Too Much Hope

Did you have great hopes for Xmas?  Were you disappointed, but think it was good at least for you to have hoped?  Turns out, hope need not make you happier.  From the NYT Year in Ideas :

Prisoners with life sentences but with the possibility of parole adapt less well to prison life, for example, than prisoners with life sentences without the possibility of parole. … The research team … tracked people who had portions of their colons removed or bypassed, such that the patients couldn’t defecate normally. The condition is extremely unpleasant and leads many people to say they’d rather be dead. … But a colostomy isn’t always permanent. Some patients are likely to heal and have their bowels reconnected. .  Were it up to the patient to choose, "almost anybody would choose temporary over permanent," Ubel says.

So it’s surprising that the permanent-colostomy patients ended up happier six months after the operation than the temporary group, whose members were still holding out hope. … It might seem strange that patients who are better off objectively were less satisfied with their lives, yet the finding makes sense: "If your condition is temporary," Ubel explains, "you’re thinking, I can’t wait until I get rid of this." Ubel says thoughts like these keep you from moving on with your life and focusing on the many good things that remain. …

Gregory Miller … found that teenage girls who are unable to disengage themselves from trying to attain hard-to-reach goals exhibited increased levels of the inflammatory molecule C-reactive protein (C.R.P.), which in adults is linked with diabetes, heart disease and early aging. …  At the outset of their experiment, Miller and Wrosch asked each teenage subject what would count for her as adversity and what would count as success. Then the researchers tracked how the young women dealt with their own setbacks and adversity over the course of a year. … "We found that the girls who were best able to disengage when a goal became difficult or unattainable are those who have constant levels of C.R.P.," Miller says. Teenagers who persisted – even if they eventually attained their goals – had significantly elevated levels.

This reminds me of Tyler Cowen on chess:

Chess is characteristic for its lack of self-deception; it is hard to avoid knowing where you stand in the hierarchy and excuses are few and far between.  That’s why most chess players are depressed.

Tyler says people can be happier in a caste society, where the lack of mobility means no one can blame your position on your lack of effort.

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