in Food for Thought, Long Reads

Not Happy?

Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, and a team of psychologists have found evidence for what they call “prevalence-induced concept change”. What this means is that how we apply concepts changes depending on how many examples of that concept are around. In one experiment, psychologists showed subjects coloured dots on the spectrum of blue and purple. When experimenters showed fewer blue dots, subjects began to identify more of the dots from the middle of the spectrum as blue. In other words, when fewer really blue dots were there, even purple started to look blue. As prevalence decreases, the concept of blue expands.

Clifton Mark for CBC Life


When your life improves so much that bad experiences start to decrease, your brain automatically makes other ‘less bad’ experiences seem worse than it would before.

This also works the other way. When things get really shit, comparatively small positive things take on greater significance. It’s part of our general adaptability and why we’re successful as a species.

Viktor Frankl called it “Negative Happiness.”

If you know someone is struggling generally, do them some small favour. Small in absolute terms, could make a world of difference to them.