Monday, June 6, 2011

Hardwired for Hope?

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, count our calories, weigh the odds and pack an umbrella. I am told that both neuroscience and social science suggest we are more optimistic than realistic. Which is funny considering me personally I try to be optimistic and positive and want to believe the best in people...but after recent events I'm again at a crossroads. People underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer, expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted, envision themselves achieving more than their peers and overestimate their life span ( who wants to think about these things granted).

The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is called the optimism bias. It abides in every race and social bracket. You would think with the economy, unemployment, tornadoes, genocide in other countries that we could collectively grow pessimistic...

But my favorite thing about humans is that we are incredibly resiliant. I know I lose track of how to bounce back sometimes and we all do, but how amazing that we all try to remain optimistic about the we really manifest our destiny? Maybe those Inca's were on to something...

I'm going to play devil's advocate for a minute. Overly positive assumptions can lead to disaster. It can make us less likely to get health checkups ( i dont feel a cavity, im sure im fine!!), apply sunscreen ( ouch/wrinkles ) or stock up enough in our savings accounts ( but that jumper was so cute, ill never find another that fit like this one and I have to have it..I have no clothes!)

But that bias also protects and inspires us; it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be living in caves dreaming of heat and light.

To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities to get out of the rut. We need to believe we can achieve them. Faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals. I know I achieved 2 big goals I set for myself, but have been attacked simultaneously for things centered around those goals..everyone loves to judge.

So my antidote is hope. Even if that better future is an illusion, optimism has clear benefits in the present. It clears our mind, and stamps our brain to be shaped by the future. My two cents to you my friends is to build your friends up when they lose hope, to give a hug, a smile, a text or call back even if you are busy, and to keep the faith. With hope all things are possible.

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