Natural Born Optimists

The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

– Annie

Are humans natural born optimists?  Are we biased to believe that things will always get better?  Was this optimism an essential part of our evolution to the extent that we may not have come as far without it?

I think about this question a lot.  I know that my own nature is to always believe that the best is yet to come.  I’m not sure how exactly that colors the choices I make for myself – or how it affects the way I manage money.

TIME Magazine has a story in its latest issue about how, scientifically speaking, people tend to be more optimistic than pessimistic…

Collectively we can grow pessimistic — about the direction of our country or the ability of our leaders to improve education and reduce crime. But private optimism, about our personal future, remains incredibly resilient. A survey conducted in 2007 found that while 70% thought families in general were less successful than in their parents’ day, 76% of respondents were optimistic about the future of their own family.

So are we hardwired for hope, as the article suggests?  I would say yes.  The TIME article looks at several studies that have been conducted on areas of the brain that process positive emotions toward the future.  One of the researchers talks about the fact that natural selection has favored those of us who can “time travel” in our own minds – not only remembering past events but constructing likely scenarios of the future.  If as a species we had a non-optimistic bias throughout human history, a preoccupation with our own deaths would have been “an evolutionary dead-end”.

I find that hard to disagree with, I tend to lose interest in any activity that looks like an inevitable loser and try to focus my attention on actions with higher probabilities or likelihoods of success.  I can’t imagine I’m that different from most in that regard.

When there is hope, there is progress.  Where there is optimism about the future, there are people willing to invest.  There is an upward bias in the stock market over time for a reason.  We were born to believe in favorable outcomes.


The Optimism Bias (TIME)

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