How do we cope with the innate uncertainty of life?
People tend to get stressed out by day to day uncertainty, I know I do. Not knowing what is going to happen in the next hour, or next day is something that I find difficult.
What am I teaching next? Where am I supposed to be at 4.30? How do I get to the hairdresser's? Are you coming over or not?
A study, used as an explanation for the shocking statistic that the average life-expectancy for a teacher post-retirement, [assuming they have taught for their whole career] is 9 months, showed that rats exhibit higher levels of stress when faced with uncertainty than with greater effort.
The rats were split into two groups, and measured for stress levels when running on a treadmill. In the first group, the rats ran quickly, but for a set length of time every day. They, I think, were also played a tone at regular period so they learned how much longer they had to run.
The second group ran less quickly, but for different lengths of time every day, and without a beep to tell them how much longer they had to go.
The study showed a higher level of stress in the rats that ran slower but never knew how long they'd have to run for.
So why, therefore, do we find it so difficult to cope with day-to-day uncertainty but have no problem with the knowledge that we have no idea how long we have to live, or what will happen next?
Anything could happen tomorrow - something terrible, like a terrorist attack, or a death in the family, or your husband or wife leaving you. Something amazing could happen: you could win the lottery, have an epiphany, inherit a fortune. No-one knows, but we're ok with it.
Why? Do we just not think about it unless we absolutely have to? If we all walked around, fully aware of the uncertainty of life would we live the same?
We tend to assume that everything will be the same tomorrow - the sun will rise, we'll live another day and everything will work out in the end. Is that optimism, or denial?
I promise I'm not being all depressive, but it's not something I've truly considered in any deep sense before.
What do you think?