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Not as bad as you thinkWe get over bad moods much sooner than we predict, thanks to the covert work of the psychological immune system. An article on PsyBlog tells us how that works.

The human mind is incredibly resilient. Even though life can be quite depressing at times, we generally push on much the same as we always have. How come our bad moods lift so unexpectedly, the author asks, like a brick sprouting wings and disappearing into the clear blue sky?

The reason is that we all have a secret weapon against bad moods: a psychological immune system. When we experience events that send us into an emotional tailspin it kicks in to try and protect us from crashing. But our secret weapon is also a secret from ourselves, we are unaware of it working away to reduce our negative emotions.
Back in 1998 Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University and colleagues explored this surprising phenomenon in a series of classic social psychology studies. He set up a situation where participants thought they were going for a job interview and then got rejected.

Beforehand he asked them how they would feel if they didn't get the job. What Gilbert and colleagues were interested in was the difference between how people predicted they'd feel and how they actually did feel. In other words: do people understand they have a psychological immune system and that it will do its best to improve their emotional state after the rejection?

People predicted that if they were rejected they would feel about 2 points worse on a scale of 1 to 10 compared with their mood when they started the experiment. But immediately after rejection participants only felt 4 tenths of a point worse on the scale, not 2 points worse. And after 10 minutes they felt just as happy as when they started the experiment. The immune system had done its work and people's predictions were way off.

Participants didn’t feel as bad as they thought they would. And this pattern has been repeated again and again across other psychology studies. When we're hit by one of life's frequent kicks to one of our soft spots, the psychological immune system starts its work, rationalising what has happened and, over time, dulling the pain more than we would expect.

Even in an experiment where people thought they would get dumped by their partners the pattern repeats: people think it's going to feel bad, but generally it's not as bad as they expect, and people recover quicker than they predict.

The very fact that we don't seem to notice our psychological immune system is probably the only reason it works at all. When life deals out its cruellest blows, our unconscious will be working overtime to find the upside.