The Reduced “Stumbling on Happiness” V. Rationalization (act of causing something to be or to seem reasonable) – the third shortcoming of imagination.
Ch. 8 Paradise Glossed
Because experiences are inherently ambiguous, finding a “positive view” of an experience is often as simple as finding the ‘below you view’ of a Necker cube. Consumers evaluate kitchen appliances more positively after they buy them, job seekers evaluate jobs more positively after they accept them, etc.. We cook the facts.
"Our experience of the world is a mixture of stark reality and comforting illusion. We can't spare either. If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we'd be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning, but if we were to experience the world exactly as we want it to be, we'd be too deluded to find our slippers...we might think of people as having a psychological immune system that defends the mind against unhappiness in much the same way that the physical immune system defends the body against illness. This metaphor is unusually appropriate. For example, the physical immune system must strike a balance between two competing needs: the need to recognize and destroy foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria, and the need to recognize and respect the body's own cells. If the physical immune system is hypoactive, it fails to defend the body against micropredators and we are stricken with infections; but if the physical immune system is hyperactive, it mistakenly defends the body against itself and we are stricken with autoimmune disease.... A healthy physical immune system must balance its competing needs and find a way to defend us well - but not too well...."
"Analogously, when we face the pain of rejection, loss, misfortune, and failure, the psychological immune system must not defend us too well ("I'm perfect and everyone is against me") and must not fail to defend us well enough ("I'm a loser and I ought to be dead"). A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad enough to do something about it ("Yeah, that was a lousy performance and I feel crummy about it, but I've got enough confidence to give it a second shot."). We need to be defended, not defenseless or defensive, and thus our minds naturally look for the best view of things while simultaneously insisting that those views stick reasonably closely to the facts."
At the chapter end, after a further section on how we conspire to see mostly what we want to see; "To ensure that our views are positive, our eye looks for what our brain wants. The conspiracy between these two servants allows us to live at the fulcrum of stark reality and comforting illusion."
Chapter 9 Immune to Reality
Research suggests that people are typically unaware of the reasons why they are doing what they are doing, but when asked for a reason, they readily supply one. Words like ‘hostile’, ‘elderly’, ‘stupid’ when flashed for only milliseconds on a screen are not perceived, but influence subsequent behavior. The downstairs saw them, but our upstairs did not. For positive views to be credible, they must be based on facts that we believe we have come upon honestly. We accomplish this by unconsciously cooking the facts and then consciously consuming them. The diner is in the dining room, but the chef is in the basement.
Our psychological immune system can put a positive spin on almost any negative experience. This is easier to do with actions one takes than with inactions. People seem to regret not having done things more than doing them.
Our defensive system can cook facts and shift blame in response to major assaults (lost jobs, failed marriages) but is less likely to do this with small challenges (subtle insults, late elevators, late appointments). Intense suffering triggers the very processes that eradicate it, while mild suffering does not, and this counterintuitive fact can make it difficult for us to predict our emotional futures.
We are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than of the things we’re not. (not excusing behavior in a friend that we excuse in a sibling or spouse.) Apparently, inescapable circumstances trigger the psychological defenses that enable us to achieve positive views of those circumstances, but we do not anticipate that this will happen.
Explanations (real or apparent, even if irrelevant or incorrect) can rob events of their emotional impact, because it makes them seem likely and allows us to quit thinking about them.
Onward (end of chapter summary):
“The eye and the brain are conspirators, and like most conspiracies, theirs is negotiated behind closed doors, in the back room, outside of our awareness. Because we do not realize that we have generated a positive view of our current experience, we do not realize that we will do so again in the future. Not only does our naiveté cause us to overestimate the intensity and duration of our distress in the face of future adversity, it also leads us to take actions that may undermine the conspiracy. We are more likely to generate a positive and credible view of an action than an inaction, of a painful experience than of any annoying experience, of an unpleasant situation that we cannot escape than of one we can. And yet, we rarely choose action over inaction, pain over annoyance, and commitment over freedom.”
“Our tour of imagination has covered a lot of ground – from realism (part III) to presentism (part IV) to rationalization (part V) – so before moving on to our final destination, it may be useful to locate ourselves on the big map. We’ve seen how difficult it is to predict accurately our emotional reactions to future events because it is difficult to imagine them as they will happen, and difficult to imagine how we’ll think about them once they do. Throughout this book, I’ve compared imagination to perception and memory, and I’ve tried to convince you that foresight is just as fallible as eyesight and hindsight....... can we remedy the problems of foresight? .....we can. But we generally choose not to.