One rainy day in Manhattan
When you snag an appointment with Daniel Kahneman (which can take up to a year!), you want everything to be perfect to welcome the man in demand: flowers, seats, lunch, even the room temperature. But while waiting for Kahneman in a downpour in front of a Downtown Manhattan hotel, trying to spot his limousine, there’s a tap on the shoulder. "Hi, I’m Daniel." And well, there he is. Cloaked in a long black coat, shaking his wet umbrella: he’d walked.
Happiness is a disappointment
Taking a taxi might have been a happier solution in the unpleasant weather, but Kahneman admits that happiness is actually the biggest disappointment in his career, at least when it comes to research. "I was very much expecting to find one thing," he says, immediately casting an air of suspense, "but we found exactly the opposite." He smiles. Kahneman is referring to the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM), a process he invented and is still in use today. DRM is a way to ask people about every part of their day on a daily basis, focusing on their emotions. He expected to find a broader change in emotions than in life satisfaction, but the plan didn’t work out. "We were convinced that if we looked at the difference between teachers in good schools and in bad schools, we’d find a much bigger difference in emotions than in satisfaction. It turned out the opposite was true," he calmly reveals. "We found that it’s actually emotionally miserable to be poor, but beyond a certain level of poverty, it stops making any difference. But for life satisfaction, the more you have, the more satisfied you are with your life."
Can a single question reveal what we’re thinking?
In general, Kahneman is critical of how surveys on happiness are devised. A political question at the beginning could lead to an overall unsatisfactory result, for example.