Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Pursuit of Happiness

Written by: on March 22, 2023

The evidence is mounting. The conclusion is clear: we are likely to misread reality. We’ve read about this through various lenses. Be it admitting our errors (Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong) or the risk of developing cancer (Chivers and Chivers How to Read Numbers), we must face our own misperceptions and just general lack of ability to understand statistics. Our brains, the highly efficient meaning-making machines that they are, take all sorts of shortcuts to help us function.

Bobby Duffy in The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything walks us through numerous areas where misperceptions are prevalent. Topics such as health, money, sexuality, and immigration are all fraught.

What can we do about it? In response Duffy first refers to Kahneman’s work in Thinking, Fast and Slow, then in his own words he rephrases: “It is possible to learn when our initial perceptions are likely to be biased. We can slow down and consider whether we’re being led astray.”[1]

We’ve been down this road before. What sets Duffy’s work apart from the others we’ve read? The bit that stood out to me was the research on happiness. We hear so much about everybody “filtering” their life for social media and hiding the reality. Social media is the ultimate “front stage” context (Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader). Duffy explains this social media image phenomenon, calling it social desirability bias – “the deep-seated need to make ourselves look good, to present a positive impression or to give the responses we think are expected.”[2]

It’s true, looking at my Facebook feed it sometimes seems like everyone is always jetting off on weekend in Florida or beautiful hikes on their lunch hour while I’m doing absolutely nothing. That’s why I was surprised at first when Duffy says survey respondents rated their own happiness higher than they perceived their peers were experiencing. And this is happening, not just in rainy London or freezing cold Siberia but universally, across at least the 32 countries listed on Duffy’s chart.[3]

Happiness surveys might seem like a sort of fluff topic, but this is actually very significant. A theme our of learning in this class has been to lead out of self-awareness. We set ourselves up for failure if we claim to lead out of self-awareness, but all the while we’re blinded by this misperception about those we serve, namely that they’re relatively unhappy. That assumption will change how we serve and lead. Duffy reminds us of our aim “to hold on to a fact-based understanding of the world.”[4]

To bring these thoughts full circle, let’s revisit the larger theme of The Perils of Perception. Our brains end up with misperceptions because they are being efficient, yes, but also in order to make us happier by resolving cognitive dissonance. A Goodreads review speaks to this goal, “to prevent cognitive dissonance, or the state of uncertainty and doubt regarding one’s beliefs. This unpleasant feeling is easy to avoid simply by surrounding yourself only with those that think like you… we avoid cognitive dissonance because we don’t want to change our beliefs; and we don’t want to change our beliefs because they are tied to our identity.”[5]

I wrote at length about cognitive dissonance in a previous post. For the moment, suffice it to say that cognitive dissonance is often a very unpleasant emotion. At the same time, it is an inevitable part of the human experience. Learning to live in that tension, learning to hold the ambiguity, has been a recent theme in my leadership and ministry. To conclude, allow me to share a few of my “favorite things”. These are the concepts from our DLGP learning that are making me happier because they are helping me deal with cognitive dissonance.

  1. Ubuntu: My identity is intimately tied up in my relationships, my community.
  2. Differentiation: Seemingly at odds with Ubuntu, but ultimately I am rooted in Christ and not in what others think of me.
  3. Templating: I have been intentionally taking baby steps toward improving my public speaking, conflict management and other skills.
  4. Non-anxious presence: The more I lean into this, the more I see how very necessary and paradigm-shifting it is.
  5. Neuroscience-based theological writing: God made the brain so we shouldn’t be surprised that neuroscience and theology can overlap.
  6. This learning community:  I learn so much from you all week after week.


[1] Duffy, Bobby. The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. Atlantic Books, London: 2018. 304.

[2] Ibid. 64.

[3] Ibid. 63.

[4] Ibid. 32.

[5] “The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything,” Goodreads. Accessed March 20, 2023. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41124967-the-perils-of-perceptionCommunityReviews.


About the Author


Kim Sanford

11 responses to “The Pursuit of Happiness”

  1. mm John Fehlen says:

    So, right out of the gate, I had to figure out if YOU or ME had read and blogged on the wrong book. Bobby Duffy is the correct author, and after a cursory internet dive, I realized that in the British version he titles it “The Perils of Perception” while in the US version it’s called “Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.”

    I was prepared to send you a private message telling you that you had blogged on the wrong book, but alas, I WAS WRONG. Same book, same chapters, same content, just different titles.

    This is just a microcosm of how this happens. We can take a quick glance, come to an assumption, hold to that assumption, and fail to interrogate it to insure its validity. Oh, then we also broadcast it – tell the world through our socials and conversations – and it only serves to reinforce our bias and inaccuracies. Rinse and Repeat.

    It occurs to me that sincere humility is necessary in all this. To be humble, and open to correction is vital.

    Kim, have you had an experience in which you recall being wrong, and walking the process of humility, and correction?

    Secondly, I may have missed this along the way, but remind me of the meaning of “Ubuntu.” My gut tells me it’s something highlighted in CapeTown, but I’m at a loss.


    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Haha, thanks for clearing up the question about the book titles. I had noticed the discrepancy (and checked about 5 times that I was indeed reading the right book) but I didn’t take the time to figure out why. I’m really glad neither of us blogged on the wrong book!

      Skipping to your last question, Ubuntu was something that came up on the very last day in Cape Town. Apparently it’s a fairly common philosophy in many parts of Africa that leads to a very community-based approach to life. I liked the way Dr. Zondi, who shared with us in Cape Town, took something from his culture and looked at it through the lens of the gospel.

      Now, which example of my own wrongness to share? There are so many, mostly related to adapting to a new culture. Early on in our church planting team, I made a decision and got an initiative rolling. Later I found out that the way I had done it was hurtful to my teammates. What was actually the hardest was that I THOUGHT I had done it really well, in a really French way. No, not even close. The team was gracious and we slowed down, adapted my initiative, and eventually got to where we needed to be. But personally, that experience wrecked me. I lost confidence in my own judgment. Honestly, working on self-differentiation has probably been the best tool to help me move past that misstep.

  2. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Keep writing about cognitive dissonance, please!

    “This unpleasant feeling is easy to avoid simply by surrounding yourself only with those that think like you… we avoid cognitive dissonance because we don’t want to change our beliefs; and we don’t want to change our beliefs because they are tied to our identity.”
    I feel like I cannot be reminded of this enough, and in Change Management, I am so often having to manufacture ways to get others to ease towards challenging their current views of self and community in order to adopt change. I am curious; in your current reading, what are some light bulbs that have gone off for you on how to facilitate others’ movement in this process?

    Thanks for the great post.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Thanks for highlighting the connection between cognitive dissonance and affecting change. So far I have had no lightbulb moments on that front, sadly! Just lots of dread about how hard it is going to be! What resources or tools do you use when you deal with this every day?

      • Jennifer Vernam says:

        In facilitation, I try to ask the questions that get people to think of the other side of the coin. For example: “what would someone with an alternate view say to our assertion?”

        Additionally, though, I think that any book you read on Change Management, like Kotter’s “Leading Change”, or anything by the Heath duo is going to lead you to start with creating a compelling vision that will make people entertain the idea of changing. The discomfort associated with staying the same has to outweigh the discomfort of staying the same. Once you get buy in on that, there is a LOOONG process of reinforcing people who are in the middle of what Bridge’s “Managing Transitions” book refers to as the change curve. Narrating for them why the shift is uncomfortable and reminding them of why it is important. I could go on and on, but I wont!

  3. Cathy Glei says:

    Thank you for speaking to the issue cognitive dissonance. I wonder how much the cognitive dissonance that humans experience (maybe willingly entertain) affects our souls? Takes from the hope we have? How can the propensity to remember the negative but display for the world the positive, be circumvented by a spiritual discipline or practice?

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Cathy, I had not thought about cognitive dissonance in those terms so thank you for taking us there! As I thought about your question what came to mind was the recent season of church planting ministry that has been very difficult. Many days/weeks the only thing I’ve been able to pray is, “God, you’re on your throne.” That has become an anchoring spiritual practice for me. It’s often the only thing that actually gets me out of my head and refocused on Jesus.

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    Kim, which of the six concepts you ended your post with — the ones that are making you happier — are showing up more and more in different ways as you work on your NPO? The next question may be meddling, so feel free to ignore – ha! (That being said, you did ask me a wonderfully tough question in a reply to my blog post that I am STILL pondering, even as I write this.) What biases, or areas where you sense you want to slow down and ponder a bit more, have you uncovered as you have engaged with the research this semester?

    Final observation — you seem to always be ahead of everyone else in getting everything done. I’d love to know how you’ve been able to do that.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Travis, such good questions. In a positive sense, as I approach my NPO I’ve been leaning into self-differentiation the most. The more I research the more convinced I am that this project is needed, and that makes me stand my ideological ground no matter what those around me say. In terms of bias, I’m definitely susceptible to wholeheartedly accepting the neurobiological research without questioning/critiquing. Why? Because, as I mentioned above, I’m so convinced that it’s on the right track! BUT, I need to avoid tunnel vision and stay humble.

      Why am I sometimes ahead on our assignments? Because I’m probably using my doctoral work as a coping mechanism for dealing with the chaos in my regular job. 🙂

  5. Scott Dickie says:

    Hi Kim…I could be wrong (in fact I likely am!), but did I read in your opening comments a degree of exasperation related to the various books telling us how wrong we are? Exasperation might be too strong of a word for me….but I have thought, “Got it…we’re not as on target as we like to think!” I have also thought, “I’m glad my young adult son who is currently deconstructing life & faith isn’t reading these books alongside me or he would never move out of his current agnosticism…because clearly we can’t really know anything for certain!” Maintaining a healthy degree of certainty and humble openness/teachability/learning is an interesting balance that I’m still working out in light of some of our reading list. How are you thinking about this?

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