The Real Cost of Poor Memory

One big difference between Husband and I is that he gets stressed out pretty easily. If we get lost driving or if he sleeps through his alarm clock on a workday, he’s the one who tenses up and I’m the one who reminds him that things are going to be okay. I find myself fairly often saying this doesn’t matter. My philosophy is that something will always go wrong, as something has always gone wrong for as long as I can remember. I’ve always come out of past struggles intact and, for the most part, happy, and logic dictates that the present situation (whether we are lost downtown or running late for work) will also end up fine. And I’ll be a lot happier if I’m not stressing over every possible negative outcome of any given situation.

And apparently, at least according to this article, current psychology backs me up. Even “big positive and big negative events don’t have an enormous impact on people’s happiness.” The article discusses how people tend to make affective forecasting errors, which means that we believe future events have a bigger impact on future happiness than they actually do. Example: when professors are being evaluated for tenure, they believe they will be very unhappy if it is denied. Studies show, however, that professors who are denied tenure are, months later, just as happy as those who received tenure. The problem persists, though, because we forget that big bad things don’t make us all that unhappy. We forget what we were so afraid of and do it all over again.

What I take from this is that we waste a lot of energy being anxious before and during big life events. I stress when I’m interviewing for a position because I fear the sense of failure that will come with not getting it. But if getting the job isn’t going to have a measurable impact on my happiness, who cares? Best to do the interview and then move on. Extrapolating further, it is even more of a waste to stress about the little things (like getting lost) which, by comparison, will have a miniscule effect on our happiness.

I wasn’t always so happy go lucky and am actually fairly prone to anxiety. [I know — who isn’t?] Even so, remembering that things will, in fact, be okay, helps me to combat those affective forecasting errors and relax. I’m not saying this makes me happy, because, as the article notes, there are many factors that go into future happiness, but less anxiety definitely makes me less unhappy.

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