You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.
1864 – 1912
Have you ever dreamed of winning the lottery? Most people have. And I suspect most people have heard that within five years of hitting the jackpot, the majority of winners are worse off, both financially and emotionally. When confronted with these statistics, lottery players typically respond in one of two ways: they would like to win anyway just to see for themselves, or they’re certain they would be the exception — that they could handle the sudden wealth.
Psychologists tell us that, by and large, we are very poor at estimating the emotional satisfaction we’ll gain from some future event such as winning the lottery. We tend to think that hitting the jackpot will solve all our problems — that if we could only pick those six little numbers correctly, life would be wonderful.
We all know that the odds of actually winning are so huge that there’s little danger of it being a realistic problem for us. But the practice of overestimating the emotional payoff from future events isn’t limited to the lottery; it’s a very real problem that has serious consequences in our daily lives.
We are emotional beings. While we like to believe that we’re rational beings, most of our decisions are made emotionally, and we simply justify them with logic. If we overestimate the emotional satisfaction that we’ll gain from an event, we might pursue activities that aren’t in our best interest.
We often imagine that achieving certain goals will suddenly make life easy. We fool ourselves into thinking that if we move into a new house, get that fancy car, or find the love of our dreams, then our lives will be forever changed for the better and all our problems will be solved. When we think in that manner (as everyone does from time to time), we’re overestimating the emotional payoff that comes from achieving that goal or acquiring that possession.
If you want proof, consider some of the things you longed for and recall how quickly the pleasure of having them faded. We’re like children at Christmas: the anticipation of the gifts is much greater than joy of actually receiving the gifts. Acquiring things only gives us short term pleasure; the “new” wears off in a hurry.
So what’s the lesson here? There are two. The first is to understand that we almost always overestimate the emotional satisfaction that a future event will give us. If we’re more realistic about the potential results, we’ll quit chasing certain fantasies.
Secondly, even if we win the lottery or achieve another “life changing goal”, it doesn’t alter who we are; you may win the lottery, but you will still be you. If you truly want to change your life, the change must be an inside job. Nothing you achieve on the outside will magically transform what’s on the inside.
Don’t waste time dreaming about some outside achievement that will change you. If you aren’t satisfied with your life, look inside you and change yourself.
Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.
1856 – 1939
Copyright © 2016 John Chancellor