The Asymmetry of Life

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

― M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth

I like to paraphrase Scott Peck this way. Life is hard. The sooner we realize this, the easier it gets.

In fact, I’ve decided that growing up is all about learning to do the things you don’t want to do. Some people learn this early in life. Some of us learn it later. Some never do.

I wrote recently about the symmetry of life. How sometimes hardship and blessing can balance each other out. But the reality is that most of us focus on the hardship and overlook the blessing.

Science bears this out. It’s called the Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry. Research consistently shows that we remember the obstacles and hardships that we have to overcome. These are the headwinds in life. Conversely, we overlook the resources that we have and the benefits we may get that others don’t. These are the tailwinds.

The results of studies from Davidai S. Gilovich include:

  • People consistently believe their parents favored their sibling.
  • Pro football fans think the schedule is biased against their favorite team.
  • Both Republicans and Democrats believe the electoral map favors the other party.

In other words, our human nature is that we focus on the headwinds in life and overlook the tailwinds.

I’m a runner. I’ve noticed this as a physical phenomenon. I run faster when I have a tailwind. But I can’t feel it. I’m just going with it. If I don’t think about it, I think it’s all me. I run slower into a headwind. I can feel it. Always. And I know that this is causing me to slow down.

What about you? Do you take your tailwinds in life for granted? Do you think about how hard your life is, but forget the blessings?

This can cause us to think that your church is the only one that is struggling. Or your family is the only one that is dysfunctional. Or that other pastors get better assignments. Or that other employees get favored by the boss.

Rather than focusing on what is good, we focus on what is hard.

The significant part of Gilovich’s research is this, the more someone feels they have been treated unfairly, the more likely they are to approve of morally questionable behavior.

Gratitude doesn’t just make life better for you, it will help you to live life in the way God intended.

So give thanks today for your tailwinds, whatever they may be. Acknowledge the privilege you have that others don’t. Think about the advantages that you have that you so often overlook. Remember the people who have helped you along the way. Perhaps you can even be somebody else’s tailwind. Your life will get easier.

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2 Replies to “The Asymmetry of Life”

  1. Excellent! I think it’s true that we often focus on the negative rather than the positive–the half empty vs. half full glass (I tend to be a half-full person). I think the hardships make us stronger, if we really take a good look.
    On what I see as a related note, I’ve noticed that parents and teachers seem to expect that their children/pupils will be “good” and often only comment when they’re “bad”. They need to praise good behavior more often…

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