Do You Really Know Yourself?

self awareness

Anticipation and perception

Do you really know yourself well? Most people think they know themselves better than they actually do. Have you ever booked a holiday and expected it to be amazing yet when you eventually got there, it wasn’t as much fun as you thought? Have you ever convinced yourself that once you get that dream job you’ll be happy, only to find that the dream job has not served up that long anticipated feeling of joy?

If you have, you’re not alone. Anticipation and perception are often very different to the reality of what we experience. According to Author and Psychologist Daniel Gilbert, there are a few errors that occur when we imagine a state of mind (ie. happiness, contentment etc) as key details may be missing from our vision.

Predicting our future happiness

Our projected or ‘imagined’ feelings are strongly influenced by how we are feeling in the present moment when we do the imagining. Another key element that influences us is that what we imagine and the actual event/experience are very different. We see the experience very differently once we have experienced it compared to what we imagined beforehand.

Our psychological “immune system” will distort our perception of major psychological events to help shield us from undesirable effects (pain, depression).

We imagine the future as it can be pleasant to dream. We also do it to try control and anticipate possible issues, this helps us feel (irrationally) safer. We tend to imagine how we would feel about things that are going to happen in the future by imaging how we would feel if they happened now.

Only then do we try to correct for the event’s actual location in time. The problem with this is analysis is that the starting point has a profound effect on the ending point. Therefore, we expect our future to feel a bit more like our present than it actually will.

Your imagination isn’t accurate

Imagination has a hard time telling us how we will think about the future when we get there. So why can’t we learn from experience to better predict and change the future? Because our interpretation of memory can be flawed.

Imagination’s three shortcomings:

  1. its tendency to fill in and leave out without telling us.
  2. its tendency to project the present onto the future.
  3. its failure to recognize that things will look different once they happen.

It seems the key to happiness is to stop thinking so much about the future. We think we know ourselves and how we will react but there are serious shortcomings with this concept.

Shortcomings of imagined happiness

According to Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we are very poor decision makers when it comes to our own happiness. The problem begins with language. We use the word happiness to refer to two very different and often mutually contradictory phenomena: the mood of the moment and our overall life-satisfaction. The former is an evanescent and notoriously unreliable indicator of the latter. Example: the joy of buying a new car vs. the subsequent, ongoing annoyance of paying the monthly bills.

The focusing illusion

Kahneman’s decades of cognitive research, much of it done in collaboration with longtime colleague Asmos Tversky, has shown that humans are subject to what he calls a focusing illusion. We focus on the moment, overestimating the importance of certain factors in determining our future happiness and ignoring the factors that really matter.

As much as we would like to think we can predict our reactions to things and future happiness – the process is flawed. Happiness comes from living in the moment and if you aren;t happy right now, try not to look to the future for possible happiness. This is an easy way to escape the current misery and although hope is crucial to happiness, try not to use it as your only lifeline to feeling content.

You can be happy now, it’s a state of mind and  focusing on what you appreciate, the small things in life and the amazing people around you (not just physically but also people who inspire you in the media, internet etc) can instantly brighten a faltering mood.

Mandy X


Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Gilbert – what we think will make us happy and what actually makes us happy aren’t always the same thing….

Daniel Gilbert – Stumbling On Happiness

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