The Impact Bias

Harvard professor Dan Gilbert describes what he calls The Impact Bias—our “tendency to overestimate the hedonic impact of future events.”

Humans have the ability to simulate future situations in our heads to predict what it’ll be like to experience them, but that simulator doesn’t always work so well and tends “to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are.”

We see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, and on and on, have far less impact, less intensity, and much less duration than people expect them to have. It even applies to terrible events in our lives.

A recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness.

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