The Optimism Bias

The June 6, 2011 issue of Time Magazine headlined an article “The Optimism Bias” (pp 40-46).

The article began, “We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures” and then gave the following  definition: “The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias.”

A key ingredient of optimism is hope because it keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress, and improves physical  health.

The article relates optimism and hope to how memory may work: The core function of the memory system could 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. 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.

To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travels, the ability to move back and forth through space in one’s mind.

The article postulates that without a neural mechanism that generates what the future may be like in a positive scenario, all humans could be mildly depressed.

The article confirms “positivity” as the  first principle to practice from the Discipline Without Stress Model.