I am currently in the process of changing my future, but then again, aren’t we all?
Any given moment, we are different to how we were the moment before, and the moment after, and we delude ourselves when we believe in permanence.
Facing a bigger change than the usual moment to moment scenario, I find myself imagining two futures. As is the habit of humans, there is a happy version and of course a miserable version where everything has gone wrong. Each is the extreme of the other.
Humans have evolved to have a fairly functional frontal lobe and in particular prefrontal cortex that enables me to imagine both futures clearly.
I can almost feel the joy and also the alternative distress. Psychologist Dan Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happinesspoints out that not only can we imagine so well, we also have a tendency to overestimate the impact of each future upon us, and in particular, our happiness. We think if we win lotto we will be overwhelmingly happy and if we have a bad accident we will be overwhelmingly sad.
We also believe in two types of happiness – a natural happiness that comes from getting what we want, and what Gilbert calls synthetic happiness, that comes from what we tell ourselves and what we make when we don’t get what we want. We tend to believe that we need to find happiness (by buying something, for example) rather than synthesis happiness for ourselves.
Gilbert’s tenant is that synthetic happiness, or what we create ourselves regardless of getting what we want, is as real and as enduring as the happiness that comes from getting what we want, and he cites lots of evidence to support this idea.
Gilbert says, of course, having a preferred future is useful to guide our actions, but when we overestimate the impact of each future upon us, it can cause our behaviour to become frantic and perhaps we become reckless. He said, “When our fears are bounded, we’re prudent, we’re cautious, we’re thoughtful. When our fears are unfounded and overblown, we’re reckless, and we’re cowardly”.
Gilbert tells us, “our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience”.
Perhaps it will be ok, whichever way it turns out for all of us.
I guess that’s up to us.
Tarnya Davis is a clinical psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists.Continue Reading →