ROCHESTER, Minn. — “Can I help with anything?” I asked. The gentleman sitting in the aisle seat seemed visibly upset.
“Not really,” he said, gulping his drink.
“What happened?” I probed a bit. We were at cruising altitude, not precisely the place where you want someone upset.
“The internet is broken. Can’t download the movie,” he said.
“This airline gets a one-star review,” he concluded.
Only a few years ago, the internet at home was a big deal. Now, broken internet in midair can throw us in a rage. How does that happen?
It’s a combination of two instincts:
- We adapt to the good; the good that isn’t novel stops pleasing us (experts call it "hedonic adaptation").
- We get sensitized to the bad; the bad that persists starts feeling awful.
This double whammy is particularly hurtful in relationships.
Some of the saddest words I have heard are from a man I saw for review of his multiple medications. His 20 pills were just a way to numb his stress.
“I divorced the woman I loved,” he said. “And I regret that every single day.”
After decades of marriage, he stopped noticing the good while the mildly annoying got inflated. Small cracks, not healed in time, became big canyons. By the time he realized how good she was, it was too late.
Don’t let this mind’s double whammy devour your happiness. Just as the moon looks perfect to the bare eyes, but with binoculars, starts showing scars — similarly, the closer you get to know someone, the more imperfections you will find. I have seen countless relationships suffer when people do not adjust their expectations to this bias.
Pre-emptively adjust your lens. Make it a habit to remember others’ goodness. Before leaving the bed in the morning, remind yourself of one good thing your partner said or did in the previous few days. Remind yourself before a meeting why you are grateful to the person you are going to meet. This simple 10-second reminder could change the energy, collegiality and productivity of your meeting, as it has done for me.
Transform your mind’s double whammy into a double gift — instead of discounting the good and inflating the bad, discount the bad and inflate the good. Do not let the memory of the bad dominate your present moment; instead, let the awareness of the good dominate the not-so-good. Not doing so is missing out on life.
Here is this week’s challenge for you: Just before meeting someone, invest 10 seconds remembering why you are grateful to that person.
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email email@example.com.