Of course that's not always the case. Your boss can give you a two percent raise in a year when inflation is expected to be four percent. But because your brain isn't built for complex concepts, you'll be thanking him as you and your family eat your breakfasts out of a can of Bush's.
Sucks at Figuring the Odds
In the olden days, your brain wasn't punished for locking in on some detail, and assuming it had some significance that wasn't there. Worst case scenario, you spent a few winters worshiping at the altar of the sun God, and sacrificing the kid who was born funny looking. These days there are people who know that we're all pattern seeking creatures who will look at a man winning money while wearing purple pants and go out and blow all of our money on purple pants.
As we've mentioned before, your brain sucks, and sucks hard, at probability. But there are all these wonderful ways in which, in the face of odds that makes the rational part think "This isn't such a good idea", the rest of your brain rams the pedal to the medal right into the brick wall of stupid.
There are two that really screw you in regards to that lottery, though: the gambler's fallacy and the focusing effect.
The gambler's fallacy is the belief that short term actions have an effect on long-term odds. You see the roulette ball fall into red three times in a row and you think it's due to fall into black next, or that the color red is somehow on a hot streak. Of course in reality, every time the ball is dropped into the wheel, your chances are exactly 50/50 of each color coming up. You're just looking at a display of total and utter randomness, and seeing a pattern that isn't there.
The gambler's fallacy is a permutation of the focusing effect, also known as anchoring. Your brain has a tendency to latch onto something and never let it go. It served you well back in the day when you were as likely to see the negative and positive consequences of people's decisions, helping you remember what happened to that farmer who tried to feed his family by burying a bunch of meat in his field.
But in modern times, we're far less likely to see the negative consequences. You hear about some hick winning $300 million and your brain latches onto that, conveniently forgetting that for the one guy who paid a buck and won $300 million, there are 299 million or so losers who might as well have paid a buck to get a swift kick to the shins.
Screw your rightness about the future, Orwell
There is one piece of good news to report: It turns out that one of the things that the focusing effect is most likely to make us over-value is how happy material wealth will make us (good health and being in love are much more likely to make you live a happy and fulfilled life - it's science).
In other words, maybe it's time we all bought a bottle of champagne, took a trip to the zoo, and told those Tigers who's number one.
To see how else your brain is screwing with you, check out 5 Ways Your Brain Is Messing With Your Head. But don't worry, because you can turn the tables on it, in 5 Ways To Hack Your Brain Into Awesomeness.
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