Horrible experiences aren’t as difficult to go through as they seem — as long as they have a pleasant ending.
According to the “peak-end rule,” you judge experiences based on how they felt at the end, rather than how they felt overall.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman performed the first study on this phenomenon in 1993. He and his colleagues had participants dunk their hands in painfully cold water for 60 seconds. Then they asked the same people to dunk their other hand into the same water for 90 seconds, while the experimenters secretly increased the temperature of the water to a less painful temperature. When they asked the participants which version they’d like to repeat for the third experiment, most people chose the second trial.
The second trial technically put people through more pain than the first one because it went on for longer, yet, because participants were in less pain at the end, they judged it as preferable.
After many more replications of the same experiments, Kahneman found that it didn’t matter how long the painful experience lasted; people mostly remembered how they felt at the end.
There are some useful ways to incorporate this rule into your own life. In short, always try to end experiences on a high note.
If something annoying or even hurtful occurs, try not to dwell on it for too long or do something to mitigate the bother. And if you’re doing something that is inherently frustrating — like going to the dentist — focus on the overall positive outcomes that you’re hoping to get out of the experience.
Chances are, you’ll have a happier memory of that day later.