Seagull standing on the roof of the Victorian Wing of Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. June 2014.
Twirly thing in the Waterlily House, Kew Gardens. July 2014.
…that until May 2013 “being an incorrigible rogue” was a criminal offence.
You can see the future – what do you do? I would use my super-power once for evil: to win at Wall Street, obviously. And then only for harmless happy-boosting purposes, promise. Just imagine– no more food envy, no more Christmas-shopping stress, no more uncertainty-related angst of any description. You would be able to predict how happy any outcome would make you and others. Unfortunately though, most of us do not possess super-psychic powers and have to rely on our normal human brains for this and every task. How very vanilla.
‘Affective forecasting’ is what psychologists call it when we try to predict how a future event will impact our emotional well-being. For example, if I passed this exam, how happy would I be? If my boyfriend broke up with me, how unhappy would I become? How long would this unhappiness last?
The funny thing is, we’re really really bad at it.
Research has already illustrated and quantified this effect many times over: we know, for example, that people prospectively overestimate their unhappiness 2 months after a breakup, college professors overestimate how unhappy they would be 5 years after being denied tenure, college students overestimate both how happy/unhappy they would be after being assigned dorms, football fans massively overestimate the duration of their happiness when their team wins, etc.
So what does this tell us? Well, we clearly can’t trust ourselves to value the things that will maximise our happiness – maybe we should all just go home. Having said this, it strikes me that, while the phenomenon itself points to rubbish and irrational humans, the individual pieces that cause it make perfect sense. Rather like most other psychological or perceptual illusions, biases and errors I can think of.
Ian Maclaren (original: “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”)
Winter wonderland in Hyde Park, London. November 2013.