You’re a hypocrite who thinks you’re the best person who has ever lived, but you’re not alone. We’re all that way, and it’s just fine — so long as you forgive everyone else for the shortcomings we all share.
Every one of us feels we are the best person we know, and if you don’t believe this you’re either lying or there’s something wrong with you. Wait! Before you go write an angry comment or email let’s talk about this for a minute. If you could become another person, would you do it? Is there anyone out there that you’re absolutely certain would be better than you? If you think you do, you probably don’t know enough about this person to be sure or you’re suffering from some form of depression. I realise this is a big assumption to make, but when our brains are working properly they take measures to assure that, in the end, we believe we’re making the best choices, doing the right things, and — in our specific life — nobody else could do it better. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.
Back in December we looked at how synthesised happiness is just as good as real happiness, meaning you can make a tough decision and you’ll find a way to convince yourself your decision was for the best even when it wasn’t. It’s how victims of traumatic events eventually believe it turned out for the best. It’s how losing everything can make a person eventually feel like they’ve found something better. According to Dan Gilbert, who wrote the great book Stumbling on Happiness, this synthesised happiness is just as good as the real stuff. As a result, we can make plenty of stupid decisions and get thrown into all sorts of trouble yet still feel we made the right choice in the long run. At one point in my life, when I was much younger, I was a manipulative little douchebag (and, before that, a victim of severe manipulation). Nonetheless, it’s hard to say it hasn’t come in handy since writing for Lifehacker. This isn’t a pessimistic message, but instead a positive one. We can take our faults and find a silver lining. Sometimes we delude ourselves a little along the way, but our properly functioning brains are exceptional at making the best out of bad situations and our own bad behaviour.
You’re More Than Yourself
We’ve also looked at how your brain is like a smartphone, in the sense that you’re not just one “self” but like a bunch of applications running different functions in tandem. With a bunch of “apps” tackling different tasks in your life, they all live in their own little sandbox and have their own thoughts and opinions. If you’ve both driven a car and walked a cross a street you know how this works. When you’re in the car, pedestrians don’t pay attention and annoy you. They cross when they’re not supposed to and never bother to look. When you’re the pedestrian, however, your feelings change. Suddenly the cars are the enemies that are pushing the tolerance of a yellow light and not bothering to watch out for the pedestrian, who truly has the right of way. Chances are that when you’re in the car, you do stupid things that you hate as a pedestrian and the same goes for the reverse. Ultimately, you’re wired to be a hypocrite and fully able to criticize others for shortcomings that are just as much a part of you. There isn’t much you can do to stop yourself from feeling this way, but you can improve the overall issue with forgiveness. Forgiveness has been a long-held virtue and it’s what will help you out here. Remember you inherently suck just as much as everyone else, so forgive people for their shortcomings. Unless someone’s bad behaviour goes beyond the small annoyances in life, forgive your trespasser and let it be. Save your battles for when they actually matter and accept that you suck, too.
Photo via Ning Blog
Another interesting bias of the brain has to do with time and emotions. Although negative emotions weigh far more heavily on us than positive ones, this is only temporary. As Michael Ross, a professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, points out, “[p] eople distance themselves from negative situations, but they feel close to events they are proud of (more here). Because of this temporal bias, we’re able to call upon the moments that makes us feel good about ourselves and more easily relive them. And why not? They make us happy, and so our brains help us push back the negative. Perhaps this is why history tends to repeat itself, and it’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s definitely an indication of our ability to focus on the best in ourselves. For a population that tends to struggle with issues of self-esteem, our brains are very much wired to help us focus on the good.
So… Now What?
Much of what all this amounts to is that we’re all very capable of becoming assholes (here are a few of your own reasons for making the transformation) and we all still think we’re pretty great. Should you change? Only if your behaviour is causing you and others grief. This is really just a part of being human, however, and the best thing we can do is accept our limitations — and the same limitations in others — to make living together a much more pleasant experience.