There is this phenomenon called affective forecasting, which means in order to make decisions, we predict how we will feel after certain events occur or we reach particular goals. If I win the lottery, I will be happy. If I lose my job, I will be miserable. That kind of thing.
It turns out, we are terrible at it. We think we will feel better about positive events than we really will, and that we will feel worse about negative events. We also think we will feel either better or worse (depending on the kind of event) for much longer than we really will.
And then sometimes the future comes and we don’t want what we think we wanted at all. That morning run? It sounded wonderful last night setting the alarm. In the morning…well, then it’s a different matter.
That’s because we assume we will feel however we feel now in the future, and how we feel frames how we think. Which affects our emotions. So, I assume I will have the same optimism and sense of fresh starts and new resolutions in the morning as I do right now. But I don’t. In the morning, I just feel tired. And grumpy. And because of that, the run seems like yet another stupid get-healthy idea that I always quit anyway. Better to hit the snooze.
There are several other reasons behind our hopeless inability to make accurate assessments about how what we think we want will make us feel.
One of them is focalism: attending only to the elements of the experience directly associated with the event. If what I’m considering is a move to another city across the country, I will probably only consider how I think that new city will affect my life and my feelings, as if everything else in my life will remain a constant. But in reality, nothing ever does, and it is immediate concerns that often make the biggest difference to us. Although the biggest change is the city, the more important factor may be whether my car is running reliably still and how my relationship with my adult children is going.
I know for myself that liking my neighborhood and my apartment has been a bigger factor than anything else in my happiness quotient for the last 8 years. I also know I was happier at the school where I taught the year before last than I was at the school where I taught last year. The crucial elements? Closer relationships with colleagues and a much easier process for getting supplies.
Yes, there were lots of other differences. They weren’t deciding factors.
And the big things? They mattered even less–subject matter, grade level, class size. Not really all that important.
It’s the million small things that make a big difference in our lives, and not the things we think are big.