of two things: your g is not as high as you think or g is not valid in your case.

Your quote from Aurelius begs the question: Why have you wasted your talent on theoretical physics, teaching, and blogging, etc? You should be working to cure disease.

Dave Bacon said...

4: very stable.

"Why have you wasted your talent on theoretical physics, teaching, and blogging, etc?"

And you, dear anon, why have you wasted your time commenting on a blog?

anon said...

To get "geniuses" like Steve working on problems that actually matter.

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