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December 21, 2011

I hear Chicago is cold in the winter

by dan rodriguez

Longtime Californian and new transplant from Texas, naturally my anxieties turn to the weather — weather which neither me nor my wife, Leslie, have ever experienced in our pampered west coast/southwest life experience.

How bad is it?  Looking to wise bartenders and cabbies for reassurance, I ask “is it really THAT bad?”  The answer is always some variation on:  “Yes, it’s something you never really get used to.  A long winter; snow drifts as tall as Derrick Rose on Lake Shore Drive; wind that hits you like a Bears linebacker.

But I find comfort in a research report from one of the nation’s leading behavioral economists.  Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, author of the terrific new bestseller, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” has designed novel experiments to test the question “Are Californians on balance happier than Midwesterners?”  Here is what he reports:

“When asked about the happiness of Californians, you probably conjure an image of someone attending to a distinctive aspect of the California experience, such as hiking in the summer or admiring the mild winter weather.  The focusing illusion arises because Californians actually spend little time attending to these aspects of their life.  Moreover, long-term Californians are unlikely to be reminded of the climate when asked for a global evaluation of their life.”

The focusing illusion, in short, yields the false conclusion that the California sun yields sunnier dispositions.  The comparison between the two climates, writes Kahneman, “will surely favor California, and the attention to that aspect of life may distort its true weight in experience.”  In short, “[t]he focusing illusion can cause people to be wrong about their present state of well-being as well as about the happiness of others, and about their own happiness in the future.”

Some armchair empirics:  These very same bartenders and cabbies say while the weather can be brutal, there is no other place they would want to live!

That is the word on the streeterville.

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