Predicting the Future and Impact Bias

Years ago, I read a stimulating interview with Dr. Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness.  (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/gilbert03/gilbert_index.html).  In this interview, he basically says, that most of us are really not very good at predicting our future emotional states.  So, we might believe that after buying that brand new car, we’ll be much happier or that after getting that new job, the world will be a better place. In reality, people tend to stay pretty close to their baseline level of happiness and shifting that point is difficult.

Our economy is driven by consumption, so we are constantly led to believe that buying things will make us feel better.   This can lead us to overestimate how much happier we would be if we only had more money and “stuff” and underestimate the impact of other things, such as our friendships, on our well being.

So what do you do in order to steer clear of this cognitive trap?  Well, when you are making a decision, be sure to get as much information as possible.  Before making a decision or change, rather than just focusing on an image (a “photo”) of the future , see if you can gather enough information to see the details (a “video”).  In other words, walk through how your life would change on a day-to-day basis and how you would feel emotionally if you made the change you are envisioning.  Also, talk to people who have made the change you are considering and find out how they feel on the other end of that decision.  Information really is power.

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Licensed psychologist in San Antonio, Texas.
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