Appreciating Uncertainty Can Improve My Well-Being
What are the odds of coming up heads in ten tosses of a quarter? Five. Right? But what if I tossed my quarter ten times and came up with eight heads? Did you see that one coming? Ever purchased the automobile that Car and Driver Magazine called the year’s “most reliable on the market”, only to discover that in your first month of ownership it needed service three times? What gives?
Uncertainty. We live with it everyday. But human beings are attracted to it almost as much as a chaffing rash. Yuk! None of us like to think that life could be so disorderly, random and unpredictable, although it certainly seems to be that way, at least some of the time. What is it about that unknown, unexpected, unwanted and unplanned for something that so knocks us off our proverbial rockers?
We don’t seem to be well prepared for uncertainty. Most of our training from parents, educators, the reading we do, and even the media exhorts us to follow prescriptive programs for a successful life (or so it seems). For example, we’re told that if we eat right, exercise and get plenty of rest, then we should enjoy good health. Yet, a heart attack or some other malady will strike the unfortunate few. For some, a deep depression will follow. Is it really necessary to let uncertainty get to us?
Here’s the thing: we are genetically programmed to gather information from the environment through our senses, to assimilate that same data, and to accommodate it as we see fit. In other words, our brain puts order to that information so we can make sense of the world around us. Patterns are laid down in the brain to make our future behavior more efficient and easier to replicate.
Just think about how awkward it was when, as a child, you first attempted to learn long-division. But after much practice and repetition, the pattern got laid down chemically in your brain, so that eventually, replicating a complicated string of behaviors needed to solve those math problems proceeded almost effortlessly. Furthermore, you were conditioned to believe that repeating that pattern would produce the same result every time.
What’s the point? Human beings readily accept the proposition that if it worked once it will work again, but we often do a lousy job of embracing exceptions – those unforeseen events that don’t fit the pattern. We seem to have an expectancy bias towards wanting (even demanding) that life should be like solving a math problem: two-plus-two always equals four. We would do better to realize that life is an uncertain thing where people and events often behave unpredictably, interfering with our two-plus-two mentality! Although we may be genetically predisposed to order information, it is a big mistake to believe that life itself is orderly and predictable.
The next time you think that kindness always begets kindness, beware. To those of us who believe the silly notion that good people deserve happiness, I offer this caveat: there are no guarantees in life. No one deserves anything, but it’s nice when something does go your way. Use those innate powers of pattern building to recognize, that, at best, you can only approximate outcomes. You see, it’s better to account for uncertainty to lessen the chance for a big letdown! An act of kindness usually gets one in return. But if rewards don’t result from your altruism, try to take satisfaction from knowing that the Golden Rule is still better to live by.
There are no guarantees in life: nothing is ever so certain. An appreciation of that truth can help you adjust to life’s vicissitudes. We are not gods of the Universe; it’s too prideful to believe that we should be able to control everything. That’s where faith comes in. That’s for another lecture…
With warm regards,
Frank Morelli, M.A.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
501 STATE ROAD 13 • SAINT JOHNS, FLORIDA 32259
PHONE: 904-410-6324 • FAX: 855-823-3434