Overestimating the happiness stuff will bring us
by Caleb Reading
Gilbert and his collaborator Tim Wilson call the gap between what we predict and what we ultimately experience the ”impact bias” — ”impact” meaning the errors we make in estimating both the intensity and duration of our emotions and ”bias” our tendency to err. The phrase characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy. Would a 20 percent raise or winning the lottery result in a contented life? You may predict it will, but almost surely it won’t turn out that way. And a new plasma television? You may have high hopes, but the impact bias suggests that it will almost certainly be less cool, and in a shorter time, than you imagine. Worse, Gilbert has noted that these mistakes of expectation can lead directly to mistakes in choosing what we think will give us pleasure. He calls this ”miswanting.”
[…] Things that happen to you or that you buy or own — as much as you think they make a difference to your happiness, you’re wrong by a certain amount. You’re overestimating how much of a difference they make. None of them make the difference you think. And that’s true of positive and negative events.
[…] We don’t realize how quickly we will adapt to a pleasurable event and make it the backdrop of our lives. When any event occurs to us, we make it ordinary. And through becoming ordinary, we lose our pleasure.
[…] So, yes, we will adapt to the BMW and the plasma TV, since we adapt to virtually everything. But Wilson and Gilbert and others have shown that we seem unable to predict that we will adapt. Thus, when we find the pleasure derived from a thing diminishing, we move on to the next thing or event and almost certainly make another error of prediction, and then another, ad infinitum.
[…] We often yearn for a roomy, isolated home (a thing we easily adapt to), when, in fact, it will probably compromise our happiness by distancing us from neighbors. (Social interaction and friendships have been shown to give lasting pleasure.)