Why does every year feel like it’s getting worse?
Another year, another hail of obstacles and 2020 is yet to be matched. The past seems so much better, but is hindsight really 20/20?
Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash
Strolling through Memory Lane
In times like these, we tend to revisit our memories for comfort. We often recall these experiences in a positive light and skim over the real details.
Remember those beach holidays, where your feet treaded the powdery sand. You built castles with friends and ran through the swaying waves: that carefree bliss. See, you’re more likely to remember those happy feelings instead of the relentless sand you found weeks after and how badly the salty sea stung your eyes.
This golden filter we wash over our memories is called “nostalgia bias”.
As Carey Morewedge, a marketing professor at Boston University researching this area says:
“We’re judging the past on its greatest hits,
but we judge the present on everything we have available.”
Against today’s unfiltered dump, the polished past is an unfair weigh-up. On top of this, our mental health is currently bombarded with new issues like the changing lockdown rules combined with the boiling politics across local to international fields. As a result, we may be less optimistic and view the world through a more negative lens. So really, this year might not be as bad as you think, if you stop seeing the past as a fairy-tale.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
Just to keep up with the spewing downpour that is 2020, many of us have succumb to “doomscrolling”: the need to constantly refresh social media and online news. It can get addictive and the non-stop bad news can leave us feeling hopeless. Mindless social media consumption can worsen the negative filter we might already have on the world.
What we read on-screen isn’t a direct mirror of reality. It’s important for us to interact and engage with content and actively connect with friends and family online to avoid digital burnout. A study on “mean world syndrome” found that a person spending more time watching violent TV had a greater chance of having a more dangerous view of the world. Social media consumption is not passive like TV, but it suggests that plainly scrolling through feeds can be harmful.
It’s all about perspective
In the “blue-dot” experiment, participants were shown hundreds of dots coloured from a range of deep purple to deep blue and asked whether each was blue or not. We’d expect the bluer the dot, the more people to answer blue. However, as fewer objectively blue dots were shown, people’s definition of blue expanded: purplish dots were now called blue. This effect is called “prevalence-induced concept change”.
What’s this got to do with anything? As Dan Gilbert, the co-author of the paper puts it:
“As problems become rare, we count more things as problems.”
This doesn’t say that all the new problems are fake or how we categorise things is extremely flexible. For example, a neurologist shouldn’t stretch their definition of a brain tumour, just because none were found.
In short, if nothing feels like it’s improving, it might be because your brain keeps moving the goalpost for what counts as good. So maybe the world isn’t all bad, there are still some good things to appreciate. Like a nice, warm cup of soup.
What can we do?
According to experts, learning to recognise and getting real with the lenses we see the world through can bring us much-needed relief from this year’s stressors. It’s important to break free from nostalgia bias and stop preferring the past. It helps to take rest from social media too. Rebuilding our negative interpretations of the present can help us redefine what we see as “good” or “bad”.
It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s also not all gloom!
- Carey Morewedge’s paper on nostalgia bias: http://careymorewedge.com/papers/Morewedge_NostalgicPreferences.pdf