Winning is much less satisfying when the other side doesn't concede it was wrong, for one.
If you're the sort of person who lives and breathes elections -- and if you're reading this, there's a good chance you are -- you probably had a deep emotional investment in this one. You might have predicted that you'd be impossibly elated or horribly depressed in its aftermath. Expecting that is natural, but as it turns out, it's also wrong.
Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard researcher in happiness studies, has shown repeatedly how crummy human beings are at predicting what will make us feel good. Again and again, we suffer from something called "impact bias," in which we overestimate how much influence a particular outcome (like winning the lottery or becoming a paraplegic) will have on our mood. And the presidential election is no exception, as Gilbert and colleagues found when they tested this theory on the Bush v. Gore showdown.
In 2000, while the nation was baiting its breath and biting its fingernails during the Florida recount, Gilbert and others polled college-aged Bush and Gore supporters about how they thought they'd feel in the election's aftermath, depending on what happened. The subjects were polled again when Al Gore conceded a month later. The Bush supporters didn't feel nearly as happy as they'd predicted they'd feel, while the Gore supporters didn't feel nearly as bad. The scholars wrote that Bush supporters likely engaged in "focalism," a phenomenon in which people consider only how a single event might make them happy, without considering all the other things that might affect their mood when the occasion arises. Gore supporters, meanwhile, appeared to rationalize the defeat by downplaying their support for Gore (a kind of sour grapes effect), and by describing the issues at stake in the election as less important than they had previously.