What do you expect from the future? Do you think it is going to be better than what it is now for you, or worse? Do you feel like you will be happier tomorrow? What is the chance of experiencing a negative event like an accident in the next few weeks?
When it comes to our future and what will happen to us, we have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive events and underestimate the negative ones. For instance, we think that our possibility to suffer from a serious disease is low while our chance of finding the love of our lives in the future is very high. Psychologist Tali Sharot defines this tendency as optimism bias – the gap between a person’s expectations and the outcome. Research shows that regardless of age, gender, race and ethnicity, 80% of people show optimism bias.
Thinking positively about the future seems to be beneficial for us in terms of social relationships, as well as our career. Even if it does not have a direct effect, by improving performance, making us empowered to work harder toward our relationship or career goals, it increases the chance of success. Moreover, as expecting positive things to happen reduces our stress and anxiety about the future, it enhances our mental health. On the other hand, optimism bias also brings its negative consequences, too. When we are unrealistically optimistic, we may assume that nothing bad will happen and we may perform some risky behaviours. Because of this cautiousness, it may result in unfavourable outcomes.
Suppose that you would like to open a coffee shop and you feel very optimistic about it. You’re very excited and unrealistically positive, meaning that you may discount the possibility of the negative outcomes such as people in the neighbourhood not fancying your coffee house. As you’re very optimistic, you may take some risks such as quitting the job you already have. On the other hand, if you are a pessimistic person, you would think that nothing will go well, and you would not attempt to open that coffeeshop n the first place. There is this third option: not being unrealistically optimistic or extremely pessimistic. If you think positive about opening a coffee shop and prepare for the possible risks, you might make it come true.
Optimism can be a powerful gift when used wisely. The smartest thing to do is probably taking most of the possibilities into consideration before taking a step forward about your future. If you’re not optimistic, you cannot imagine good things to happen, and you cannot take action. However, if you’re not cautious enough and do ignore the risks, your action may not work.
You may also want to watch this video.
For further reading
Sharot, T. (2011). The optimism bias. Current biology, 21(23), R941-R945.
Tenney, E. R., Logg, J. M., & Moore, D. A. (2015). (Too) optimistic about optimism: The belief that optimism improves performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(3), 377.