Imagination gap – Why you’re unhappy?

The first type of expectation gap, the imagination gap, which occurs when our imagination exceeds reality.
When we choose to buy goods, we choose from a range of options. When we choose where to travel to, we often choose from a range of options.
When we choose which leader to elect, we often choose from a range of options.
And how do we make that decision?

What we do is that we choose the one that we think will be the best.
We choose the one that we imagine will be the best of all the options.

What we do is we try to maximize our utility at a given price, that’s how most people make decisions.
To do otherwise would be to choose an option that we didn’t think would be as good, which seems a bit counterintuitive.

Now the problem here is that the very act of choosing the thing that we think will give us the greatest happiness, that very decision-making process is the thing that actually undermines our happiness because what it means is that when we then see reality, when we then experience it, whether it’s the good or the place we travel to or the leader that we elect, it’s highly likely that that reality won’t live up to our expectation.
And that leads to disappointment.

And technology makes this so much worse. What technology has loused is things that are actually unrealistic to appear real, things that aren’t even on the happiness scale are made to seem as though they are actually possible.

We photoshop things in, we airbrush things out, we digitally enhance photos.
And what this does is it makes us romanticize travel and makes us come up with fantastical ideas about places that reality simply can’t live up to.

What technology does is that it skews our vision, it distorts reality and makes the unreal seem real.
Indeed, many of the times that when we’re happiest when we go travelling, they’re actually the times when we stumble across things we didn’t expect, when we discover things for ourselves, where we don’t have preconceived notions of different places.

And what also makes this worse is selection bias. Many content-based algorithms, whether it’s a Google search or Facebook News Feed, the way that it presents information is that it prioritizes those things that are the best images, the most shared images, the most liked images.

You’re more likely be shown a photo on Facebook if it has 200 likes than if it has 2. And so we come to think of the best images as being normal, as being average.
And this also plays with our imagination. That’s selection bias.

Then there’s persuasion, because politicians often get elected on the basis of promising things that they can’t deliver, by raising our expectations.

Who would you be more likely to vote for?
A politician that says, “I’ll fix your problems if you vote for me,” or someone who says, perhaps more honestly, “Things will probably be the same, whether you vote for me or not”?
Probably you’ll vote for the former, but you’ll probably be disappointed as well.
And so we’re in this constant cycle of expectations being raised and hopes being dashed.

It’s the same with companies. Companies are more likely to tell us that watches have never performed tasks so quickly. They’re probably not going to tell us batteries have never run out so quickly, both of which are true.

And so when you have technology, when you have persuasion, and when you have selection bias, what that means is that we imagine and demand and expect more than reality can provide.

And when the limitless potential of our minds is met by the confined nature of earth, we’re disappointed, we’re unhappy.
Expectations and disappointments irrevocably intertwined.

In terms of beauty, it’s no wonder that self-esteem levels are so low.
Advertisers learned long ago that if you can make people hate themselves, you can sell them things.
Now they’re applying it time and time again, and we see this.
What we see is advertisers showing only the best before-and-after photos.
What we see is pictures of models who are made to seem perfectly even though they’re not.

We’ve become a society of complainers, of perfectionists, of counter-factual historians – people who always imagine different and better outcomes for ourselves, but people whose imagination can’t be satisfied.
That’s the imagination gap.
That’s why our imagination exceeds reality, and that’s the first main reason why we’re unhappy.

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