Day 422: What Could Have Been...

This is a continuation of my previous posts, starting on Day 16 - please read at least this first post for some context.

Counterfactual thinking: Imagining what might have been, EG: "If only I had studied longer and harder I would have done better in the exam."

Depending on its focus, counterfactual thinking can yield either boosts to, or reductions in, our current moods. If individuals imagine upward counterfactuals, comparing their current outcomes with more favourable ones than they experiences, the result may be strong feelings of dissatisfaction or envy, especially if they do not feel capable of obtaining better outcomes in the future (Sanna, 1997). Olympic athletes who won a silver medal but who can easily imagine winning a gold one, experience such reactions (eg, Medvec, Madey, & Gilovich, 1995). Alternatively, if individuals compare their current outcomes with less favourable ones - it might have been worse - they may experience positive feelings of satisfaction and hopefulness. Such reactions have been found among Olympic athletes who won bronze medals and who can easily imagine what it would be like to have not won any medal whatsoever (eg, Gleicher et al., 1995). In sum, engaging in counterfactual thought can strongly influence affective states (Medvec, & Savitsky, 1997).

This is only a small extract from the section on counterfactual thinking. What is also discussed is how we will change our opinions or level of sympathy towards someone, for example, based on the counterfactual thoughts we generate. So say someone is in an accident, they left work early to run an errand but was hit by a car and is now in hospital. Our sympathy towards this person may be influenced by thoughts of "well he/she shouldn't be leaving work early in the first place - if he/she hadn't done that, then they would not have been in the accident" - these thoughts can become so severe that we may end up feeling strong negative emotions toward this person.

Many of us live in the grip of what might have been, creating scenarios in our heads of how we end up being super amazing and how everyone loves us and the world revolves around us. Don't try to deny it - just don't. We create entirely separate worlds of "The life I could have lived" and end up invest a huge amount of ourselves into these make-believe worlds - our time, our attention, our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams and wishes. Sometimes we end up believing that this imaginary world we've created is more real that the world around us. Well hell, we all believe that - if we didn't then we wouldn't live the way we so, as if we can rewind time and redo life on Earth so that Earth is not turned into a toxic cesspool.

Maybe this is where our sense of superiority comes from: our vested interests in our imaginations of what could have been. We spend a large chunk of our lives imagining how great we are, it's no wonder we each think of ourselves as "secretly special", or better than we actually are.


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