Affective Forecasting: Don’t Do It – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Posted By on July 17, 2020

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Imagine for a moment that you won the lottery mazal tov! As you envision yourself at that hopeful, future moment, you presumably believe you will be filled with overwhelming, positive emotions.

But while there is excitement and happiness involved in winning, research shows that over time, lottery winners are not significantly happier than non-winners. When you imagine winning the lottery, you dont consider the hassles and challenges that accompany winning that will produce a host of negative emotions.

Psychologists Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert identify this recurring mistake as affective forecasting. We tend to mis-predict how we will feel in future situations. We predict that certain outcomes will engender more positive emotions than they actually do and assume that bad situations will feel worse than they actually do.

Parshat Mattot begins with a discussion of vows and oaths: If a man makes a vow to the Lord he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (Bamidbar 30:3). While he may not break his own word after taking a vow, the Talmud (Chagigah 10a) interprets the verse as teaching us that others can annul his vow via a process known as hatarat nedarim.

Based on early Talmudic commentators, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explains that there are two ways to annul a vow. The first is through a mechanism called a petach an opening in which the person is released from his vow because the vow was made in error. If there were circumstances that the person who took the vow was not aware of, or was not paying attention to, when he made the vow, the vow can be annulled if a sage determines that he would not have made the vow had he been aware of them.

For example, if a person vowed to fast for a certain amount of time and didnt realize there was a holiday during that time frame, the sage asks him if he would have made the vow had he been cognizant of the intervening holiday. If the answer is no, the sage has found an opening, and the vow is annulled.

The second way to annul a vow is through charatah remorse. In this case, there was no error. Rather, his vow can be released, Rabbi Soloveitchik explains: on the grounds that his tastes have changed, his feelings, his outlook and criteria are different now from what they were at the time he made his vow. Those things which originally seemed to him to be of ultimate importance now appear to be trivial and foolish.

As an example, consider a person who, after being insulted, takes a vow to avenge the slight. Over time, his anger subsides, and he no longer feels the same intense feelings toward the perpetrator. What happened is that a radical change occurred in the conscience and will of the person who made the vow.

Many of us arent accustomed to making vows, but we are prone to making mistakes based on both of these concepts. First, we make mistakes in logic and judgment. We dont factor in, or pay attention to, all factors when deciding what to do. We jump to act before thinking through the details.

Second, we are poor affective forecasters. We make decisions in the present, thinking we know what we will feel in the future. But we are usually wrong. We think we will always feel a certain anger, so we do something that we regret in the long-term, once the anger subsides.

While sometimes we are blessed with the opportunity to repent or annul a vow, perhaps we can avoid making poor judgments in the first place by being more mindful of our habits to mis-predict our future emotional states.

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Affective Forecasting: Don't Do It - The Jewish Press - JewishPress.com

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