From Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project on how happiness and misery is experienced differently:
“What might have been is an essential component of misery,’” he [Daniel Kahneman] wrote to Amos [Tversky]. “There is an asymmetry here, because considerations of how much worse things could have been is not a salient factor in human joy and happiness.”
Happy people did not dwell on some imagined unhappiness the way unhappy people imagined what they might have done differently so that they might be happy. People did not seek to avoid other emotions with the same energy they sought to avoid regret.
This bit on how people remember (and compare) bad experiences is also fascinating:
When he met Redelmeier, Danny was already running experiments on unhappiness in his Berkeley lab. He’d stick the bare arms of his subjects into buckets of ice water. Each subject was given two painful experiences. He’d then be asked which of the two experiences he’d most like to repeat. Funny things happened when you did this with people. Their memory of pain was different from their experience of it. They remembered moments of maximum pain, and they remembered, especially, how they felt the moment the pain ended. But they didn’t particularly remember the length of the painful experience. If you stuck people’s arms in ice buckets for three minutes but warmed the water just a bit for another minute or so before allowing them to flee the lab, they remembered the experience more fondly than if you stuck their arms in the bucket for three minutes and removed them at a moment of maximum misery. If you asked them to choose one experiment to repeat, they’d take the first session. That is, people preferred to endure more total pain so long as the experience ended on a more pleasant note.