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Chapter 34: Endings


What if we told you that there is a simple, extremely effective way to make your days better, your relationships smoother, and unpleasant experiences more bearable? What if we said it doesn’t require any willpower or study and very little practice? Wouldn’t that be a great way to end the book?

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book, enjoyed the beginning, enjoyed the middle, and then had the entire experience ruined by an absolutely awful ending? What about the reverse: a mediocre reading or viewing experience redeemed by the way it all turned out in the end?

Endings have power, and not just in media. Imagine this: You’re having a particularly awful day. Your car breaks down, it’s raining, you get splashed by an inconsiderate passing car, there’s a terrible mix-up at your job causing all sorts of stress, and you come home exhausted and unhappy. Later that night, you receive a long massage, your favorite dinner, and flowers from your partner. How would you look back upon that day as a whole?

We suggest you’d probably look back on it as a pretty good day and that your view would certainly be many times better than it would have been otherwise. How would it have been different if the pampering had come first instead of last?

The psychological power of endings has been proven scientifically. Take colonoscopy patients, for example.1 A colonoscopy is not a comfortable procedure, but patients experience less discomfort when the probe is stationary. A control group underwent a normal colonoscopy and the experimental group had an extra special bit at the end where the probe was held stationary for an additional 60 seconds. The experimental group reported significantly more happiness with the procedure than the control group did. They also reported that they would be more willing to undergo another colonoscopy in the future.

Why? Because of the power of endings. Even though the people in the experimental group spent more total time with the uncomfortable probe inside them, the relatively minor discomfort of the final 60 seconds completely dominated their feelings and their memories of the procedure.

Kyeli’s Story: Wii Tennis Makes Everything Better

I was having a bad day. I had a bad dream and woke up scared, and it took me a long time to shake it off. I hurt my foot during my morning exercises. I ran out of shampoo in the shower, got cold trying to get a new bottle, and banged my elbow on the counter in the process. I forgot to eat breakfast and by lunch was so hungry I couldn’t decide what to eat. I made a poor choice and wound up not enjoying my meal as well as getting indigestion afterward. I forgot an important work email and annoyed a client. I had an employee bail on a project and had to handle another annoyed client. Pace was feeling stressed, and she and I wound up arguing. I made dinner and wound up burning it.

But then, Pace ordered us pizza for dinner. She, Dru, and I watched an episode of one of my favorite shows. We cuddled on the couch. We played several rounds of Wii Tennis (the best video game ever!). We went to bed together and snuggled before sleep.

Just before I drifted off, my mind reviewed the day. All in all, I decided, not a bad day.

The next morning, I reflected on this. Not a bad day?! It had been so horrible! But it had ended extremely well; my favorite activities with my favorite people for just a few hours at the end of the day totally turned around my entire day.

It’s an observable though often overlooked fact that our perceptions of enjoyment and unhappiness are influenced far more by what happens at the end of something than by what happens at the beginning or somewhere in the middle. If something ends well, we tend to look upon it favorably. If something ends badly, we look upon it unfavorably.

Kyeli’s Story: Escaflowne

A year or so ago, we watched Escaflowne, an anime series. This started out as the greatest anime I’d ever seen! It had fantasy, sci-fi, typical anime stuff, weird and interesting plot, love stories, giant battle mechs; just about anything a fan could want out of an anime series.

Then came the last episode.

In the last episode, the main character made a decision that blew me away. It was against everything the entire 26-episode series had been working up to and left me completely frustrated. As a result, I felt cheated and upset. I just spent some 14 hours of my life watching this horrible series!

Never mind that the previous 25 episodes had been awesome, that the story to that point was incredible — that one episode, the ending, ruined the entire series for me!

Guess what? Knowing this gives you power. Through simple scheduling, you can now make any potentially unpleasant thing more bearable. Simply make sure to schedule fun or relaxing things directly after the dreaded event. Put your less fun tasks closer to the beginning of your day, rather than near the end. If something emotionally difficult comes up with your partner in the evening, make sure to get some relaxing, cuddling, or other such happy bonding time after, so as to not end on a sour note.

Even if you don’t schedule the happy things at the end, or even if you tried to and it didn’t work out, being aware of the power of endings can improve your life. If something bad or stressful happens near the end of your day, your conversation, your vacation, or whatever, remind yourself of the power of endings. Remember when you look back, it wasn’t really as bad as you think it was; you’re magnifying the badness because of this ending bias. Take a little time to review the good things that happened earlier and put things into a perspective where the bad thing that happened at the end was one bad thing among several good things. See?

It’s that simple. It’s helped our lives enormously, and it can help you, too!

1. We read about this study in some random article on the internet, but that article was based on this psychological study: “When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End” by Kahneman, Fredrickson, Schreiber, and Redelmeier, published in 1993 in Psychological Science (Cambridge) volume 4, number 6, pages 401-405.

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