By Ashley Lodato
On one of those many, many (but who’s counting?) -14 degrees Fahrenheit days recently I overheard two men in the post office, where everyone in the hallway was, of course, commenting on the weather. One of the men had been up in Alaska, and mentioned that when you’ve been at -40, suddenly -14 didn’t seem all that cold. This revelation supports the well-known theory of “it’s all relative.”
We’re all experiencing that this week, as the mercury has crept up to the single digit after weeks (months?) of sub-zero temperatures. “So warm today!” I heard someone exclaim on Sunday morning. It was 7 degrees above zero.
Of course, “it’s all relative” also depends on your perspective. The difference between 31 and 33 degrees is negligible if you’re a banker, but vast if you’re an orchardist.
When things are tough and then they get a little easier, the pleasure we experience seems disproportionate relative to the amount of actual change that took place. In other words, small improvements make us inordinately happy. I think that’s a good thing — we welcome the advancements even more because we’ve experienced the adversity. It gives us a healthy appreciation for even minor good fortune — like when we find $5 drifting along the sidewalk and we get a little flush of delight.
But what happens when things deteriorate? Does the “it’s all relative” theory still apply, in reverse? Do we get a stab of sorrow when we lose $5, or is it merely a minor inconvenience?
Let’s consider another example.
Let’s say, just for rhetorical purposes, that you had a brief period of time when you had access to affordable health care. You paid your premiums and your deductible, you went to the doctor when the situation warranted, and you tended to your health.
Then one day you witnessed your affordable health care access slipping away. (This is all still just hypothetical, mind you.) The dismantling of your access to health care was not framed as a major change; after all, you still had your self-funded health savings account, so it wasn’t like you had absolutely nothing in the way of a safety net. And of course you could still buy insurance for retail prices on the open market (assuming you could afford it and assuming you had no pre-existing conditions). So it was a negligible change — like the difference between 33 degrees and 31 degrees, right?
But there’s no denying that you no longer had something you once had, and you find yourself upset. Is it all relative? Is your degree of displeasure disproportionate relative to the change that took place? I don’t know the answer, but I have a hunch we’re going to find out.
Here’s something that will give you a small upsurge in relative contentment: if you are participating in any sort of march or demonstration this weekend and you’d like to grab a free pink armband or headband, please contact Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org.