Ideas that add up #145

The first barrier [to gratitude] is what I call the tailwind/headwind asymmetry. If any of you go running or ride a bike, you’ll know that when you’re running or bicycling into the wind, you’re very aware of it, man. Just can’t wait till the course turns around and you’ve got the wind at your back. When that happens, you feel great. But then you forget about it very quickly — you’re just not aware of the wind at your back. And that’s just a fundamental feature of how our minds, and how the world works. We’re just going to be more aware of those barriers than the things that boost us along

Professor Tom Gilovich: ‘Two Enemies of Gratitude’ presentation at The Greater Good Gratitude Summit, June 7 2014

Very true. Even with quite a strong tailwind, depending on how fast you are cycling, you’d swear there was no wind at all. Only when your route takes you back into the wind that you discover it’s been blowing all along. According to Prof Gilovich, type in “headwind” and Google Image throws up any number of vivid, real-world images. But not so when you type in “tailwind”:

You have to depict it schematically, you just can’t capture it in an image. And what’s true photographically is also true psychologically. That is to say, since we’re goal-striving, problem-solving organisms, we’re naturally going to be oriented towards the barriers that we have to overcome – that’s a very good thing for our material existence but it creates an obvious problem in terms of not being aware of all the stuff that’s helped us along. 

We readily spot the advantages others enjoy (that we don’t) and the difficulties we face (that others don’t), meanwhile merrily blind to our own advantages and the tribulations of others. And, being the jumping-to-conclusions machines that we are, we’re prone to weaving the evidence into a “victim me”/”deserving me” narrative — the kind of thing that fuels nationalism, consumerism, and various forms of religious and political ideology.

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