The connection between optimism and happiness

How do you see the coming summer? Are you complaining already that it’s going to be rain filled and humid? Or sun drenched and a time when you can stretch out and enjoy life—and the outdoors—a bit more?


How do you see the coming summer? Think it’s going to be rain filled and humid? Or sun-drenched and a time when you can stretch out and enjoy life—and the outdoors—a bit more?

Today, on the day that some people deem the happiest day of the year—the first day of summer and the longest day of the year—Tali Sharot, a London, England-based neurologist and author of Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, shares with us how optimism and happiness are connected and what turning that frown upside down can do for our lives.

Q: How is optimism related to happiness?

A: Someone asked me the other week: what’s more important to happiness: What you experience in the moment or what you think you’ll experience in the future? So now imagine you’re having dinner with friends and family. It’s all very nice but you know tomorrow you’re going to jail. How happy would you be? Not very, right? This shows what we think is going to happen has a huge impact on our happiness, maybe even more than what we’re experiencing at that moment.

So people who are optimistic obviously expect a bit more positive events than the negative events and that’s really one of the reasons it’s been shown that optimists are happier. Well-being and satisfaction are tied to optimism. It’s mostly because of this anticipation of positive or negative.

Q: Your book mentions that optimism helps protect us from focusing on the pain—can you tell us more?

A: If you underestimate the pain and heartaches that you’ll incur in the future, then you are going to reduce your anxiety. You’ll focus on it less because you’ll think it’s less likely. And this is good for our mental health at the moment.

Q:  So how can we be more optimistic?

A: Most people are optimistic. Any way you test it about 80 per cent of the population are optimistic and a lot of people don’t know it. We’re not always aware of it. Optimism works without us being aware of it. Some studies show that some training in optimism does help.

Intuitively, I would think that maybe if we try to think of the reasons why events unfold in a positive matter maybe that would enhance our optimism.

Q: Any final thoughts on optimism for our readers?

A: It’s important to know that you’re likely to be optimistic even if you don’t know it. The advantages of being optimistic are huge—you’ll live longer, be healthier, earn more money, work harder. It has a positive effect on many aspects of our lives.

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