Do you remember how we ended the last session discussing how certain cognitive processes occur automatically in order to save mental energy?

From our Spiderman-like ability to detect snakes to our overwhelming ability to get bored with new purchases, these evolutionary advantages happen ‘nonconsciously.’

This means that your brain can control your everyday emotions, actions, and decisions in a big way without you ever being aware of it.

What does this have to do with happiness?

Well, our difficulty to find sustainable happiness has a lot to do with something long referred to as “Emotional Evanescence.”

Before researchers really knew why, they observed over and over that humans were extremely resilient and able bounce back quickly from adversity.

As a sad example, if you were to become paralyzed in an automobile accident, studies show that you would be impacted greatly by it, but not half as long as you would intuitively imagine.

You simply wouldn’t anticipate the extent to which you can transform events psychologically, and you would return to your emotional baseline quickly.

Conversely, if you were to win the lottery tomorrow, “Emotional Evanescence” would be a part of the equation and you’d find yourself, mere months afterwards, not nearly as elated as you would have guessed you’d be.

Our unbelievable ability to return to baseline, whether it be in the wake of devastating circumstances or following amazing news, is what causes “impact bias” to be among the most frequently discussed of all our cognitive biases.

Impact bias is the belief that an event (present or pending) will affect you more intensely and longer than it actually will.

Evolutionary social psychology helps us understand “Emotional Evanescence.”

You have, built within the ancient part of your brain, a ‘Psychological Immune System’ to help you rapidly understand and move on from any given event. By dwelling less on emotionally impactful events, our ancestors were able to save mental energy for tasks relevant to survival.

This was important because extreme positive or negative emotional states are proven to impede attention and cognitive processing. So, through evolution, those that could process and move on from events were able survive and pass on their genes at a higher rate.

Takeaways and Reflections:

1) We’re hardwired to process and move on from both good and bad events rather quickly.
Are you able to recall times in your life when you thought an event “would be the end of the world” or “would just make everything perfect”? Do you even think back on those times much at all anymore, or have they more or less faded as life went on?

2) Purchases almost never make us as content for as long as we think they will, even big ones like cars, boats, or houses. Can you think of a specific purchase you once made thinking it’d bring more happiness into your life? What was it?

In the next bit, we'll talk about the hedonic treadmill and its effects on happiness.


P.S. For another way to boost your mental well-being, try building a daily meditation habit.