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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Are You An Optimist?

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. 
An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

~Winston Churchhill

Optimism is about great expectations. We expect our future to be rosy. We expect our relationship to last. We expect the economy to bounce back. We expect our kids to do well in life.

Optimism is a belief about the future, the belief that more good things than bad can be expected (read Breaking Murphy's Law, 2007). And the belief that the future will be much better than the past is known as the optimism bias (read The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot, 2011). 

If it were not for our optimism bias, writes Sharot, we might still be all cave dwellers, still huddled together, dreaming of light, heat, and food.

Optimists, according to a Duke University study, have better career prospects and are more likely to get promoted compared with those who have a pessimistic attitude. Further, researchers at the University of Pittsburg discovered that optimists live longer, healthier lives than pessimists. 

How do you know if you are an optimist? Below are some indicators to gauge if you are one, according to Sharot:

You expect your life to turn out better--to be be able to afford that nice house on the hill, to find perfect love, to obtain a high-paying job, to finish your MA or PhD degree, to write that riveting, award-winning novel.

You expect your children to be extraordinarily gifted, you envision yourself as achieving more in life than your peers or former classmates, and you imagine having a long, healthy life.

Even when you experience unfortunate events, you automatically confirm that your misfortune is a blessing in disguise. Losing your job, being diagnosed with cancer, or your marriage ending up in divorce--all these, you believe, may lead to more fulfilling life events, as you look for the silver linings in the storms of your life. 

When you encounter difficulties, Tali Sharot comments that your brain seems to possess the philosopher's stone that enables you to turn lead into gold and helps you bounce back  to normal levels of well-being. Sharot's research in brain imaging shows that the brain is hard-wired to encode only the positive information. So when you read success stories like Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, your brain will note the possibility that one day you could also become immensely wealthy and popular.

However, the optimism bias can lead to overly positive assumptions. Thus, you might less likely to get your regular check-up, apply sunscreen, open a savings account, or bring your umbrella on a cloudy day. Too much optimism can bring about unexpected illness, financial hardships, or simply getting wet in the rain.

So if you are an optimist, try not to be overly positive. Get your medical check-up, apply your sunscreen, save money, and yes, bring your umbrella. 


I hope you have learned something important in this week's article.

Leave your comments below.

Have an amazing week, dear readers!