Kahneman never grapples philosophically with the nature of rationality. He does, however, supply a fascinating account of what might be taken to be its goal: happiness. What does it mean to be happy? When Kahneman first took up this question, in the mid 1990s, most happiness research relied on asking people how satisfied they were with their life on the whole. But such retrospective assessments depend on memory, which is notoriously unreliable. What if, instead, a person’s actual experience of pleasure or pain could be sampled from moment to moment, and then summed up over time? Kahneman calls this “experienced” well-being, as opposed to the “remembered” well-being that researchers had relied upon. And he found that these two measures of happiness diverge in surprising ways. What makes the “experiencing self” happy is not the same as what makes the “remembering self” happy. In particular, the remembering self does not care about duration — how long a pleasant or unpleasant experience lasts. Rather, it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak level of pain or pleasure in the course of the experience, and by the way the experience ends.

It is helpful to write always at the same time of day. Scheduled obligations often raise problems, but an hour or two can almost always be found in the early morning-when the telephone never rings and no one knocks at the door. And it is important that you write something, regardless of quantity, every day. As the Romans put it, Nulla dies sine linea-Noday without a line. (They were speaking of lines drawn by artists, but the rule applies as well to the writer.) As a result of all this, the setting almost automatically evokes verbal behavior. No warm-up is needed. A circadian rhythm develops that is extremely powerful. At a certain time every day, you will be highly disposed to engage in serious verbal behavior.

B.F. SKINNER

From James Webb Young, The Diary of an Ad Man: The War Years, June 1, 1942-December 31, 1943 (Chicago: Advertising Publications, 1944)—

“Talked with domestic science editor of one of the women’s magazines. She told me that she had tested literally thousands of recipes, covering almost every kind of food. Asked her what, after all this, she considered the best eating. She thought it was pretty hard to beat a good sirloin steak, washed down with straight whiskey. Western gal.” (via The Poetry of Sight: Sirloin Steak and Whiskey)

Coleridge demurred only partly because he was afraid of the enormous outlay of energy it takes to shepherd a young man to intellectual awareness (although that fear alone is usually what stops would-be preceptors in their tracks); the rest of it was the result of his up-close estimation of Charles: underneath the languid ‘Romantic’ pose of philosophical questing, there wasn’t a whole lot going on (“no birdsong in the hedgerow,” as one contemporary put it).

“How do you and your wife split songwriting chores?“

It’s an adventure. You’ve got a flashlight, I’ve got the map. You hold the nail, I’ll swing the hammer. You wash, I’ll dry. If two people know the same thing, one of you is unnecessary. My wife has dreams and is telepathic and clairvoyant and female. I write from the news or what I see in my field of vision. I’m boots and hats and pocketknives. She’s filled with musical and lyrical surprises. She’s a joy to work with.”

From Tom Wait’s Library

A great way to give thanks…

for the privileges we’ve got is to do important work.

Your job, your internet access, your education, your role in a civilized society… all of them are a platform, a chance to do art, a way for you to give back and to honor those that enabled you to get to this point.

For every person reading this there are a thousand people (literally a thousand) in underprivileged nations and situations that would love to have your slot. Don’t waste it.