Advertising
Advertising

10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them (Part 1 of 2)

10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them (Part 1 of 2)

10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them

    “Who ever said life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.” – Grandpa, The Princess Bride

    Life’s not fair. Our thought processes are controlled by brains that are not always strictly rational. Social and economic forces beyond our control can toss us like plastic bags in the wind. Physical appearances play as large a role, if not larger, in the way we regard others – and the way others regard us. It’s just not FAIR!

    With a little thought, I came up with 10 things that just aren’t fair, and some ideas about how to deal with them. I’ve deliberately avoided things having to do directly with race, sex, and other forms of discrimination, hoping instead to focus on more universal unfairnesses. Maybe I’ll come back with a follow-up dealing with those issues at a later date.

    Advertising

    1. Packaging makes food taste better.

    Strange but true – the way food is packaged, from the label design to the size of portions to the texture of the box, affects our perception of how it tastes. (If you’re academically inclined, you could look at this study of how packaging and taste interact.) Roughly speaking, we identify with certain values the packaging conveys, and that predisposes us to feel more or less favorably about what’s inside.

    What to do about it: This is fortunately one of those things where knowing is more than half the battle. Comparing similar foods free of labeling is one way to deal with it – that’s what wine tasters do to avoid biases. And just reminding ourselves not to judge a book – or a food – by its cover helps a lot.

    2. People prefer to do business with people they have relationships with, rather than the ones offering the best deal.

    Advertising

    We’ll drive miles out of our way to support a local store or a friend’s shop because of the relationship we have with the proprietors. We’ll spend more money on services from friends of friends rather than coldly evaluating all the possible vendors. Again and again, social relationships balance and even outweigh other considerations like cost and convenience.

    What to do about it: Develop your social network! While you should certainly focus on providing value in every other way, developing social relationships will often be the thing that gives you the edge over your competitors.

    3. Many jobs are never advertised. News travels through social networks instead.

    Obviously related to #2 above, this is of major concern given the rough state of employment at the moment. Only a small percentage of jobs are advertised in newspapers and online and even when they are, getting them can still rely heavily on social contacts.

    Advertising

    What to do about it: Again, get to work on that social network. Use online networking sites like LinkedIn and niche sites in your field (check out the various networks at Ning) as well as attending (or organizing) local events in your industry. Make sure you announce your availability through every channel available to you – most people will at least try to think whether they know anything suitable for you if they know you’re looking.

    4. Attractive people are considered smarter, nicer, and more moral than unattractive people.

    “Attractive” is, of course, subjective, but even so: when someone thinks you’re good-looking, they’re more likely to think you’re a good person than if they find you physically unappealing. And vice versa – you’re more likely to think highly of a person you find handsome or pretty than one you find ugly or even average. (Here’s what psychology has to say about our assessment of attractive people.)

    What to do about it: Well, one option is plastic surgery, dieting, working out, make-up, etc. but that seems pretty pathetic just to get people to think more highly of you. Since confidence is a big part of what makes people find you attractive, work on projecting confidence in yourself. And, of course, make sure whatever you do has merit in its own right. As far as your opinion of other people, try finding ways to see others as attractive whatever their appearance, and remind yourself when you think poorly of someone that you can easily be mislead by the way they look.

    Advertising

    5. We trust other people, even when we think they’re wrong.

    Oh, the trials of being a social animal! Far too often , we’ll go with the crowd, even when we think the crowd is wrong. The classic example si a psychological study in which several people, only one of which is not in on it, view three lines of different lengths and asked which is the longest. Everyone says the shortest one is longest, until they get to the actual subject, who knows they’re all wrong but agrees with them anyway so as not so make waves. Other examples include people’s willingness to join lines even when they’re not sure what the line is for, and people’s unwillingness to enter restaurants that are empty.

    What to do about it: It’s easy to say “don’t be a sheep” but it’s part of our social nature. We don’t generally want to rock the boat – it’s socially dangerous, and can even be physically dangerous at times. The best we can do most of the time is ask ourselves what, exactly, we have to gain from following other people’s leads. The point isn’t to avoid doing what other people are doing, but to avoid doing it because other people are doing it. If we can determine that we’d do something whether or not others did it, then enjoy!

    Be sure to check out part 2 when it’s posted later in the week for more unfair facts of life, including the difference that height makes! And tell us below about the unfair situations you’ve dealt with, and what you did about them.

    More by this author

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby)

    Trending in Featured

    1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

    Advertising

    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

    Advertising

    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

    Advertising

    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

    Advertising

    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next