26 Aug 2016 NO PHONES AT DINNER.
My wife is a genius, and I will tell you why. Whenever we go out to eat, no matter where we go, she is strictly “no phones.” I don’t care if we’re having a conversation about movies and one of us might be tempted to IMDB an actress, or if out of habit I pull out my phone to tweet something dumb–doesn’t matter. NO PHONES AT DINNER.
Of course I’ve always known my wife is very intelligent (except, perhaps, when it comes to her choice in male companionship), but it’s always fun to find bona fide Nobel-level backup for her ideas.
Exhibit A: In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman recalls a study that he and some other psychologists and economists designed and implemented to understand what causes emotional well-being and overall life satisfaction. Several thousand women in the US, France, and Denmark participated in the study.
As with a number of his studies, there are many takeaways from this one, but one stood out to me like a sore thumb, especially in regards to NO PHONES AT DINNER (emphasis mine):
Attention is key. Our emotional state is largely determined by what we attend to, and we are normally focused on our current activity and immediate environment. There are exceptions, where the quality of subjective experience is dominated by recurrent thoughts rather than by the events of the moment. When happily in love, we may feel joy even when caught in traffic, and if grieving, we may remain depressed when watching a funny movie. In normal circumstances, however, we draw pleasure and pain from what is happening at the moment, if we attend to it. To get pleasure from eating, for example, you must notice that you are doing it. We found that French and American women spent about the same amount of time eating, but for French women, eating was twice as likely to be focal as it was for American women. The Americans were far more prone to combine eating with other activities, and their pleasure from eating was correspondingly diluted.
So here’s the deal. Some portion of eliminating what I call “artificial poverty” and answering the question “Are You Rich Enough?” relates to money decisions. I don’t know what the portion is, but I suspect it’s less than 50%. That portion interests me. But what interests me even more is the other part, the part that is all about who we are as human beings–how we think and believe and love and behave. And Kahneman’s study bears out what my wife has been saying for a long time: Attention matters. Notice what’s happening around you. Soak it in. It costs literally zero dollars, and yet the return is measured in quality of life.