July 18, 2024   10:25am

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Did you know certainty — even when the news is bad — can make you happier than uncertainty?  Read on …

Everyone’s tired of the attendant doom and gloom since our economy headed south.  Along with economists disagreeing and layoffs of really talented people, there’s the anxiety of just not knowing what’s next …

Daniel Gilbert explains it best in “What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous,” from The New York Times, “Psychologists and economists now know that although the very rich are no happier than the merely rich, for the other 99 percent of us, happiness is greatly enhanced by a few quaint assets, like shelter, sustenance and security. Those who think the material is immaterial have probably never stood in a breadline.”

Even when times are good, Gilbert explains why we remain stuck in our unhappy, nervous state:  “So if a dearth of dollars isn’t making us miserable, then what is? No one knows. I don’t mean that no one knows the answer to this question. I mean that the answer to this question is that no one knows – and not knowing is making us sick … That’s because people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur. Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not – and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.”

Evidence from several studies is presented to prove his point, including one done in the Netherlands at Maastricht University. Electric shocks were given to subjects. One group knew they would receive intense shocks every trial, while another knew there would be three intense shocks out of the 20 shocks administered (but weren’t aware of when they would come). The study found those who didn’t know when the intense shocks were coming were more afraid, gauged by perspiration and heart rate.

“An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait,” Gilbert says.

Read the entire article here.


The New York Times, “What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous,” by Daniel Gilbert, May 20, 2009.

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