When a small difference makes a big difference: counterfactual thinking and luck
Counterfactuals affect the way we feel about events. Failures become worse when we consider how they could have been avoided, and successes become more special and memorable when contrasted with the possibility of failure. Ben Ze’ev (1996, 2000) claims that all emotions are basically of a comparative nature. They arise when we compare our current situation to our prior state, to our goals and expectations, to other people’s conditions, and to purely imagined, counterfactual outcomes. Evaluations based on downward comparisons make us usually feel better, and upward comparisons make us usually feel worse, by a mechanism of affective contrast (Markman and McMullen 2003).