After my return to London last September, I indulged myself in And Just Like That S2 series on Now TV, where my beloved Carrie Bradshaw ended up selling her famous New York apartment. During the last supper, she asked everyone at the table to say something (one word!) they wanted to let go of. When Carrie's turn came, she said, "Expectations" which left me pondering for days.
Lately, my life has been revolving around great expectations and a firm conviction that things can only get better and easier. Yes, I found myself guilty of assuming they should go the way I thought they should. In my head, I created a sensible map of the road to happiness which I’m now stumbling on. Carrie’s nearly Buddhist comment gave me a nudge in the direction of liberating myself from having to follow that map without taking into consideration the changes that have already occurred along the way.
The scene also brought me right back to the sunbed by the swimming pool in Bali, the Island of Gods, where I spent my first weeks reading “Stumbling on Happiness”, a witty book by Daniel Gilbert, a Professor at Harvard University. In essence, he discusses our often flawed understanding of what truly makes us happy. Of course, the Bali lifestyle prevented me from thinking that I should expect anything less than a blissful future sprinkled with opportunities to fulfil any dream. Nevertheless, I read this book with gusto, discovering new eye-opening insights during the process.
Here are my favourite, life-explaining quotes by prof. Gilbert:
We tend to forget that our brains are talented forgers, weaving a tapestry of memory and perception whose detail is so compelling that its inauthenticity is rarely detected. In a sense, each of us is a counterfeiter.
When we spy the future through our prospectiscopes, the clarity of the next hour and the fuzziness of the next year can lead us to make a variety of mistakes.
Any brain that does the filling-in trick is bound to do the leaving-out trick as well, and thus the futures we imagine contain some details that our brains invented and lack some details that our brains ignored.
Presentism occurs because we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now. As we are about to learn, this fundamental inability to take the perspective of the person to whom the rest of our lives will happen is the most insidious problem a futurian can face.
In short, the comparisons we make have a profound impact on our feelings, and when we fail to recognize that the comparisons we are making today are not the comparisons we will make tomorrow, we predictably underestimate how differently we will feel in the future.
But why do people regret inactions more than actions? One reason is that the psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than of actions.
William Thomson Kelvin was one of the most farsighted physicists of the nineteenth century (which is why we measure temperature in kelvins), but when he looked carefully into the world of tomorrow he concluded that ‘heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible’.
No one knows, basically. So why waste time expecting?