Comment by amitpamin on Happiness interventions · 2015-06-27T02:47:21.971Z · LW · GW

If only everyone else had the same aesthetics as you. It's probably possible to make money in the space without being blatantly manipulative, but that's much much harder. I'm glad I'm not working in the space anymore.

Comment by amitpamin on Happiness interventions · 2015-06-20T21:20:41.259Z · LW · GW

John has the correct impression - I actually switched careers nine months ago. I now work as a programmer at a startup.

My most popular post, which brings in 20,000 to 40,000 pageviews a month, was written five months into my career ( Everything after was less popular. Why? Because as my understanding of statistics and methodology improved, my writing possessed fewer bold and enthusiastic claims, which non-LW folk love.

I hold a medium degree of confidence in my latest posts, e.g. my one about meditation. Everything else... well I'm willing to bet $10k that gratitude, for example, can improve the well-being of a large subset of folks. But it would not surprise me if future studies showed that gratitude journals are only 50% as effective as the current batch of research claims.

If you're looking for happiness advice, positive psychology has lots of great ideas. But most interventions are less likely to help and less effective than claimed.

Comment by amitpamin on Happiness interventions · 2015-06-20T21:08:24.479Z · LW · GW

Author of the site here. Totally agree.

The evolutionary psychology may or may not be correct. I think there's some kernels of truth to it. But the mathematical model is crazy insanity, and I'm somewhat ashamed that I needed someone to point it out to me, especially considering that a brief look at the studies done which measured and correlated positivity ratios found 'dividing lines' all over the place, from 2 to 6 (

Comment by amitpamin on Questions on Theism · 2014-10-12T17:33:00.670Z · LW · GW

Most people are aware of the placebo effect, but greatly underestimate how large it's power truly can be.

I have fibromyalgia. At one time I couldn't write, needed a cane to walk, had constant diarrhea, and worse. I had already tried dozens of treatments. I had grown skeptical.

Then I was given a treatment which made lots of sense. It was based off of a theory which I had my doubts about, but after learning more about it, I was 100% convinced this was it. After trying the treatment, I was immediately much better. I could run. I could shave my own beard without pain. I could play sports, I could eat all sorts of foods without problems. One day walking caused me pain, the next I could run without any problems. For two months I was in heaven.

Then all the pain came back. No matter how much I tried that treatment again, it didn't help. Worse, as I learned more about the treatment, I discovered I'd been scammed. Yet it still seemed to have worked a miracle, if only for two months. Why? The placebo effect. More than any other treatment I'd tried, I was convinced this one was going to work.

(fyi, now, three years later I'm doing great)

Comment by amitpamin on Methods for treating depression · 2014-02-18T19:45:51.641Z · LW · GW

I wrote an article listing the evidence for 54 suggested strategies for increasing happiness.

In general, my writing is more enthusiastic than the evidence would call for, but alas I must excite my readers and get the pageviews. My interpretation is that although some of the studies (e.g. keeping a gratitude journal improves symptoms of depression) may be flawed, follow 10 of them at the same time, and you'll likely have included something that works. No smoking guns, of course.

Comment by amitpamin on Rationality Quotes September 2013 · 2013-09-05T19:39:35.414Z · LW · GW

Professor Zueblin is right when he says that thinking is the hardest work many people ever have to do, and they don't like to do any more of it than they can help. They look for a royal road through some short cut in the form of a clever scheme or stunt, which they call the obvious thing to do; but calling it doesn't make it so. They don't gather all the facts and then analyze them before deciding what really is the obvious thing.

From Obvious Adam, a business book published in 1916.

Comment by amitpamin on Common failure modes in habit formation · 2013-06-30T16:04:40.009Z · LW · GW

I agree with the challenging bit, but for a different reason. Quoting from Piers Steel, "We are motivational misers who constantly fine-tune our effort levels so that we strive just enough for success."

For low complexity goals, up to a point, there is a linear relationship between goal difficulty and goal performance, even when the reward is held constant. That is, more difficult goals require more motivation; provided that the goal is valuable, that motivation is provided.

The difficulty with choosing challenging goals is ensuring that you feel motivated, not excited. Excited is thinking of the benefits and feeling positive emotion in anticipation. Motivation is the energy necessary to actually complete all the crap in between, like doing your pushups. I use mental contrasting for this. It works better than nothing, but still leaves much to be desired.

Comment by amitpamin on The Mystery At The Heart of Central Banking · 2013-06-24T21:15:49.501Z · LW · GW

It's funny.

I went to business school, studied some economics, even did well enough in a monetary policy competition to meet Bernanke.

And I can't once recall having a conversation like the one you've just initiated. Even if your arguments end up invalid... I'm interested to see what you have to say.

Comment by amitpamin on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-12T20:23:48.147Z · LW · GW

I've done this twice in my life. First, when I was in college, I took a semester to study abroad in china while continuing my old job for a SF startup remotely. I felt rich, yes. But it was a failure - first and foremost, I want to hang out with people whom I can communicate and enjoy my time with. I learned this lesson after trying this again, but this time, moving to India for 3 months. I am Indian, so I didn't expect the cultural barrier to be as much of a problem. It was.

Comment by amitpamin on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-12T20:16:32.875Z · LW · GW

I have tried several variants of this process. As expected, the largest road-block has been part 3 - the self-control not to consume the reward despite lack of completion.

I will mention that on the few occasions I have gotten this to work, my excitement and enjoyment was much higher than average. The desire and excitement for food seemed to translate into the task at hand.

Comment by amitpamin on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-12T20:07:31.898Z · LW · GW

I set my alarm 5 minutes before I actually want to wake up. When it rings the first time, I consume a large glass of fake lemonade (the kind with lots and lots of sugar). Perhaps not healthy, but it works - among other things, the presence of sugar in the mouth immediately releases dopamine. On the few occasions the energy isn't enough, the urge to use the bathroom is ;)

I tried the coffee thing, for me, sugar works more reliably.

Comment by amitpamin on Reinforcement and Short-Term Rewards as Anti-Akratic · 2013-04-20T10:22:49.526Z · LW · GW

Be aware that there's significant research that extrinsic motivators crowd out intrinsic ones. Essentially, they increase total motivation at the cost of sometimes reducing intrinsic motivation, which in turn creates a reliance on the extrinsic motivators. A good book on the subject is Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, but if you do decide to read the book, be aware that the author is biased towards self-determination theory.

Comment by amitpamin on Open Thread, October 16-31, 2012 · 2012-10-17T00:05:00.946Z · LW · GW

Good question. I assume you ask because conscientiousness is highly correlated with a number of positive life outcomes?

  1. Conscientiousness is temporally stable, that is, in the average individual, it does not much change over time.
  2. Conscientiousness is linked to a number of other personality traits - e.g. self-regulation, perseverance, etc.... These traits can be trained; and according to a quick skim of the study below, training those traits in turn effects conscientiousness, at least in children.

  1. In adults, the trait is more temporally stable (sorry, no citation off hand), but there are hacks - e.g. self-control strategies like mental contrasting, implementation intentions, learned industriousness, etc... can partially achieve the same effect as having more conscientiousness.

This is a good question though... I will investigate some more.

Comment by amitpamin on The basic argument for the feasibility of transhumanism · 2012-10-15T12:52:37.464Z · LW · GW

As has been raised by others, just because the design space is large, does not imply that the possibilities have high probability of being actualized.

Your argument shows that there is possibility. And, I think, nothing more. But yes, exempting existential catastrophe, I don't see how transhumanism is avoidable.

Comment by amitpamin on 11 Less Wrong Articles I Probably Will Never Have Time to Write · 2012-10-12T17:09:01.809Z · LW · GW

This is me making a public commitment to get #'s 6 or 8 done within the next 3 months, one of which will be my first post to LessWrong.

Comment by amitpamin on Raising the waterline · 2012-10-09T14:52:25.408Z · LW · GW

As a non-veteran Less Wronger, I found this book both enjoyable and valuable.

The value came from the same place as the enjoyment - despite knowing about our many flaws in thinking (I've read the sequences and a few rationality books), it's different when you see real-world examples. Specifically, this book partially motivated me to start re-learning the actual math (e.g.

Comment by amitpamin on Raising the waterline · 2012-10-09T14:46:04.277Z · LW · GW

50% untrue.

"In cases like these, it can require a lot of extra effort to beat the competition. You will find that you soon encounter diminishing returns."

Comment by amitpamin on Parenting and Happiness · 2012-10-04T01:58:10.156Z · LW · GW

I've looked at many of the actual studies, although not the recent one you mentioned. I agree with your overall analysis, but would add one addendum - there are different types of happiness. The delineation I find most applicable here would be Daniel Kahneman's. He suggests that there are two types of happiness - experiential and remembering.

Experiential is measured by his day reconstruction method, as well as the experience sampling method mentioned by benthamite. Call it hedonic, moment by moment happiness.

Remembering is as it suggests - how we feel when we remember our past. This is why meaning has importance - we like to feel we've done things with our lives (e.g. he suggests this is why we try to fill our lives with 'memorable' events, even when these events themselves do not create the largest positive affect at the time).

As you've said, the papers are mixed on the experiential happiness side - some papers (self-report + experience sampling + day reconstruction) vote positive, others negative. On the remembering side, all papers I've seen have reported increases. What does this mean? I have no idea - the problem is that happiness is poorly understood.

Usually this is not a problem - most decisions lean quiet clearly in one direction or the other - that is, clearly increase happiness or clearly don't. What does it mean if parents report lower life satisfaction, but higher meaning in life? No idea.

But as the research stands now, I personally would not have children. Consider the effort required to raise children. Take that same effort and apply it to other areas of your life, where the happiness research is more clear, and your return on investment will be much higher (by an order of magnitude, given the effort required to raise children).

Comment by amitpamin on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 4 · 2012-08-29T02:13:18.071Z · LW · GW

That interpretation is correct.

I've noticed that I don't even need to be knowledge to gain utility - there is a strong correlation between the signaling of my 'knowledgeableness' and the post popularity - the most popular had the largest number of references (38), and so on. When writing the post, I just hide the fact that I researched so much because of my uncertainty :)

Comment by amitpamin on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 4 · 2012-08-28T00:09:37.162Z · LW · GW

At the moment, LW has provided negative benefit to my life. I recently quit my job to start learning positive psychology. My initial goal was to blog about positive psychology, and eventually use my blog as a platform to sell a book.

LW has made me deeply uncertain of the accuracy of the research I read, the words I write on my blog, and the advice I am writing in the book I intend to sell. Long-term, the uncertainty will probably help me by making me more knowledgeable than my peers, but in the short-term, demotivates (e.g. if I was sure what I was learning was correct, I would enthusiastically proselytize, which is a much more effective blogging strategy).

Still, I read on, because I've passed the point of ignorance.

Comment by amitpamin on How to get cryocrastinators to actually sign up for cryonics · 2012-08-27T23:56:13.097Z · LW · GW

Wouldn't it be great if cryonics was opt-out? It took me two years to overcome my cryocrastinating.

Comment by amitpamin on Timeless Identity · 2012-06-21T05:01:15.255Z · LW · GW

I realize this is an old post and no one will read this comment... but I just wanted to say thank you. I myself signed up for cyronics just a month ago, but did, for example, wonder - will I be the same person? I still wonder that, but with slightly more perspective.

Comment by amitpamin on Ekman Training - Reviews and/or Testing · 2012-06-20T18:16:26.003Z · LW · GW

Unfortunately I have no idea. My statistics knowledge is many years unused.... I have some brushing up to do.

But it seems you're right - if each person gave 50 statements, the sample size would just be 250 (the # of liers x the number of statements they give).

Comment by amitpamin on Ekman Training - Reviews and/or Testing · 2012-06-19T22:32:03.030Z · LW · GW

I have Ekman's training on my computer, and I quickly abandoned it. The low number of recommended training hours and low number of different training samples to me seemed an indication of poor quality. In addition, the only scientific study of efficacy I could find at the time was sponsored by a microexpressions company. Some other evidence I read elsewhere seemed to suggest that the lie-detection bump from microexpressions training was tiny, in the order of a few percentage points.

That said, it would be interesting to me to actually test the training.

We have two groups, one that get's Ekman's training and one that doesn't. We also have a group of liers. Let's say 5 people. Each person in both groups talks to each person in the group of liers. Each person in the group of liers tells the other people a consistent set of truths and lies. The people in the test groups record to each line if they think it's a truth or lie. They don't find out if they are wrong/right. After the training, both groups go through the process again. The set of truths and lies told is the same.

If the training group increased their accuracy significantly more than the control group, it worked. Of course, this method requires too much effort and isn't likely to be that accurate. Hm...

Comment by amitpamin on Can Humanism Match Religion's Output? · 2012-06-18T22:58:53.806Z · LW · GW

No need to invest a few thousand bucks - a few books and self-discipline is all that's needed (not that self-discipline is easy to arise & invest). re: zen meditation, I recommend reading Search Inside Yourself. It's a book about meditation written by a google employee. It contains a decent number of citations.

Comment by amitpamin on Tolerate Tolerance · 2012-06-18T22:35:14.855Z · LW · GW

I have a massively huge problem with this. Every time a non-fiction author or scientist I respect gives credit to a non-rational I cringe inside. I have to will myself to remember that just because they have a lower rationality threshold, does not automatically discredit their work.

Comment by amitpamin on Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate · 2012-06-18T22:31:18.871Z · LW · GW

Wow. I don't identify as a cynic or spock, but of the many articles I have read on Less Wrong since I discovered it yesterday, this one is perhaps the most perspective changing.