Regret v Disappointment, Risk v Uncertainty

Arthur C Brooks in an April 2020 essay "Two Errors Our Minds Make When Trying to Grasp the Pandemic" draws a distinction between Regret and Disappointment, and between Risk and Uncertainty. Perhaps it's mere quibbling over words – or perhaps there's an important difference, involving "agency", the freedom to choose. Brooks writes:

... disappointment is very similar to another unpleasant emotion: regret. It's easy to confuse the two. They both involve wishing something better had occurred. Many psychology experiments have thus treated them synonymously, and, indeed, people often process these feelings in a similar way: through rumination and counterfactual thinking. Rumination–literally, "chewing the cud"–involves turning a scenario over and over in our minds, while counterfactual thinking is the process of imagining things turning out differently. ... As long as regret does not become obsessive, it is beneficial because it trains your brain to do something different next time. No good comes from applying rumination and counterfactual thinking to disappointment, however. The reason is the small-but-important distinction between regret and disappointment: agency. Research shows that when I experience regret, I think, "I should have known better." With disappointment, I feel I have missed out on something beyond my control. There's no point in imagining over and over what could have been different about something I could not have affected; it simply creates a feedback loop that reinforces my disappointment, making me unhappier. ...

... Uncertainty involves unknown possible outcomes and thus unknowable probabilities. Risk involves known possible outcomes and probabilities that we can estimate. Risk is not especially scary, because it can be managed–indeed, risk management is the core business of the insurance industry. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is scary, because it is not manageable: We can't measure the likelihood and impacts of the unknowable. ...

Brooks goes on to suggest a three-step "solution" to both challenges:

In the case of disappointment, start by acknowledging the fact that you are disappointed at missing out on some things–it would be strange if you weren't. Then, distinguish your disappointment from regret by thinking about your own role in this global catastrophe. Note that while the crisis affects you, you had no role in causing it, so rumination and counterfactual thinking aren't productive. Finally, resolve not to let your disappointment interfere with what you can affect and the choices you can make today.

These steps can help you manage living with uncertainty, as well. Start by acknowledging that you do not know what is going to happen in this crisis. Next, distinguish between what can and can't be known right now, and thus recognize that gorging on all the available information will not really resolve your knowledge deficit–you won't be able to turn uncertainty into risk by spending more hours watching CNN, because the certainty you seek is not attainable. Finally, resolve that while you don't know what will happen next week or next month, you do know that you are alive and well right now, and refuse to waste the gift of this day. (One more practical suggestion: Limit your consumption of news to half an hour in the morning, and stay off social media except to talk to friends. No cheating!)

Disappointment and uncertainty are inevitable, but we don't have to turn them into suffering. Ruminating over what might have been and what might happen will reliably deliver unhappiness. If you practice eliminating these mental errors during the pandemic, you'll be happier today, and better equipped to deal with the hard parts of ordinary life, whenever it resumes.

Good advice – especially to limit social media and news consumption! And Brooks's "acknowledge → distinguish → resolve" is reminiscent of the harmonic triad chord "See Clearly → Know Deeply → Choose Wisely" ...

(cf Make Your Own Weather (2006-07-22), Steadiness of Heart (2011-07-13), Suffering Is Optional (2014-11-07), Buddhism and Suffering (2015-01-18), Think Better - Three Keys (2019-06-05), More Meta (2019-08-31), Creative Threes (2020-01-10), ...) - ^z - 2020-08-18