Happiness, Optimism and Low Expectations

Last week I read this fantastic article in TIME covering some fascinating points on optimism and happiness and how the brain is wired. In it was a side story about ways to “get and stay happy” with Denmark being highlighted stating, “Be Like the Danes, Keep Expectations Realistic,” showing a greedy child looking wildly at a huge multi-layered burger.

In the article, which talks about optimism, there are some really interesting points. I personally took note of the following:

“To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities — better ones — and we need to believe that we can achieve them. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals.”

“…memories are susceptible to inaccuracies partly because the neural system responsible for remembering episodes from our past might not have evolved for memory alone. Rather, the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future — to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. As a result,
memory also ends up being a reconstructive process, and occasionally, details are deleted and others inserted.”

“While healthy people expect the future to be slightly better than it ends up being, people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased: they expect things to be worse than they end up being. People with mild depression
are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is. In other words, in the absence of a neural mechanism that generates unrealistic optimism, it is possible all humans would be mildly depressed.”

“…sometimes we regret our decisions; our choices can turn out to be disappointing. But on balance, when you make a decision — even if it is a hypothetical choice — you will value it more and expect it to bring you pleasure. This affirmation of our decisions helps us derive heightened pleasure from choices that might actually be neutral. Without this, our lives might well be filled with second-guessing. Have we done the right thing? Should we change our
mind? We would find ourselves stuck, overcome by indecision and unable to move forward.”

“…Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves. The good news is that awareness rarely shatters the illusion. The glass remains half full. It is possible, then, to strike a balance, to believe we will stay healthy, but get medical insurance anyway; to be certain the sun will shine, but grab an umbrella on our way out — just in case.”

See the entire article here: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2074067-1,00.html


Those rose-colored glasses? We may be born
with them. Why our brains tilt toward the positive (in spite of all the

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