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How long will you feel lousy when bad things happen?

Not nearly as long as you’re guessing:

People are generally unaware of the operation of the system of cognitive mechanisms that ameliorate their experience of negative affect (the psychological immune system), and thus they tend to overestimate the duration of their affective reactions to negative events. This tendency was demonstrated in 6 studies in which participants overestimated the duration of their affective reactions to the dissolution of a romantic relationship, the failure to achieve tenure, an electoral defeat, negative personality feedback, an account of a child’s death, and rejection by a prospective employer. Participants failed to distinguish between situations in which their psychological immune systems would and would not be likely to operate and mistakenly predicted overly and equally enduring affective reactions in both instances. The present experiments suggest that people neglect the psychological immune system when making affective forecasts.

Source: “Immune neglect: a source of durability bias in affective forecasting.” from J Pers Soc Psychol. 1998 Sep;75(3):617-38.

One of the researchers behind this study is Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert, author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness. More on his work here.

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