We’ve all met that person whose knee-jerk reactions are based on emotions even if they’re illogical to anyone but them. I’ve also heard people who say, “always go with your first thought, it’s usually the correct decision.” Or I’ve heard others say, “Always trust your intuition, it’s usually right.” Aren’t so-called gut-feelings the same as intuition and emotions?
Should intuition and gut-feelings play a role in logical decision making? Not according to the new book Don’t Trust Your Gut, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Stephens-Davidowitz was a philosophy major at Stanford, who later earned a PhD in economics from Harvard. He is a former data scientist for Google. This is what he told Vox in an interview:
Say you’re opening up a business. Let’s say you’ve seen a movie about a successful record store back when those were a big deal. And you say, “That seems fun. I’m gonna try a record store.”
You should know the data that of every business in the United States, the record stores have the lowest average life span. The average record store lasts 2.75 years. The average dentist business lasts 19.5 years. Now that has to be information that you consult when you’re making a major decision like that.
Does that mean intuition plays no role in decision-making? According to Stephens-Davidowitz:
I’d say it could have a small role.
There have been these studies that show if you do something in a controlled environment, many times, then your intuition is able to sense things that it would be impossible to otherwise sense, such as a firefighter who can sense that there’s a fire even before it reaches conscious awareness or is visible.
So I think there are times where our gut can be useful. But I think our gut is massively overrated.
When asked what things people can do to boost happiness, he points to data on happiness, and particularly the Mappiness Project, by George MacKerron and Susana Mourato.
And they found all these things like, socializing, being with friends: really, really important. Being with your romantic partner: really, really important. Many of us think that we’re gonna have a good time if we just lie on our couch and browse the internet, or go on social media or play an iPhone game. And the data, when you actually ask people doing that, they tend to say they’re not particularly happy doing that.
Yet, a romantic partner doesn’t necessarily make you happy if you’re not happy outside of the relationship. (OK, I’ve always said this) He says:
In other words, a person who is happy outside their relationship is far more likely to be happy inside their relationship, as well.
Also, Stephens-Davidowitz points out many of the things that make people the happiest don’t require a lot of money:
Gardening ranks really high. Theater, dance shows, sports, running, exercise, singing, performing — so karaoke, really good — talking, chatting, socializing, bird-watching, nature-watching, walking, hiking, hunting, and fishing.
Work does not make people happy but it’s a necessary evil.
Well, the trap is that work is the second most miserable activity according to [scholars Alex Bryson] and MacKerron, which shocked me because I had grown up with this idea that work is where you get a lot of your fulfillment and joy and purpose.
My read of the literature is: the number one factor that increases your happiness while you’re working is liking the people you’re working with. It just blows everything out of the water. So that’s what you want to be thinking about, more than how much money am I gonna make. If you don’t like the people, no matter what you’re doing, you’re kind of screwed.
The book is full of tidbits of wisdom that people rarely think about. The common theme of the book is when making important decisions, use data not your gut.