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12:13 pm - Monday September 26, 2016

Is Rationalization the Key to Happiness?

| Career, Psychology | Rating: 4.5
by Numan

Rationalization is a powerful defense mechanism which comes at the cost of self deception. Does honesty with oneself comes with a price in happiens?

I’m incapable of rationalization. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state I can’t really rationalize well enough to convince myself (most of the times).

Rationalization arguments ranging from “Everything happens for the best” and the various versions of “I’m much better off this way” to “If that what it takes to succeed I don’t want any part in it” simply don’t work for me.

Would I be happier if I could better rationalize?
Rationalization as a defense mechanism
Rationalization is a powerful defense mechanism proposed initially by Sigmund Freud. In Psychology rationalization is the process of constructing logical justification for a belief, decision, action or lack thereof that was originally arrived at through a different mental process (Wikipedia).

To put it in more basic terms rationalization is a defense mechanism in which unacceptable behaviors or feelings are explained in a rational or logical manner thus avoiding the true explanation of the behavior or feeling in question.

By definition the function of such a defense mechanism is to protect our psychology from unacceptable or undesirable behaviors or situations thus enabling our “happiness”.

There are many examples for rationalization in day to day life. I’m sure many of us have considerable experience in rationalization efforts some successful, others aren’t. Common examples of rationalization include:

  • Justifying all sorts of minor “theft” such as avoiding taxes or copyright infringements with arguments such as “the government just spends my taxes away on Wall-Street Crooks” or “The music companies’ make a fortune off of the backs of poor artists while greed or simple financial math are the real motivators.
  • Justifying avoiding a conflict with arguments such as “I’ll be the bigger person” while lack of courage, or fear, are the real motivators.
  • Explaining lack of success by arguing all successful people compromise on their principles while many other reasons may well explain it. The list goes on and on.

By rationalizing I am able to explain why I haven’t made my first million by 30. I am able to explain why I’m yet another middle class average person with no distinctive mark on anything. The truth is cruel and rationalization helps put it away for a while. At least until the midlife crisis comes along and illuminates us.
Rationalization and self-deception
When I say I am incapable of rationalization I mean I can’t really convince myself with my rationalization efforts.

To take my blog as an example – I put quite an effort into my posts and I believe I offer quality to my readership. Still, I am not as successful as I’d like. I could go on arguing the quality of my posts may be of less appeal to the mass market or that the fact I try to argue, in length, is not suitable for internet writing. All of these rationalizations may have some hold in reality but they do not explain why I haven’t been selected to write on the NY Times for example. A much simpler explanation may be that although my initial belief is that my posts and my writing are good they simply aren’t good enough.

Facing reality may be harsh and cruel but I believe it eventually serves as a great motivator. Personally, I haven’t been able to translate my abilities to the success I think I deserve. I may attribute this to many factors which may explain it to an extent. Still, I always know when I’m lying to myself.

I believe avoiding self-deception through rationalization takes an effort but when you are akin to it and honest enough with yourself you will surely see through the rationalization.
Self-deception has been discussed by many philosophers such as Plato, Emanuel Kant, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche and Sartre.
Rationalization and self serving bias
Rationalization and self serving bias usually go hand in hand. A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure (Wikipedia).

The self serving bias often serves our rationalizations. What could possibly be easier than to place the blame on the recent promotion of my colleague, instead of me, on luck (or lack of), nepotism or cronyism?

By avoiding a thorough self inspection of my part in the process together with a good rationalization process I am almost assuring it will happen again.
Ignorance is Bliss
It seems we are back to this basic truth and the discussion around it. Rationalizing away may help increase our happiness but it requires a certain level of ignorance and self-deception. Some willingly adopt these and others won’t.

The choice, I believe, is not up to us and is rather deterministic. Our intelligence, our experiences and our tendencies will determine how well we are able to rationalize or how happy we may be in our ignorance.

From a happiness point of view rationalization is definitely a powerful mechanism but wouldn’t the majority of people, if offered the choice, prefer the truth over the illusion? No matter the consequences?

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