In Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman explains how our view of our life, and our close relationships, is determined by something called the Peak End Rule.
That is, the way we end up feeling about people, and our life, is not some kind of average of the moments we have lived, or the times that we have shared, or experienced with them.
You know … the most memorable vacations, then the boring humdrum times, securing that fab job, falling deeply in love, the birth of all our kids, losing someone we had loved … or, perhaps, separating if we learn we’ve been betrayed.
If we add all these together, you have an average life. Right?
It seems our overall rating of how our life has been, and the way we rate our partner and the years we’ve spent with them – is not simply an average of these moments and these years.
And, no, the good times and the bad times don’t cancel themselves out.
In summary, The Peak-End Rule reveals that final ratings will be based on an average of just two distinct experiences. These are:
- The worst or the most positive experience we’ve had, and
- The intensity of pain, or the pleasure we feel at the end of an event, or a relationship.
You see this principle at work all the time in sports.
For example, where a game is turned around when a player scores a goal – and we thought all hope had gone, and the team were going to lose. But now we’re super happy and the game’s a huge success.
You can see this principle at work in your own life, too.
For example, cast your mind back thorough the years and review the time you’ve spent with your partner or your spouse (or with someone else you’ve loved).
Do you look back on those years and then balance out events? Or did something major happen so other memories are erased, or are deleted, or rewritten in light of this event?
But maybe there’s good news …
Because our life is one long story, we may still all have the chance to take hold of the pen and decide what happens next. We could script a better ending, one that’s meaningful and good. This is not the final chapter. You still have time to write.