Dugec's Theory of Relativity

Life is shown to us in absolute terms but is experienced relatively.

Every day of our lives, we are being shown. When we are being shown, we are most often presented things in absolute terms. That is the richest person. That cafe has the best coffee. Apparently we want always want to know what the best things are so this is the way this sort of information is presented to us.

The way we experience day-to-day life is nothing like this, though. The satisfaction we get out of something - how much joy, how much fun, how much knowledge we gain - has almost nothing to do with how the things performs on an absolute scale. It seems to me that the way we feel about something seems to be almost entirely determined by our expectations of how good that thing will be. This is what I mean by relative terms: we live a fluid, experiential existence in which the way we feel is heavily dependent on how we think things are going to turn out in any given situation. Get that? Example time.

You hear that a sequel to a movie that you loved is coming out soon. It's been three years since the original film and it seems like everything is in place for this one to be just as good, if not better. The actors are still there, the writers are still there, everything. Then you go see it and it's OK. It's just OK. It's like a six-and-a-half out of ten movie. You're going to be pretty disappointed by this, right? But you might go to see another movie the following weekend that you hear isn't so great and walk away pleasantly surprised by what you saw. It still might only be a six out of ten in absolute terms, but the way you feel after that film is probably better than when you walked out of your underwhelming sequel.

You go on a holiday and have a few days to kill in between some things that you had already planned to do. The night before, you get the map out and circle a few things that might be worth a look while you cruise around a new city. It's not what you came for but hey, you figure you'll just go for a wander and see what there is to see. In my experience, days like this have turned out to be fun and unpredictable, the sorts of things you talk to your friends about for years. There might be a weird looking place that served amazing late night souvlaki or a beautiful lookout that you didn't know existed.

While these might seem like vague, abstracted stories, they map pretty closely with a lot of actual experiences I've had in my life. The albums I'm most heavily anticipating almost always turn out to be somewhat disappointing, if if they are actually pretty good albums. My favourite travel stories tend to be little human moments and happy accidents rather than getting out to the big-ticket attractions.

So here's what I am awkwardly calling 'Dugec's Theory of Relativity': the way we tend to feel about something in our lives is determined more by how we expected it to be rather than how it actually was. I suppose the lesson must be to temper our expectations as best we can, as often as we can. High expectations are rarely met; surprises lead to unexpected moments of joy that last forever.