Since my media fast, I’ve paid less attention to the news and media in general, but that doesn’t mean I’ve completely shut down. I mean, c’mon, I’m an information junkie. I need to get my fix.
Yesterday I saw the headline (and Facebook post) for this article that asked “Are Optimists Dumber?” and I decided not to read it. I told myself I didn’t really care.
After all, I was 13th in what was arguably one of the most gifted group of students our high school had ever seen. My GPA in both high school and college was well over average, and I scored insanely high on the suggested standardized tests. I know I’m “smart.”
But curiosity (and perhaps a little ego) got the better of me and I read the article. And I read another from BBC News about the same study, just to get a more rounded perspective.
Turns out the study doesn’t say anything about optimists being stupid. That was pure editorializing on the part of The Daily Beast. (Sidenote: Question marks in headlines: I think Jon Stewart puts it best.)
What the study talks about is how optimists tend to misjudge their odds of something negative happening to them, mostly because the frontal lobe of their brains choose to ignore negative evidence.
So an optimists who smokes will be less likely to believe they’ll die of cancer and an optimist who marries will be less likely to think they’ll get divorced. They think this way even though the odds say otherwise because literally their brains reject that negative information.
While not scientifically accurate, I’ll go on record as an optimist who has experienced both and say that’s not really how my optimism works.
As a smoker, I was painfully aware of the risks associated with my habit. But I happened to be addicted. Ask any smoker how many times they have tried to quit. I think this attempt for me was number 12 or 13 (or 22 or 23).
When I smoked, I knew the odds of having health problems were pretty high. And getting married is, in itself, an optimistic thing to do. The odds of getting divorced seem to be rising all the time. But that’s all they are: odds.
Someone’s going to get divorced and someone’s going to get emphysema. But not everyone. And why can’t I be part of that “not everyone”?
It’s the same mentality that’s keeping me going in running my own business. Yes, I realize that 50 percent of small businesses last less than 5 years, but why can’t I be one of those other 50 percent?
I’m aware of the risks in life. My brain accepts that information but sees that that is all it is: information. What you do with that information is what really matters.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t wanna end my life and say, “Well, I played it safe and made it this far. Now what?” Whether that makes me stupid is someone else’s opinion. And someone great who just passed on put it really nicely:
So for all you optimists out there, keep on keepin’ on. We tend to live longer and have fewer mental health problems, among many other things. And while it’s not perfect (what is really?), it’s a lot more fun than spending life expecting the worst.
Are you an optimist? How does your brain deal with negative information? What about the pessimists out there? Do you think optimists are stupid, naive, or do you wish you were an optimist?