Impact Bias

February 20, 2012

In a TED talk, Dan Gilbert asks the audience if they would be happier winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic. If you’re like most, you’d answer lottery winner. And you’d be right…for a while. It turns out that a year after winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic, people are equally happy. This is called impact bias.

We synthesize happiness, so awful events don’t have the horrific, long-term impact that we imagine. Over time–and usually in less time than we’d imagine–we can find the positive in a negative situation. On the other hand, when our best dreams come true, we’re never quite as happy as we imagined we’d be. And our happiness doesn’t last as long as we expect.

How are you preparing yourself and those you lead for impact bias? Are you cautioning against reacting too strongly to negative news or events? Are you celebrating small successes along the way to larger goals?

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