Why Optimism Always Wins

In her most recent TED talk, cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot discusses the merits and dangers of optimism. She calls the phenomenon “the Optimism Bias”: I am significantly more likely to believe that positives will happen in my life over the negatives that will happen to everyone else. So I’m more likely to not get divorced, maintain a high paying job, and not suffer from health problems, while everyone else will….

And I have always followed the idea that if you look forward to the future, no matter if you fail or succeed, you will be happier. Truly, if you don’t have a sliver of belief that you can achieve something that you really want, there is truly no possible way that ideality will become reality. Indeed, if I don’t believe that people all over the world will use my projects, there is absolutely no chance they will; after all, no one else is going to believe and strive for my project’s successes, only I will.

All of the points Sharot makes for why high-expectations and optimism pay off are relatable:

  1. If I’m an optimist, and I earn an A, I will attribute that success to myself: I scored an A once, I can get it again. But if I fail, I will probably just say that the test was unfair. On the other hand, if I am a pessimist and fail, I will attribute that failure to myself: “I’m just dumb.” If I do well, I will simply say “the test was too easy, I’ll probably fail again next time. So even though it may theoretically seem like a “good idea” to have low-expectations (since someone with low-expectations expects failure, success seems like a happy surprise), people who have high expectations generally achieve more and are happier.
  2. It is a subjective reality. You have anticipation. So you are looking forward to the success. You can picture it in your head. You are looking forward to being accepted. You are looking forward to being named the employee of the month. You are looking forward to finding love. And that anticipation, in many ways, results in much more dopamine rush than actually earning the award does.
  3. It is an objective reality. A self-fulfilling prophecy. If a box of cigarettes says that “smoking kills,” a smoker will think, yes, smoking kills, but it kills the other guy, not me (as a result of the optimism bias). And similarly, if the housing market booms, we—individually—are more likely to say, “oh yeah, my house price will double.” But here’s the catch: by believing that your house price will double, you are way more likely to ensure that it does–you will change the carpet and make sure all the windows are clean and plant some flowers, all of which will increase the price of your house. In other words, you will work harder to make an ideality a reality if you are optimistic.

So why not: by optimistic about the future. And most definitely watch the talk for more: it is truly one of the best.

Posted on July 15, 2014 in Entertainement, Journal

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About the Author

Rajat Bhageria is the author of What High School Didn't Teach Me: A Recent Graduate's Perspective on How High School is Killing Creativity. Additionally, he is the founder of ThirdEye and is currently a student at UPenn. Find out more about Rajat at his personal blog: RajatBhageria.com
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