It’s said that historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Sana’i of Ghazni, and Solomon shared this phrase with their followers:
This too shall pass.
It’s an important reminder for us to consider as reassurance during our worst moments, as well as a sobering phrase during our best moments. Yet our minds aren’t wired to think that way. Harvard professor of psychology and author Dan Gilbert writes about a thought exercise in Stumbling on Happiness:
To illustrate this point, I often ask people to tell me how they think they would feel two years after the sudden death of their eldest child. As you can probably guess, this makes me quite popular at parties.
This is, undoubtedly, a shocking tragedy. He continues:
But in my long history of asking this question and thereby excluding myself from every social circle to which I formerly belonged, I have yet to hear a single person tell me that in addition to these heartbreaking, morbid images, they also imagined the other things that would inevitably happen in the two years following the death of their child. Indeed, not one person has ever mentioned attending another child’s school play, or making love with his spouse, or eating a taffy apple on a warm summer evening…or any of the many other activities that we – and that they – would expect to happen in those two years.
This is known as durability bias, which is our tendency to overestimate the duration of emotional impact from a negative event. Put simply: when we’re feeling low, we believe that we’ll continue feeling badly for much longer than we actually do. We’re often more resilient than we believe:
The tendency that causes us to overestimate the happiness of Californians also causes us to underestimate the happiness of people with chronic illnesses or disabilities.
Our minds find it difficult to separate the forecast of future emotional state and the current state we’re in right now:
It is only natural that we should imagine the future and then consider how doing so makes us feel, but because our brains are hell-bent on responding to current events, we mistakenly conclude that we will feel tomorrow as we feel today.
If you’re looking to figure out how you can be more durable through moments of high pressure or negative emotional affect, consider giving meditation a try. Journalist and author Oliver Burkeman writes in The Antidote about a study where psychologist Fadel Zeidan subjected respondents respondents to electric shocks and asked them to assess their pain:
Meditation, Zeidan believes, ‘had taught them that distractions, feelings and emotions are momentary, [and] don’t require a label or judgment, because the moment is already over.’