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Timing is everything: Making a good experience better and enduring the bad.

Knowing how long an event or situation is likely to last can intensify the feelings associated with it, according to recent research1 from the University of Toronto.

This is an incredibly powerful tool to use if you’re about to do something you love. You can love it even more. By putting a time limit on a pleasurable experience in place of endless hedonism you can intensify happiness. Contrast a brief two-week stint abroad to an open ended travelling escapade. Knowing that you have a limited time somewhere increases your appreciation of it as you strive to feel, see and eat as much as you can in a short space of time.

This can be equally so for an experience you may be dreading. Knowing how long you’re going to have to sit through a meeting you’re not looking forward to at work, or knowing how long you have to babysit Satan over the weekend will have you clock watching across the set period of time. However, not knowing how long a bad experience is likely to last throws hope into the mix and softens the blow of the negative experience. Imagine being held in an elevator. You’ll probably get more annoyed if you knew you would be required to wait an hour over not knowing when you’ll be released!

Think of this when you’re waiting to see the doctor or waiting for an interview or an overdue baby to arrive. Ignorance can indeed be bliss. You may feel that things are out of your control but you could feel twice as bad if you’re counting down the time.

We can apply the positive aspects of this little insight in the way we pave our lives. If we realize our own impermanence and relatively short time here, we may add some colour to dull periods in life through feeling more intensely. Likewise, when life throws us a curve ball, not knowing how long a bad situation can last may in fact help us endure it.

1)      Zhao, Min and Tsai, Claire (2011), “The Effects of Duration Knowledge on Forecasted Versus Actual Affective Experiences,” Journal Of Consumer Research Vol. 32

 

2 comments

1 Dan { 10.09.11 at 9:54 am }

I got stuck in an elevator once…only for about 5 minutes as it turned out. The worst bit was not knowing. Actually the worst bit was that I needed to pee when I got in the elevator, and not knowing if it was going to be just 5 minutes or 5 hours before I could pee.

Of course there is a lesson here – ‘Always pee before getting in an elevator’.

🙂

2 annie { 10.09.11 at 11:19 am }

So you were not only stuck in an evelator you also needed to pee – who wouldn’t be frustrated! Double whammy….we couldn’t apply a ‘one idea fits all’ model here!

Popular psychology is never black and white, and one positive insight implied through research or general observation is never going to resonate with everybody because we’re all so different. I say if it resonates with you, then take it away with you, if it doesn’t…let it go (which I’m sure you have already!)

Thanks for your thoughts Dr Maggs 🙂 As always nice ‘chewing the fat’ with you.

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