Giving up hope makes sense when things seem very unlikely to get better and you decide you want to be happy.
Hope impedes adaptation and adapting is one of the keys to happiness.
After all, most of us dread finality; we much prefer changeable outcomes. We like escape hatches and will often pay more for the privilege of changing our minds. That’s one of the reasons why we have adjustable-rate mortgages and prenuptial agreements, and shop at retailers like Costco that offer liberal return policies (so we can return those Christmas presents from our spouses). If we make bad decisions, we want to be able to get out of them.
But it turns out that those with the permanent colostomies were happier. Throughout the six-month period the researchers found that those with permanent colostomies improved rapidly. But those who could ultimately reverse them remained relatively unsatisfied. Why? Loewenstein’s conclusion is that “hope impedes adaptation.” In other words, if you’re stuck with something, you learn to live with it. And the sooner you learn to live with it, the happier you will be.
This finding is consistent with a long line of psychological research going back to Freud. Upon being stuck with a decision, we suddenly feel it’s not so bad. Voters, for instance, have been shown to recognize the strengths of a candidate they opposed—once that candidate is elected. And high school students become acutely aware of a college’s weaknesses—upon learning that it has rejected them. College students, likewise, come to appreciate how biased standardized tests are—after failing one. In other words, they adapt. But from afar, this is often not what we expect.
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