By Daniel Gilbert.
This is one of those books I've been wanting to read for awhile because hoo boy, the topic. The author, who is a Harvard psychologist, analyzes for us why we are generally pretty much incapable of figuring out what the hell will make us happy. Here's why, in a boiled-down nutshell:
- People like to use their imagination.
- When people find it easy to imagine something, they overestimate how likely it is to occur, especially if we're imagining good events--which makes us overly optimistic.
- People want control over their lives and become incredibly unhappy if they don't have it, but especially if they LOSE it, which is why you get a lot of dead people in nursing homes. The feeling of control (whether or not you actually have it) is a big deal. We like to act as if we can control things, such as sports games and the lottery.
- Extreme attributes have the most positive and negative attributes, so we're biased towards them when we want to look for some reason to select or reject something.
- We think pain that's likely to happen in the near future is going to be worse than if we wait a long time to experience the same pain.
- We always assume that the future will be a lot like the present, because our brains/imagination plug in the holes in our knowledge with what's going on now. We can't really imagine being different in the future very well and we just assume we'll feel the same way then as we do now.
- We misremember our pasts by assuming we did the same things then that we do now.
- "We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present."
- Negative events affect us, but usually not as badly as we expect that they will.
- Our brains try to "make things better" in various ways, like making it seem more okay to be rejected by one person rather than a large bunch of them because we can logic our way out of one person's hatred. It doesn't occur to us that we're going to do that strategery, though.
- "Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did..." Why is this? Because "the psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than actions." We console ourselves that we learned from bad experiences, but you can't do that from not having an experience. "Because we do not realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward."
- We rationalize bad situations that caused intense suffering, but mild suffering doesn't bring that on. We look for the positives in things we're stuck in and can't change, and the rationalization doesn't kick in until we're sure we're stuck with that thing.
- Explaining an unpleasant event helps to make it seem better, especially when explaining trauma, but it also lessens good events to have an explanation for them as well.
- Unexplained events seem rare, so they have a greater emotional impact on us than something that we can explain and repeat does. We keep thinking about htem and trying to figure them out. Explanations make things seem likely and then we stop thinking about them-even if the explanation only seems to explain something.
- We judge the pleasure of an experience on how it ends. If the movie is great except for the ending, we end up hating the movie, as the author did with Schindler's List.
- "Our memory for emotional episodes is overly influenced by unusual instances, closing moments, and theories about how we must have felt way back then, all of which gravely compromise our ability to learn from our own experiences."
The author has one lone suggestion for figuring out how something will make us happy or unhappy, and it's to ASK OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE THE SAME THING HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT IT. Except he points out that we all think we're such special snowflakes that someone else's experience can't possibly apply to us, so we discount it. (I would like to add another suggestion: or possibly we don't know anyone who can tell us.)
Hoo boy, eh? My mind is blown.