If you like improving your life enough to read my stuff, you probably know about a study (probably one of many) that found that people who won the lottery and people who had accidents that left them in wheelchairs both returned to the same emotional levels a year later.
What do you conclude from such results? How much can we misunderstand ourselves if winning the lottery doesn’t help out lives? Or if spinal injuries don’t?
These results sounds counterintuitive. Most of us would prefer winning the lottery to losing control of our arms and legs, or even just not winning the lottery. But if winning the lottery doesn’t improve our lives, why do we feel like we’d rather win than not? And what importance, if any, does the answer have for improving our lives?
What not to conclude
I’ll give you something not to conclude, but I bet many people do anyway. The result doesn’t imply that it doesn’t matter what happens or what you do in life, that you’re stuck with whatever mood life gives you. Maybe you think genetics determine your emotional tenor. Or maybe you think childhood set it. Or for whatever other reason you can’t do anything about it.
This study doesn’t say anything so broad. While it doesn’t rule out those conclusions, it can say no more than that these two events didn’t affect people’s lives over a year-plus time frame. And even that conclusion would depend on the details of the experiment.
The study also doesn’t imply you can’t do anything to change your emotional tenor. Again, other things could work. This experiment just didn’t work with them.
What I conclude (and I recommend you do too)
So why do we prefer winning the lottery to being stuck in a wheelchair?
Because every moment counts!
Every moment is its own unique element of your life worth savoring. Even if a year later you end up where you started, for the time you felt better, your life improved.
Many would say having more money gives you more opportunity to do things you couldn’t without it, but I don’t value such things except for people where the extra resources make the difference between life and death, or at least serious sickness or injury. For the rest of us, and even for them if they escape such a situation through other means, skills in managing other parts of your environment, your beliefs, and your behavior will create greater and more consistent, reliable, and predictable ability to create the emotions you want than just getting more money (see my posts on the Model and Method for how).
Incidentally, when you think about it, what else does life consist of but moments? What else can you improve but moments?
Such questions don’t give you the only way of looking at life, but this perspective helps with past events you might otherwise regret. Those past moments are gone. They are not a part of the present moment. You could even say that the “you” of those moments is not the “you” of the present moment.
Sometimes when I start wishing I had done something different some time in the past I think “Well, if I were the Josh back then I’d do something different, but I’m not. And that Josh exists only in my memories. I can’t go back to those moments. The best I can do is enjoy these moments the best I can.” Thoughts like that make me not regret things and help me make more effective decisions and enjoy life more now.
Consequences for leaders
Incidentally, this perspective helps leaders particularly well — thinking now of having to lead through crunch times, which every leader faces at some point. The advice I gave on leading through crunch times came from this perspective (and personal experience).
For that matter, musicians and live performers benefit from the same perspectives.