The Key to Happiness is Living in Reality


The past week has been filled with wild news about artificial intelligence—its rapid advance, lingering pitfalls, and serious risks. What struck me most about all the AI takes was a common theme that users had to repeatedly remind themselves that the AI chatbots are not sentient. This got me thinking—as AI continues to evolve and become more complex, perhaps the only thing that will separate us from it is our being sentient, our ability to experience emotions and feelings.

And the quality of those emotions and feelings will increasingly depend on our ability to live in reality.

As I wrote about extensively in The Practice of Groundedness, our happiness at any given point in time is a function of our reality minus our expectations. If our expectations are unrealistically lofty, we tend not to feel so good.

Tools to falsify reality for the sake of attention and status will continue to improve. This means it will be more important, and more challenging than ever to live in actual reality. Whatever Photoshop could do AI will do times a thousand. As a matter of fact, it already does.

AI is being used to construct unbelievably beautiful “people” (in quotes because they are not real) on Instagram. Meanwhile, on Twitter, so-called influencers are using AI to write their best tweets. If the AI says a post about how great one’s life is will do best, then you better believe that’s what will get generated, regardless of that person’s actual reality.

We need to establish a new rule of thumb: if you see, read, or hear about something that you think might be performative, then you ought to assume it is.

Nobody posts their entire life on social media because it’s truly that good. If anything, the opposite tends to be true: those who feel the need to share a seemingly perfect life tend to have real lives that are anything but perfect.

With more bots whose primary goal it is to capture our attention—and more people who act like bots with the same goal—we’ll have to be extra mindful to keep living in our own realities, not the illusory ones of someone, or something, else. Our individual and collective happiness depends on it.


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