How Your Optimism Bias Could be Hindering Your Happiness: Tali Sharot Interview
Being overly optimistic has always been seen as positive way to increase happiness. Yet recent findings by Dr. Tali Sharot, leading Neuroscientist, TED talk speaker on optimism bias and author of the best seller The Optimism Bias, has managed to successful bust the age old notion that being overly optimistic is good for your happiness.
In an exclusive interview on August 17, 2014, Sharot answered three questions for happiness. They are:
1. In your opinion, is optimism level solely related to our brains, personality, or experiences? Or a combination? Please explain.
It is a combination. Our experiences shape our personality and our brain, and our brain shapes our personality and our experiences.
All thought and feelings are generated by the brain. Optimism is related to our brains’ tendency to engage more in positive thoughts of the future than negative. It is not that we do not think of bad things that might occur, it is simply that we spend more time thinking how those can be successfully avoided. This is the result of an interaction between deep structures in our brain that process emotion and motivation and parts of our frontal lobes that modulate them. Furthermore, when people learn what the future may hold, our neurons efficiently encode unexpectedly good information, but fail to incorporate information that is unexpectedly bad – rendering us more optimistic. But our experiences in life will alter how likely our neurons are to function in this way.”
2. Your research found that some people who are more optimistic have less activity in the frontal region of the brain when told the likely hood of future life events–optimism bias. How do some people become more optimistic, with their brains being wired in this way, and others who are more realistic? Nature vs. nurture? Both? Please Explain.
There is evidence suggesting that specific genes are related to optimism. If you have one type of such genes you are more likely to be optimistic, if you have another type of the same gene you are more likely to be depression. However, life experience matters. People who have the type of gene that is associated with depression are more likely to suffer depression if they experienced stressful life events. Nature and nurture interact.
3. In your opinion, can your research help people find a happiness that is equally optimistic and realistic? And if so, what would be a way to achieve such a sense of happiness?
In general, optimistic people tend to be happier. Part of the reason for this is that the optimism protects us from viewing future heartaches and hurdles too clearly. It makes us feel better in the present and more likely to act productively. Underestimating obstacles that life has in store lowers stress and anxiety, leading to better health and well being – this is one reason why optimists recover faster from illnesses and live longer. Optimism also pushes us to take chances which can result in positive events (for example attempting a new job, a new relationship). However taking chances can also result in negative events since too-positive assumptions can lead to disastrous miscalculations.”
For more information about Dr. Tali Shorat and her new book, see her TED talk