Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy? (part 2)


I previously posted about why we’re awful at predicting what will make us happy: we’re lousy at remembering our predictions so we don’t learn how to correct our errors.

There are some other reasons:

  • When you’re emotional, you’re a different person. That’s not an excuse but there is science to back it up. Calm people were terrible at predicting how moral they would be once emotional:

Can people accurately predict how they will act in a moral dilemma? Our research suggests that in some situations, they cannot, and that emotions play a pivotal role in this dissociation between behavior and forecasting. In the current experiment, individuals in a moral action condition cheated significantly less on a math task than participants in a forecasting condition predicted they themselves would cheat. Furthermore, we found that participants in the action condition displayed significantly more physiological arousal, as measured by preejection period, skin conductance response (SCR), and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and that the underestimation effect was mediated by SCR and RSA together. This research suggests that the affective arousal present during real-life moral dilemmas may not be fully engaged during moral forecasting, and that this may account for the moral forecasting errors that individuals make. This research has the potential to inform past work in the field of moral psychology, which has largely ignored actual behavior.

Source: “Are We More Moral Than We Think? Exploring the Role of Affect in Moral Behavior and Moral Forecasting” from Psychological Science

  • You think too much about the event and too little about who you are. Discussing his study “Personality Neglect, The Unforeseen Impact of Personal Dispositions on Emotional Life” researcher Jordi Quoidbach said:

“It might be worthwhile, before you make a big decision, to think about your personality and how you usually react,” Quoidbach says. Think about planning a vacation, for example. If you have a happy disposition, you probably don’t need to waste a lot of money and effort finding the perfect location (because you will be happy with most vacations anyway). By contrast, if you have a less happy disposition, you might be more prone to regret the slightest annoyance, so carefully planning every detail of the trip might be the best strategy for your future happiness. “Don’t focus too much on the event; think about who you are,” advises Quoidbach.

  • As Jeremy Dean discusses at PsyBlog, we fail to empathize with our future self. Basically, you treat that future-you like they are someone else. Yes, you want to eat those two dozen cookies right now but it doesn’t seem to emotionally resonate that the person who ends up fat is you. This is going to make you miserable but feelings now beat feelings later almost every time.

So what can we do about this?

  • Write down what really makes you happy. Don’t trust your memory.
  • Stay calm. When you are emotional, don’t make big decisions.
  • Think less about the future event and more about how your reaction to this type of thing in the past.
  • Remember that future-you is still you and their happiness is your happiness. Keep this in mind:

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