Gilbert Short or Long-Term in Theory Essay

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Gilbert

Short or Long-Term

In theory, there appears to be a fairly straightforward relationship between self-esteem and happiness. It is fairly rational to believe that what makes us feel good about ourselves, which is what self-esteem essentially both does and reflects, would ideally lead us to a state of happiness that should only be punctured by the unpredictable vicissitudes of life. However, a couple of authors have actually written a body of literature that pertains to the relationship between self-esteem and happiness, but which suggests that this relationship is not in alignment with that of the aforementioned viewpoint. Both Daniel Gilbert, in an essay titled "Immune to Reality" that is an excerpt from a chapter in a book he has written called Stumbling on Happiness, and Jean Twenge, in an essay she authored entitled "An Army of One: Me," allude to the inherent relationship between self-esteem and happiness. Gilbert's essay is primarily a psychological analysis of the nature of happiness and what it takes to produce this emotion in people. Twenge's essay references the phenomenon of the self-esteem movement, in which many children are taught to feel good about themselves whether or not they have a reason to do so. However, these authors indicate that contrary to popular belief, this relationship is actually an inverse one: self-esteem affects happiness in a negative way. Essentially, that which makes us feel good about ourselves ultimately sets us up to be unhappy, which means that people in GenMe should go about pursing happiness not based upon what feels good at the time, but based upon what will actually benefit them in the future. The effects of self-esteem are transitory and easily fleeting in the present, whereas the effects of happiness cannot truly be measured except in the future.

Gilbert actually propounds a number of examples that are decidedly psychological and scientific in nature that readily demonstrates this thesis and the inverse relationship between self-esteem and happiness. The author describes a study in which students were enrolled in a photography class, half of which was allowed to keep a single photograph and the other half of which was allowed to have a variety of choices about the single photography they could keep. The author reveals that those who had no liberty about which picture they kept -- which is a restraint on their free will -- were decidedly happier about their photos than those who were allowed to exchange photos for a time before keeping one. Yet, as the following quotation demonstrates, when students were given a choice as to be able to select just one photo and keep it or to have options to return photos for a time period -- they chose the latter, even though that option makes people less happy. The reason why is two-fold: people do not really know what makes them happy and having the liberty to decide, to exercise one's free will, helps one's self-esteem and makes people feel good, which the following quotation implies. "Why would anyone prefer less satisfaction to more? No one does, of course, but most people seem to prefer more freedom to less" (Gilbert, 142). It is this preference which allows people to feel good about themselves for the present moment, while in the future, the exercise of this free will and assertion of self-esteem actually leads to unhappiness. This phenomenon is alluded to in Twenge's essay quite frequently as well. The following quotation alludes to the ephemeral nature of self-esteem and its ability to produce unhappiness later. "The self-esteem movement, Stout argues, is popular because it is sweetly addictive: teachers don't have to criticize, students don't have to be criticized, and everyone goes home happy. The problem is they also go home ignorant and uneducated as well" (Twenge, 492-493). In this quotation, the author indicates that by reinforcing self-esteem in a classroom setting, students will feel good for the present, but the ignorance they will cultivate by not being corrected will bring them unhappiness in the future. This is one of the reasons why GenMe should attempt to pursue happiness in the long-term by forsaking the transitory effects of self-esteem.

One of the defining traits of the inverse relationship between self-esteem and happiness is that people are not aware of that relationship, or misinterpret it to be a more linear relationships where they believe that the more self-esteem a person feels the more happier that person will be. But Gilbert argues that the mind's ability to adapt to circumstances and make itself happier when there are limits on circumstances for self-esteem in the present is largely unknown. The subsequent quotation alludes to this aspect of the relationship between happiness and self-esteem. "When the experience we are having is not the one we want to be having, our first thought is to go out and have a different one, which is why we return unsatisfactory rental cars, check out of bad hotels, and stop hanging around people who pick their noses in public. It is only when we cannot change the experience that we look for ways to change our views of the experience, which is why we love the clunker in the driveway, the shabby cabin that's been in the family for years…"(Gilbert 141). This quotation indicates that it is good for our self-esteem to have choices about what we have or choose to do -- strictly in a finitely temporal sense. But it is only once these choices have been solidified and cannot be changed that human beings choose to become happy about their decisions, which is something most people are unaware of. This proclivity of people to be unaware of the actual way that happiness occurs within humans is referenced in Twenge's essay as well, although there certainly seems to be a degree of responsibility on the part of some of the adults or pedagogues who are propagating the self-esteem movement. Still, the fleeting effects of self-esteem that are inversely related to long-term happiness are discussed in the following quotation. "Americans preserve their self-esteem at the expense of doing better at a difficult task" (Twenge, 493). The context this quotation is delivered in is a comparison between the tendencies of Asian students to have lower self-esteem and to pursue tasks that are difficult for them, whereas Americans have higher self-esteem and tend to do the opposite. It is fairly apparent that when looking back at something in the past, we can gain substantially more happiness by having labored hard to achieve something of difficulty than simply feeling good about ourselves during that past moment. Yet many people (at least in America) do not appear to know this fact, which the prevalence of the self-esteem movement suggests. To that end, GenMe should pursue happiness by being aware of its true nature -- that it may take hard work and may require rejection or dissatisfaction with ourselves in the present, but that ultimately, enduring through periods of self-esteem can help to produce true felicity.

Twenge also alludes to the fact that for many people, the temporary effects of their self -- esteem is actually counterproductive to their overall happiness. For the many GenMe students who are shamelessly promoted and/or given stellar grades for inadequate or merely mediocre academic performances, the future, in which one should be reaping the effects of one's happiness, is sure to contain several harsh realities relating to their academic and general knowledge deficiencies. The following quotation from the author's essay emphasizes this fact. "Young people who have high self-esteems based on shaky foundations might run into trouble when they encounter the harsh realities of the real world. As Stout argues, kids who are given meaningless a's and promoted when they haven't learned the material will later find out in college or the working world that they don't know much at all. And what will that do to their self-esteem, or, more, important, their careers" (Twenge 493). It is interesting to note that Twenge's question is rhetorical. However, to answer that question is to actually give preponderance to the severe degree of unhappiness that gratifying our self-esteem in the present moment actually yields to us in the future. An ignorant populace, one that has difficulty obtaining or even keeping a job, is not a very felicitous one. In fact, to that end it appears that this inverse relationship between self-esteem and happiness actually leads to a fair amount of unhappiness. These characteristics of this relationship between these two important facets of human nature are even demonstrated in an essay written by Martha Stout, the author whom Twenge refers to on a number of occasions in the latter's article. As a psychologist, Stout is familiar with exactly how dangerous it can be to satisfy our needs for the moment -- in much the same way that we do to gratify our self-esteem -- when one considers the future ramifications and inherent unhappiness it yields. Although Stout spends the bulk of her essay discussing the phenomenon of disassociation, which is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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