Optimism and its hues

October 2, 2021by Editorial Team
Be a realistic optimist

It is good to be optimistic, but not without knowing its varied dimensions. Be optimistic, but not unrealistic, say experts.

The term ” Optimism’ embraces two closely related concepts. The first is the inclination to hope, while the second is the tendency to believe that we live in “the best of all possible worlds”.

Hope and optimism

With ‘hope’ comes a host of allied positives. It exerts an indirect influence on the quality of life. In fact, optimists have been proven to enjoy a higher quality of life compared to pessimists or those with lower levels of optimism. It is known to play a positive role in recovery from illness and even life threatening diseases like cancer. Moreover, the mere act of expecting a positive outcome and being hopeful can boost a person’s immune system, prevent chronic diseases and help people cope with troubling news and difficult life events.

Optimists are known to be happier in life. They imagine positive events more vividly and expect them to occur more frequently, which brings on a positive attitude towards future life events. Optimists cope better with stress and perform better in any field they go.


Optimism bias

However, we tend to be optimists rather than realists when we consider our individual future. This idea was popularized by Tali Sharot, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCL, who coined the term ‘Optimism bias’. To corroborate this, a  research was carried out on over 200 students of Psychology on their expected post graduation incomes, their expected debts and payback period. While the Loan repayment period was an average of 10 years, government figures show that the actual period was considerably higher. Students believed they would earn much higher and repay faster than what reality showed.

We ourselves succumb to this sense of unrealistic optimism when we think an additional two hours of extra study will do us good after having exhausted ourselves with continuous three hours at a stretch. Not giving the brain the opportunity to unwind when it needs to, will cause more harm to our mind and body.

That leaves one tempted to introspect: are we ‘social pessimists’ or ‘Optimism biased’? Psychologists explain this gap by the element of ‘control’. We tend to be more optimistic over what we have more control over. Since we have more control over our lives that on that of a neighbour, outsider or the destiny of our nation, we tend to feel more optimistic about ourselves.


Planning fallacy

There is the human tendency to assume that we will finish something much quicker than we actually do. This is termed as Planning Fallacy by Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman. This tendency can be combated by taking ourselves outside the scenario and take an outsider’s perspective, also considering the potential areas of failure of the project. By being forced to consider negative outcomes, we can resist the shortsightedness that comes with overconfidence.

Therefore optimism and pessimism operate on a continuum of which the midpoint is realistic optimism. This is the ability to balance out negative and positive aspects in situations, circumstances and people.


The final word

There is a life lesson from being optimistic, well worded by Harvey Mackey – ” an optimist understands life can be a bumpy road but at least, it is leading somewhere.” The road to optimism can make us fall, but not fail. We get bolder and learn to improve, without getting devastated.


About the authors

The article has been contributed by the following students from St Josephs High School, Matigara- Hiral Airan, Debopama Bhattacharya, Oindrilla Saha and Shreyashi Chatterjee. 

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