Think about this for a while:
You had always wanted to listen live to this particular band "XYZ" all your life. Finally, the band comes for a tour of your country and you get a ticket. You go to the show, the band plays awesome music and you enjoy it a lot. However, after the show is over when you get to the station to board the train back home, you realise that you don't have your wallet. You somehow manage to get back home with some stranger's help, but you lost your important stuff and cards and some money and had to later go at length to retrieve them again. Now after a year or so, when you listen to XYZ's music, you immediately de facto remembered your losing the wallet and all the trouble it brought you. You had, in fact, enjoyed the concert, but that experience got overrun by the 'lost wallet' memory.
So, what happened here?
Nobel Laureate economist and behavioural psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his influential book 'Thinking: Fast and Slow' aptly describes what goes on in situations as I mentioned above. Kahneman says, generally, the human mind operates in two very intricate modes when it comes to experiences and memories. We have the EXPERIENCING SELF that is intuitive, unconscious mode of thinking that operates in the present moment that entirely focuses in the quality of our experience in our life- the mode that is responsible for living IN the moment. On the contrary, we have the REMEMBERING SELF that is slower, conscious mode of thinking that tells the story of our experience. Remembering self tells us how we think ABOUT the experiences we have.
To our experiencing self, each moment lasts about 3 seconds and most of the moments are fleeting. However, the remembering self registers in our mind the intense moments, the changes in the story, the endings, the unexpected turn of events. These intense moments tend to colour the entire story and when we have to make decisions in the future, we make these decisions based on these MEMORIES of experiences rather than the experiences themselves. This is why you will not feel like attending XYZ's concert the next time they come touring! Most of our decisions are derived by the remembering self, rather than the experiencing self, and this is why we are more anxious and stressed and irrationally unhappy more than we ought to be in life.
How did Kahneman found this piece of wisdom?
A simple pain study was designed in which the same set of participants were given two different pain experiences. In experience A, the participants were asked to dip their hands in cold water (around 14-degree celsius) for a stretch of 15 seconds before being told to take the hand off the container. In another set of experience, the participants were asked to dip their hands for a longer time, around 20 seconds. However, in this case, the water's temperature was increased by a degree celsius towards the end of the experience, i.e., the 19th and 20th second. Later on, when asked which set of experience would the subjects want again to go through, all of them chose the second one. What does this tell us about human behaviour?
The participants chose the longer pain experience (note that in case A, the pain was shorter-15 seconds), but the ending was more pleasant in case B (one-degree rise in temperature can give a more pleasant sensation to the skin). Hence, the participants chose to repeat the second experience if they were given to choose. This means that the last two seconds of pleasant sensation mattered more than the whole experience, and the future decisions were driven by them. The REMEMBERING SELF-ruled over the EXPERIENCING SELF. This experiment can converse, and similar results deduced for other cases as well. If a painful experience ends with a mild spike in the pain stimulus, people will choose not to repeat it if they have the choice to go through the other option of rather longer painful experience without that mild spike. Participants f will choose to experience more pain for a longer amount of time if they can avoid the spike, thus the “bad” memory at the end.
This exemplifies the negativity bias we all have in life. We hold more closely the memories of bad incidents more than that of the good ones, and we derive our decisions based on that. We are hard-wired to rather forget the subtle positive events in our lives which are in a way not fair for our own happiness. If we could really think through these and live moment-by-moment rather than in memories of the moment, maybe the entire world would be a much better, content place.