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Your Happiness Project: Dealing with Post-Election Blues.

Posted Oct 24 2008 1:59pm

Obama_mccainI’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

No matter what happens on November 4th, a lot of people are going to be elated, and a lot of people are going to be dejected. What can you do if you’re worried that you’re going to fall into a major depression on November 5th?

You can take comfort from an area of research in the fairly new field of positive psychology, infelicitously named affective forecasting, which examines how people predict their future emotional states. It turns out that when we try to forecast our emotional state in the future, we tend to overestimate how horrible or how great we’re going to feel as a consequence of a certain outcome.

For example, studies have examined college students’ reactions to a loss by their school’s football team, and young professors’ reactions to not making tenure, and even the reactions of people who tested positive for HIV, and it turns out that people consistently overestimated how upsetting bad news would be (or how uplifting good news would be).

When you focus on just one aspect of the future – say, the identity of the President – you give this fact more prominence than it will actually have in your life. The identity of the President is important, but it won’t be the only thing that you think about on November 5, and December 12, and March 19, etc.

So if you’ve been telling everyone that if The Other Candidate wins, you’re going to move to Canada or Switzerland, remember that on November 5th, you probably won’t feel as devastated as you expect.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness and Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener’s Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

Or do you dismiss the studies? I told a friend of mine about this research, and he said, “You can survey all the college students you want, but if things don’t go the way I want in this election, I’m going to be depressed for a year.” How do you predict you’re going to feel, when the votes are cast?

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Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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