Taking the Edge
“There are only two tragedies in life. One is not to get one's heart's desire. The other is to get it. ”
—Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), Victorian writer and wit
You are probably familiar with the story of Aladdin. Going about his daily duties, he stumbles by accident upon a strange—looking lamp. Greatly intrigued, he examines it further. Suddenly, with a great puff of smoke, a magical genie materializes. Grateful for being set free, this genie grants Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin can hardly believe his good fortune. A life of leisure and luxury, once but a distant dream, now seems mere moments away.
Put yourself in Aladdin's shoes. What would you wish for? (Note: clever replies like “an unlimited number of similar wishes” are forbidden!) The three wishes you select will certainly represent things you believe will make you happy. Although you are unlikely ever to get the chance of transforming your life as radically as Aladdin did, you will nonetheless get to make decisions every day that have some bearing on your gladness or sadness. Moreover, when you make such decisions, you necessarily rely on your intuitions about how actions and events will make you feel. For example, you might attend a friend's birthday party, expecting it to be entertaining, but skip a psychology lecture expecting it to be boring.
Unfortunately, our naive expectations are sometimes mistaken and prompt decisions that we later regret (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977; see chap. 1).