Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Naturally Optimistic?

Happy June everyone!

Wanted to check in and share my thoughts on an interesting article I read yesterday that sort of ties in with this blog. The article was taken from a book called The Optismism Bias  which argues that studies of the brain and human behavior conclude humans are hardwired to be irrationally optimistic.

The article brings up examples, such as the fact that 50% of marriages fail, yet people believe their's will succeed and it points out that most people believe their future will be better than things are currently. According the the author, there is a portion of our brain that has evolved to make us think this way. The theory is that humans needed to believe they could accomplish things in order actually go out and try to make progress. We need to believe the future will be better, we need to believe we can achieve greatness. Wouldn't this just be living in a fantasyland and not actually living? 

Sharot briefly touches on the fantasyland question in the article (perhaps more in the book) by saying, "knowledge is key I believe knowledge is key. We are not born with an innate understanding of our biases. The brain's illusions have to be identified by careful scientific observation and controlled experiments and then communicated to the rest of us. Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves."

Sharot ultimately ends by saying, "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. "

I like what is said about the importance of observation and how its better to be aware of our biases, but
 what does all this imply about being mindful and living in the moment? Are we biologically incapable of doing so? Are we hardwired to constantly consider the future, all the things we're going to do, all the people we're going to be?

I'd like to think not. And I think many people have proven this isn't true. However, I think this article points out that our culture is still largely designed this way because the idea of "living in the moment" never even comes up in the article.

I may have mentioned this before, but life as a person who is learning to think differently than the majority, can be incredibly challenging. I feel simultaneously intrigued yet annoyed by the points made. I think it's an interesting article, but it doesn't address mindfulness, so I feel it's incomplete. 

I've felt this way about many things since taking on buddhist beliefs. Has anyone else had a similar experience? 

P.S. If you read the article, be sure to check out the comments sections. People's reactions are perhaps more interesting than the article itself. 


1 comment:

  1. Huh. While I agree with many of the things that the author said in the article, I believe she is drastically overgeneralizing. From a cultural perspective, this may be applicable only to a certain segment of Americans. Maybe to a much smaller percentage of the rest of the world's population.

    With regards to your question about living in the moment and its relation to optimism, I think it is a matter of attachment vs. non attachment. You can be as optimistic as you like (or as pessimistic) as long as you do not become attached to or dependent on these feelings. Which is of course, the problem, as we often struggle to hold on to feelings of happiness and optimism and push the negative and pessimism away. We (especially me) need to learn to turn into these feelings, good or bad, and simply let them be. They are what they are (meaning, an integral part of the human experience), but these thoughts and feelings are not who WE are.