We’re wealthier than ever, but unhappier than ever.
We’re more prosperous, but more depressed.
We’re less satisfied.
We have faster and faster transport, but we’re faster and faster to complain about it.
In many countries, there are now more suicides than homicides. We now have more goods and services than ever before. We have technology improving exponentially, but we don’t see a corresponding increase in our life satisfaction, in our happiness.
It’s perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our time.
And I think the obvious question is, why is it that governments and individuals are such bad predictors of happiness?
Why is that we get it wrong so often?
And I think it’s because we don’t really understand why it is that we’re often unhappy.
And so the obvious question is, Why is it that we’re unhappy?
What’s the explanation?
And it’s not an easy question to answer.
I think there’s one explanation that I find far more compelling, far more plausible, far more persuasive than any other.
And that explanation isn’t that we have so much choice that we get stressed.
It’s not that we are economically worse off; in many cases, we’re economically better off.
It’s not that we just have great reporting of depression and suicide; that’s true, but it only explains a small portion of the data.
It’s not due to family breakdowns or reduced freedom.
You know, the reason why we’re unhappy, the most compelling reason – as shown by the data, as shown by research – relates to expectations.
At a very basic, simple level, we’re unhappy when our expectations of reality exceed our experiences of reality.
When our expectations exceed reality.
And this is an expectation gap, when our expectations are greater than reality.
It’s a very simple concept, but it’s a hugely important concept to fully understand, to fully get our head around, and to help us get our head around it.
I’d like to think in terms of three different types of expectation gaps – based on the different ways in which we form expectations.
We form expectations based on our imagination, based on those around us, and based on our past experiences.