We all need validation. We all need to believe we matter. We fear death, we’d like to think we’ll somehow live forever. But deep down we know it’s not happening. One day, very soon in the cosmic sense of things, we will be dead. And soon enough everyone we have ever known, everyone who has ever known us, will be dead too. Gone forever, with any memory of us also gone. And we’ll be forgotten. As if we never existed. As if we never mattered. And this thought scares us. We all like to think somehow the memory of us will live forever. After all we still remember poets, painters, scientists and all sorts of people who somehow mattered, who made a difference and have been immortalized one way or another. Why can’t that be us? We take no chances these days. We create profiles for ourselves in websites such as Facebook, we take pictures of ourselves and our surroundings and we write in blogs (such as this one) making sure we’ll be remembered. After all, after I’m gone I would have left behind a legacy: pictures, blog posts, movie reviews and a very elaborate Facebook profile that will probably leave a trace in the web for a long time to come.
We have mostly lost any faith in any sort of God, we are all educated and no longer believe in fairy tales of the past. And this new realization brings back a very real and very dark threat: non-existence. We have always existed, we don’t know how to not exist. The thought scares us. And with heaven no longer being an option, we try to find ways to convince ourselves we matter. We know our cosmic insignificance and we fear what we already know is true: we do not matter, we will not exist forever and whatever we do, we will be forgotten. But that’s what life is. A very short time we get to spend in this universe. It’s a wonderful feeling and yes, we are lucky to be alive. You can try to understand life (the universe and everything) but don’t try so hard to live forever; chances are you’re not gonna make it.
Ever wondered why it’s so easy to focus on negative experiences and yet we cannot seem to recall happy times without feeling anything more than nostalgia? Doesn’t it seem that our brain has a hard time registering good experiences and yet it’s so efficient in storing the bad ones?
As our ancestors evolved, they needed to pass on their genes. And day-to-day threats like predators or natural hazards had more urgency and impact for survival. On the other hand, positive experiences like food, shelter, or mating opportunities, those are good, but if you fail to have one of those good experiences today, as an animal, you would have a chance at one tomorrow. But if that animal or early human failed to avoid that predator today, they could literally die as a result.
That’s why the brain today has what scientists call a negativity bias. I describe it as like Velcro for the bad, Teflon for the good. For example, negative information about someone is more memorable than positive information, which is why negative ads dominate politics. In relationships, studies show that a good, strong relationship needs at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.
Positive experiences use standard memory systems: moving from short-term buffers to long-term storage. But to move from a short-term buffer to long-term storage, an experience needs to be held in that short-term buffer long enough for it to transfer to long-term storage—but how often do we actually do that? We might be having one passing, normal, everyday positive experience after another: getting something done, look outside and flowers are blooming, children are laughing, chocolate tastes great, but these experiences are not transferring to storage or leading to any lasting value.
What happens when we dig into our soul a bit too deep? Psychologists have tried to find out what’s deep inside our brain, what we think about, how we perceive things and sometimes it just doesn’t work as expected…
Click on the picture for the full list of famous psychological experiments gone wrong.
It’s so true, I had to argue with people who resorted to name-calling to refute my point or at best used the exact opposite opinion with no evidence or with something they just made up. I wish people would take more time thinking and less time trying to show off.