The Optimism Bias - a self-serving bias where a person believes they are at less risk than someone else of having to go through a bad experience.
Or, in other words, we all think we are above the average in almost everything… which could be a statistical problem.
Tali Sharot has done some research and found about 80% of us suffer from the optimism bias. And here’s a tricky thing – You can’t just eliminate or neutralize the optimism bias. Sharot thinks we can learn something from it, and learn something about ourselves too.
Is the secret to happiness low expectations?
Well, not really. According to Sharot, people with higher expectations tend to feel better regardless of outcomes.
Is Anticipation the key to happiness?
If you think you want something, and if you think you’ll get it three days from now, those three days will be happier than if you get it immediately or wait a long time for it.
The Weekend Effect
People look forward to Friday, even though it is often a workday. But, with Friday comes the anticipation of the weekend. A lot of people like Friday over Sunday. Go figure.
Feelings Affect Subjective Reality, But Also Influence Objective Reality
Stress and anxiety have a direct effect on your health, for example. You change your physical world, your physical body, by what you think about and what you do.
We need to be able to imagine a different reality, and believe we can create that reality.
Otherwise we don’t change things. But at the same time, if we simply leap at things too much, probabilities will very likely catch up to us quickly.
This TED talk put a lot of things into perspective for me. Teen angst, for example, is much more understandable now. If a person is upset about something, but feels there is no way to change it at all, then this can create a horrible, all-consuming trap of emotions.
I think this has something to say about religion and religious belief too. Faith, as in belief in magical beings with supernatural influence, isn’t so aesthetically pleasing anymore. The word “faith” itself can cause an almost allergic reaction in people. However, faith as in the motivation to be optimistic, and to be persistent in pursuing what you want, or the belief that what you want is worth pursuing with all your effort, could have some advantages in this game of life.
This means we have to be all the more responsible for our personal motivations, I think, and to that end, more responsible for our personal gods. (Faith gives power to act rather than faith gives justification for getting your way. And with any power comes responsibility, according to Uncle Ben from Spiderman…)
What do you think?
Do you see some advantages to the optimism bias?
Do you see some dangers?
Do you enjoy (or suffer from) the optimism bias?