How things look isn’t how they feel

I have a recurring vision. I’m driving to my cottage in my 1970s Porsche 911. My trusty golden retriever is in the passenger seat. I get there and grab a glass of wine. I walk up the dock with my wine and my dog and sit at the edge. We watch the sunset. Blissful.

Thing is, I don’t own a cottage, Porsche, or dog. Because I know what it’s like to own houses, cars, and pets. Most likely, the car would break down en route. I’d get there and find the roof leaking. And my dog would take a dump on the dock, or run off in the woods. That wouldn’t be blissful. It would be stressful.

So why is the image so convincing? Because images are one dimensional. When we look at or visualize an image, we don’t imagine how it feels. Or what happened before. Or what happened after.

Facebook surfaces a friend’s beautiful family photo at the beach, for example. But how did they get there? Was it a stressful trip? And how is everyone feeling in the photo? Hot? Sunburned? Frustrated by having to take the picture 10 times because the kids weren’t cooperating? And what happened after? Flight delays? Lost luggage?

Images can be misleading. Even when—or especially when—they’re in our heads.

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