We are on our own, in this post-apocalyptic world. We pretend we aren’t. We act as if “post-apocalyptic world” is too hysterical a term for what we’re enduring; if a group of us survivors are talking and one of us uses that phrase out loud, the rest of us tend to roll our eyes or undercut the drama with a joke. As Midwesterners, we try not to make too big of a deal about things.
I once read a piece of social science research by this guy Dan Gilbert that showed how when we don’t get what we expect we will—my son living with me, friends around to crack jokes with, my husband alive, just to name a few examples—we are able to synthesize our happiness. For instance, when Gilbert’s team of researchers compared the happiness levels of individuals who win millions of dollars in the lottery and those who become paraplegic, one year later, the two groups are equally happy. Gilbert’s research proved that getting fired from a job, suffering an injury, gaining a desired romantic partner, doing well or not doing well on a college test, inheriting a great deal of money—all these major events we believe will have a huge impact on our happiness, positively or negatively, do not.
If an extremely beneficial event or a horribly catastrophic event happened to you over three months ago, Gilbert claims it has almost no impact on your level of happiness. So the Series of Unfortunate Catastrophes, which at this point ended nineteen months ago, no longer strike those of us remaining as having been so cataclysmic.
I’m sorry, dearly departed loved ones, but it’s true: life does go on.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.