September 30, 2019 76

Why You Probably Can’t Predict Your Own Happiness

Why You Probably Can’t Predict Your Own Happiness

[INTRO ♪] Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you
expect them to. Maybe you’re excited all month for Christmas
and then the day was just … okay. Like, not bad, but not mind-blowingly amazing. Or you spend a week dreading that shot you
have to get, and then it’s not even a big deal. We tend to be pretty bad at predicting how we’ll feel about the results of our plans and decisions—it’s what psychologists call affective forecasting. And yet we make major life choices, like who to marry, where to live, and what job to take, all based on what we think is going to make us happy. But if you do find yourself facing an uncertain future, there might be some strategies you can use to make your predictions a little better. We generally have a good sense of whether
something will be good or bad for us overall. Like, no one is suddenly surprised to discover that their colonoscopy was “a thrilling adventure, so can you please schedule another for me.” But people regularly make mistakes about how good or bad something will be, and how much of a lasting impression it will leave on their lives. Take, for example, breaking up with a romantic partner. Most of the time, it’s a sad and stressful experience, but people are bad at guessing how awful they’ll actually feel. In one study, researchers recruited 69 college freshmen who were all in relationships and then tracked them for nine months. By the end of the study, 26 of them had broken
up with their partners. The team found that before the breakup, people had a good sense of how quickly they’d get over it, but were bad at guessing how they’d feel immediately following the breakup. Turns out it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. But what’s weirder is that reporting being
in love in the relationship made their guesses worse. Being in love made people think the breakup would be much more devastating, but it wasn’t as distressing as they predicted. That’s called the impact bias, and it often
shows up in studies on affective forecasting. We predict that experiences will be much more
intense than they actually turn out to be: good things will be ecstatic, bad things will
be traumatic. The kind of narrative you can construct around
the event might also be a factor. For example, one study had 91 people go through a job interview, where they were told the outcome would be determined by either a single person or by a panel of people. They also made predictions of how they’d feel about not getting the job, and reported how they felt after being rejected—which all of them were, given that it was secretly a fake interview. People’s reported happiness was lower when they were interviewed by a panel than when a single person made the decision, which makes sense from an outside perspective. It’s easy to put a positive spin on it when there’s a single person who can’t see how great you are, compared to a whole panel. But the subjects couldn’t predict that difference. They all guessed they’d feel about equally bad. One reason we’re so bad at guessing our own future emotions is what’s known as the focusing illusion. It describes the idea that, to quote one of the researchers who coined the term, “nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.” Your current context matters a lot when thinking
about the future. For example, when people try to predict how they’ll feel if they break up with their partner or if they get a bad grade, they focus on those “if”s, but ignore all the other stuff that will be going on in their lives at the same time. And some studies have found that when you help people think about how life’s going to go back to normal by reminding them about all the other experiences they’ll have after the event, their predictions get better. There are also ways you can re-calibrate your own emotional barometer to get a better sense of what your future experiences will be like. One option is to use what psychologists call “surrogates,” and ask someone who is currently experiencing whatever you are considering. People tend to dislike using other people’s reports to decide how they themselves will feel, because they usually think other people’s preferences and experiences are more different from their own than they actually are. But in studies, when people do learn about other people’s experiences, their own predictions generally improve. For example, researchers had 220 volunteers make predictions about how they’d feel when watching a funny video and trying a new food. Some subjects were given a report from either a friend or stranger about how much the other person liked it, while others just guessed without outside information. And it seemed like having the information from another person, whether they were a friend or a stranger, made people’s predictions better. Of course, a strategy that works for funny videos and new foods might not translate to more important or controversial decisions. And I’m definitely not telling you to go ask a random stranger whether you should marry your girlfriend or become a lawyer and do whatever they say. I don’t think the ethics boards have approved
that particular avenue of research yet. But it might help to keep all this in mind
the next time you’re worried about the future. Chances are, even if things go wrong, it won’t
be as bad as you expect. And when you’re feeling like a giant ball
of anxiety, that can be kind of comforting. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! And thanks especially to our Patreon community
for their support. It’s because of you that we were able to
create this channel in the first place. If you’re not yet a patron and want to help us continue providing free science education for anyone who wants to learn, check us out at [OUTRO ♪]

76 Replies to “Why You Probably Can’t Predict Your Own Happiness”

  • Error 404 says:

    This makes me feel much better. Maybe having my leg removed because of a snake bite might not be so bad.

  • Ranger Ruby says:

    I can tell if I'm going to be happy or sad but I can not get a good scale. I always feel like if I get excited about something I get disappointed and If I and disappointed about something I get pleasantly surprised. Because that happens I use reverse phycology and it gets really confusing.

  • Error 404 says:

    They chose 69 subjects? Really 69……60………..9

  • Silt says:

    I like to flip a coin when facing difficult decisions. If you are happy with the result, you're good. If you are unhappy, take the other one!

  • cowboysamuraiカウボーイ侍 says:

    Why professionals like psychologist scientist etc have to come up with so difficult names 0:25 , we make works and its meaning

  • Bei Zhang says:

    So should I marry my girlfriend or become a lawyer then?

  • cataclysmicnothing says:

    Chronic depression makes it pretty easy to predict happiness levels.

  • David Buschhorn says:

    If you're IN LOVE with the person you break up with, it's MUCH worse than if you "only" love them.

    If you think loving someone is the same as being in love with someone, you'll never understand the argument I'm making and no amount of explaining will help.

  • Kim in Alaska says:

    Does any of this have to do with a persons disposition? My husband was always slightly more negative than I. It seems rejection & bad events has always been more extreme than my own.

  • Marina Longnickel says:

    I think it's more of a confirmation bias if you ask someone's opinion first ….

  • Max Musterman says:

    interesting. the question is what evolutionary advantage does this overhyping have.

  • kito109654 says:

    Hit like, press play!

  • Goofy Emoji says:

    Jokes on you, SciShow, because I have no happiness to be had. I'm dead inside

  • thecooltube says:

    do you use psychology when making scishow videos

  • cuttlefishii says:

    I kinda needed this video lately, thanks!

  • John Shoemaker says:

    You are awesome hank thanks for the knowledge lol you and the SciShow team have a great day

  • Arlet Bode says:

    This video came at the right time

  • New Message says:

    Because I need better tarot cards for Christmas?

  • Degbring says:

    Can you do more videos about biases please? To me and probably many, this topic is super interesting!

  • Andromeda says:

    Now, how about I just keep my expectations at a constant low, so I'll always be pleasantly surprised

  • Patrick says:

    Given that its finals week, I think I fairly accurately predicted my "happiness" level.

  • Iron Squid says:

    That colonoscopy was uh.

  • Zena O'Brien says:

    Thanks! This helps a lot.

  • JaMaMaa1 says:

    Yeah like when I fail my exams because I'm not studying

  • Roll0112358 says:

    I KNEW Dan Gilbert would be a citation.

  • Fauler Perfektionist says:

    Who's to say, for certain, when one is actually "in love?" What is love? How is romantic love different from family love? There is only one person to whom I ever have occasion to say, "I love you," and it's never in sincerity, but if I don't say it, she'll have a total meltdown and fill my life with unnecessary complications. Is this what the words are?

  • lidette711 says:

    This could not be more timely. 🙂 I'm considering moving in with my long-time boyfriend and finding a job near his place. I'm currently a ball of anxiety and I'm paralyzed by indecision. A lot of bad things has happened to me last year and I can't help but think that things would go bad again. Thanks for this. I'll keep these concepts in mind. 🙂

  • Ricardo Andres says:

    This video hit home with me, I'm going through a second breakup and although it may feel so bad at times, I guess it isn't as painful as I thought it would. We had great times and I'm happy to have a chance to be alone again. I passed from a relation to another and didn't gave my self the opportunity to learn how to be comfortably alone(Selflove). You can find a lot of things to do and enjoy;-;. Time heals you and makes you wiser and happier.

  • - says:

    Pro-tip: always expect the absolute worst for everything and you'll always be pleasantly surprised. 😉

  • S. Holloway says:

    This reminds me of the concept of "regression to the mean". Kyle Hill from the channel Because Science mentioned in one of his Footnotes episodes. I wrote down what he said on that idea:

    "Regression to the Mean is usually in medicine as a statistical statement that says no matter how extreme things are, they will, more likely than not because they are extreme, regress – go back to the mean/average.

    So, if you are having the best day of your life, more likely than not, the next day is probably not also going to be the best day of your life – it’s going to go back to an average… which sounds like it’s depressing.

    But, how I like to think of it, even on the worst day of your life, even when you feel like nothing can get any better or you feel sick or tired – like nothing is worth it… more likely than not, when you’re feeling your worst, your best is more probable than [even] more worse."

    I especially liked that last statement as a means of keeping perspective. It's optimistic but also realistic. No feeling is forever (this can be distinct from mood, but sometimes you need to take good/middle times for what they are, but also how easy it can be to over-value the bad times. Often there is transience to everything, and it's usually a mixed bag rather than uniformly black or white. Finding the good things can be a lifesaver.)

  • Mikerphone says:

    How do i ask dead people what being dead is like? I was thinking about trying it.

  • Hanif Huzairi says:

    I can relate to the interview part.. I've been unable to find a job for the past few months..

  • Stoned Dreaming says:

    Sounds like my life every day.

  • Tina Lynn says:

    I have a prediction that may be accurate from personal experience. I predict that if anyone else becomes a patron on this youtube site, they will be more interested and engaged in upcoming videos and look forward to more…..

  • Project Prehistoric says:

    1:12 nice.

  • Tommy Bo says:

    Hm, this title seems unsettling.

    However, we are the subjects of our own unconscious biases and that is unfortunate, but I have seen areas in my life that have improved when I became conscious of these biases and mind traps so to speak. All in all, I think it's safe to say that one who knows others is wise but one who knows themselves are enlightened.

    "Knowing others is wisdom; knowing the self is enlightenment." – Lao Tzu

  • Foo Foo says:

    1:11 the number of participant recruited can't be a coincidence… The researchers definitely did it on purpose.

  • Ellie Werner says:

    I don't strive for "happiness," I shoot for "content."

  • wyvern132 says:

    Hm, maybe not procrastinating by watching scishow, and actually starting my homework won't be so bad. Thanks SciShow!

  • Ethan McDonald says:

    Thanks for cheering me up about that thing I was stressing over, Hank.

  • erroneum says:

    I almost never make accurate predictions about the magnitude of my emotional response because I almost never make predictions about my emotional resonances. One can only go so long straddling the line connecting "meh" and apathy before situation stops being overwhelmingly the dominant driver of emotion (yes, I have burst into laughter because of an entirely unrelated thought popping into my head when nobody was talking to me).

  • cssghost says:

    Nice golden-white shirt Hank! 😉

  • Starlings murmuration says:

    LOL, colonoscopy joke

  • Daughter Of The Sun says:

    Am I being too predictable to say I really need this video's concept? Thank you!

  • ChrisD4335 says:

    i'm usually pretty correct except ya know most of the time.

  • Belinda Weber says:

    Kinda wonder if the letter from a stranger/friend might be a form of priming?

  • chu8 says:

    I have this suspicion.

    What if it isn't that things turn out to be less dramatic than predicted, but the act of predicting provides indirect experience which gives diminishing return on the direct experience?

  • therabbithat says:

    I know why video makers want people to comment, the more people coment tehe more people will see your video.. but why does youtube care how many people comment?

  • Josi Who says:

    I usually assume I will be disappointed and I'm right. But sometimes I'm even more disappointed than I thought and that is a bummer. xD

  • VoilaTada says:

    Thank you SciShow Psych. I really needed this episode. Like you said at the end, when you're a giant ball of anxiety, it definitely helps to hear this.

  • mangaluver1231 says:

    I thought I had a good idea of what a break up would feel like and how long it would take to get over it; oh boy was I very wrong!

  • Less than 5% went to university from my school says:

    Person A: "How bad is it?"
    Person B: "You don't wanna know?"
    Person A: "Come on – just tell me the truth.. what-ever it is, I just want to know the truth. That's all that matters to me. Ok?"
    Person B: "….The whole universe is a lie."
    Person A:
    Person B:
    The Universe:

  • Nooby Noob says:

    QQs: Why is boredom and having to think hard unpleasant?

  • Mystical Orbit says:

    I call BS I can always predict my happiness, because I never have any.

  • Angela Reed says:

    this was a particularly interesting video! i've seen almost every ep on this channel and this one had even more info that was new to me than usual, i'm really glad i watched it. thank you! more like this would be really great

  • BunnyKitKat says:

    How do animals (humans too) learn their names?

  • Joy L says:

    The one person Vs. a panel making you feel unwanted is something I definitely experienced. A group of people telling you they don't want you is a lot worse.

  • spb says:

    Asking someone else how they feel in a certain situation might influence how the asker feels rather than increase accurate independent prediction.

  • Meganopteryx says:

    Thank you for making such helpful videos.

  • lilipad90 says:

    "humans can get used to just about anything" – that dumb book that I had to read on high school that actually affects my thinking more than I'd like to admit

  • Celina K says:

    So how will I feel after Article 13

  • The incarnation of boredom says:

    I experienced this recently. I asked out someone and I was terrified that if he said no I'd get depressed again. And as you can probably guess he did say no, but because of how he rejected me I actually ended up walking away happier than before.

  • Anthony Marin says:

    I highly recommend reading "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William Braxton Irvine

  • Miranda Laurisch says:

    spot on

  • Aidan Or says:

    I got hyped for Zelda Breath of the wild and I felt about how I thought I would When I played it for the first time.

  • Mary Murphy says:

    Call out post for my anxiety, stop making me think things are going to be worse than they are.

  • aye126 says:

    Jesus… why is this comment section so sad?

  • Victoria says:

    I wonder about situations where you think you will feel a mild emotional response, but end up feeling really strongly.

    The number of times in my life where I was like, "I'll be fine…".
    And then the narrator of my life story adds over top of the scene, "Things were, indeed, not "fine"."

  • SgtSupaman says:

    I predict my emotional detachment with virtually perfect accuracy.

  • surya narayanan says:

    I get happy when I jack off

  • masterimbecile says:

    You used Predicting Feelings!

    … it wasn't very affective.

  • Nicolai Veliki says:

    I once had a spot on precognition of how I was going to feel. I was riding my bike, so it was going to be a great day. Fell and broke my arm! My dad bought me ice cream and a beer. Turned out alright 😉

  • DashedEuthanasia says:

    I'm actually extremely good at knowing how horrible I'll feel about something. I was terrified my gf would replace me with a prettier girl who is actually worth something. I also knew it would happen. I was right. It was exactly as horrible as I thought. It happened almost a year and a half ago, and I'm still a shell of my former self. I'm only still alive because I'm a goddamn coward that's afraid of dying, even though I know that dying would make the pain go away. Then again, it's very very easy to predict something that happens over and over and over again.

  • TOCKRELL MAN says:

    This actually helped my anxiety

  • Junokaii says:

    Happiness? What's that?

  • Melancholy Chill says:

    Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it -Dan Kahneman. I absolutely feel this way often when intoxicated with cannabis.

  • thepantherfan52 says:

    what if the person you are getting the info from is an anxious person and they give an anxious view, making the other person anxious and causing a feedback loop

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