How a Distorted Perception of Reality Upsets the Formula for Joy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Solve for Happy" by Mo Gawdat. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can exaggerations keep you from being happy? How can you bring your perceptions into better alignment with reality?

An exaggeration is a distorted perception of reality. This distortion causes you to have unrealistic expectations. When those expectations aren’t met, you suffer.

Keep reading to discover how exaggerating interferes with your happiness.

Distorted Perception of Reality

Gawdat argues that, when your brain needs your attention, it exaggerates your perceptions so it can’t be ignored. For example, if you’re outside and a bush rustles, your brain might exaggerate the rustling noise to ensure you don’t miss any potential predators. 

In particular, our brain tends to exaggerate negative possibilities, because these pose the biggest threat to our survival. For instance, in the wake of 9/11, the majority of Americans grew concerned about a terrorist attack, even though they were more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport. This tendency imbalances the happiness formula by distorting our expectations of reality.

(Shortform note: Experts add that exaggerating the likelihood and severity of threats causes increased anxiety. For instance, those who take symptoms of mild illness to be suggestive of medical catastrophe will likely suffer from anxiety.)

To preempt excessive exaggeration, be wary of blanket terms, like “always,” “never,” and “certain.” These words, Gawdat argues, suggest that we might be exaggerating, so they’re worth keeping track of.

(Shortform note: We’re especially liable to exaggerate when faced with conflict. In particular, experts suggest that we exaggerate to justify our emotions to our adversary, which adds fuel to the conflict and becomes the focus, preventing us from resolving the root issue. For example, you might tell your spouse, “You’re never home on time!” to justify being upset when they’re late for dinner—and instead of apologizing, they might respond by pointing out days when they got home on time.)

How a Distorted Perception of Reality Upsets the Formula for Joy

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Mo Gawdat's "Solve for Happy" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Solve for Happy summary:

  • The six misconceptions that cause us to suffer
  • How to remove the seven weaknesses that hinder your happiness
  • The five pillars to becoming permanently happy

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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