Derren writes in his book Happy about Daniel Kahneman’s separation of two selves that operate within us, the experiencing self and the remembering self. The difference of those two selves can be understood as the distinction between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure “relates to what we are being made to directly feel right now” and happiness “comes from a judgement we make, a sense of things being or having been right or as we would like them to be, and tends to be retrospective.”
Happy endings have mnemonic power. Derren shares how we don’t make decisions based on our experiences, but based on the stories of our experiences. Our stories aren’t formed based on an accurate reflection of experience, but we act like novelists, and we seek a good ending. Some time ago I shared my experience of rewriting one of the negative stories from my past. There the unhappy ending really took all the pleasure away from the pampering treatment.
Not long ago I wrote how I found it easier not to pay too close attention to my own inner world. And now I read Derren’s description how the experiencing self might be happy with activities that distract it from any negative emotion, but how the remembering self tells an agonizing narrative of us letting ourselves down or being unfairly treated. Our remembering self is the one keeping us awake in the early hours replaying those stories, arousing negative emotions with every single one of the excruciating details.
Now that I have stopped watching the TV series and use my time in activities that I feel to be more beneficial in the long run, I am more content when I lay my head on the pillow in the evenings. In Derren’s words, “there is a deeper happiness to be had in knowing that your life is part of a story of flourishing than there is in merely pursuing entertainment.”
I think that the secret is to enjoy all the activities I do, so that both my remembering self as well as my experiencing self are satisfied. As Derren puts it: “If we hope for something deeper in life than distraction, we might note that our remembering, story-forming self needs a narrative of happiness in the same way our experiencing self requires its pleasures.”
Our remembering self makes the judgement how happy time we had in this world, when we look back over our lives. That’s why it’s so important to engage with that side of ourselves in order to live well and happily. All the enjoyable experiences along the way don’t tend to correlate with any particular feeling of happiness. We are here to pursue a meaning for our lives, not to just have a good time while it lasts.