Roughly speaking, affective forecasting is a term used in psychology to indicate the emotion experienced by the thought of a future event. It’s often used to refer to the positive feeling that arises when we plan for something pleasurable in the future. Sounds harmless enough, right? But is it, really?
It turns out affective forecasting is quite damaging. It’s an integral part of what I call the fantasy paradigm, the seemingly inescapable habit we have of dreaming up ways to be happy in the future.
The untrained mind constantly strives to look for external solutions to life, and a person will constantly seek to adjust external reality to suit his or her desires. Lists of conditional happiness are continually updated. The untrained mind will thus spend a lot of time in a fantasy world daydreaming about what seems like a brighter future. Basically, these desires involve changing the future in three ways: 1) getting things, 2) getting people to cooperate with your plans, and 3) hoping for favorable situations to arise. But usually, not much changes when one of these goals is achieved. Desires, once attained, satisfy very little, and other pressing desires soon take center stage. Living like this is one of the components of a terrible life. When the mind is in the future desiring results, anxiety about future outcomes is unavoidable, as is frustration with life as it is today, anger when apparent obstacles postpone these future desires, and fear that it will all turn out badly. We have all tried to live like this, and it just doesn’t work. It has never worked. It is no way to attain peace, contentment, and joy.
We need a change of paradigm. Instead of focusing on the future, on the illusory belief that some combination of external reality (these things, with those people, under that situation) is the key to happiness, we should focus on just living life well, here and now, focused on our dharma. Life vs. fantasy.
Life is happening at every moment. It’s in flux – a constant stream of events. The challenge is to be fully present as it’s happening. The joy arises from doing your dharma well, here and now, and moving from one dharma to the next. Being the best person you can be today, right now – true to yourself. It’s that simple. There is no need (and very little use) to daydream about the future. Reality is more beautiful than any daydream if you learn to access it completely. Future events will unfold under the all-powerful force of time. And life usually plays out very differently from anything you had imagined. This is neither good nor bad; it just is – it’s reality. The more we can be attuned to reality, the happier we will be. Instead of imagining that a certain combination of things and people will bring you peace and joy in the future, you should seek to attain peace and joy with life as it is, with the wonderful blessing of being active in your dharma, of being alive right now.
The buzz we get with affective forecasting is not too different from a drug high. Feels nice enough while you’re on it, but very quickly the sensation passes over and you’re left worse off than before, frustrated and unhappy with reality, looking for the next high. Meanwhile, we’re doing a poor job of living life as it is. We’re missing out on life.
We’ve been trained since childhood to insist on this fantasy paradigm, getting another quick fix of affective forecasting. We convince ourselves that we’ll be happy when we buy the new gadget, new shoes, find a new romantic partner, get a new job or just win the lottery. But research shows, this is just not the case. Even when the most coveted of such things happen to us, such as winning the lottery, the joy all too quickly fades and we’re back to feeling exactly how we felt before the event.
The solution is to change how we live, to adjust our mind, to reshape our brain, to live well now. This is the focus of the 3T Path I teach and the core message of my soon to be published book, The 3T Path, which explains just how you can do this.
Check out my video on this topic.