The folks over at UnitedAcademics.com Magazine pose an interesting question…
If ignorance is bliss, then optimism must be euphoria. Thanks to a mechanism called the optimism bias, humans are pretty much incapable of applying basic risk statistics to their own lives. We know smoking causes cancer, but we don’t expect it to happen to us. We find a lump on our body and we tell ourselves it’s probably nothing.
In his 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman notes that “people tend to be overly optimistic about their relative standing on any activity in which they do moderately well.” This ‘optimism bias’ generates the illusion of control : the idea that we are in control of our lives. Bad things only happen to others.
You can see where this bright outlook on life can cause trouble. Wearing seatbelts? Not necessary. Opening a savings account? Maybe later. Being overly optimistic in life puts us at risk. In addition, people who show cheerful, optimistic personality traits during childhood, have a shorter life expectancy than their more serious counter parts. On the other hand, optimists are more psychologically resilient, have stronger immune systems, and live longer on average than more reality-based opposites. So who’s better off in life; the optimist or the pessimist? And who’s reality comes closest to the truth?
According to the “depressive realism” proposition, people who suffer from (moderate) depression actually have a more accurate perception of reality. They are less affected by the illusion of control and therefore better capable of estimating their chances in life. In other words, people with depression are not pessimists, they are realists.
When you tend to attribute positive events to yourself and negative events to others, that is called a self-serving bias . This is the case for most people. When you believe you are responsible for negative events rather than positives ones, you show a non self-serving bias – something that is often seen in people who suffer from depression.
Humans, apparently, have developed a way to better cope with negative emotions. Their rose-colored glasses cause them to view the world just a little better than it actually is. But without them we would never get anything done, says neuroscientist and author of “The Optimism Bias” Tali Sharot: “Optimism pushes us to take chances – attempt a new job, a new relationship. It also acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, as believing a goal is attainable makes it more likely to be.”
Being optimistic is necessary in order to get anything done in life. Without the belief we can accomplish anything, we will not even try to do so. Still, holding on to the belief that everything will be OK in the future does not mean that we should ignore the things that are shitty today.
That, I think, is truly being realistic.
 The tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency of people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way that is beneficial to their interests
 The tendency to overestimate one’s degree of influence over other external events.