Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hope and optimism

Optimistic people achieve greater success in life. People learn more from good news than bad news. People also tend to think that bad events are unlikely to happen to them. For example, what couple approaches marriage expecting that they will become one of the two out of five couples who will divorce? Even divorce lawyers, who should know better, tend to share that optimism.

Unfortunately, our optimism bias may prompt us to take ill-advised risks and to make poor choices. Becoming aware of one’s optimism bias can improve results, enabling penguins to soar like eagles.

Those are just a few of the important conclusions that Tali Sharot outlines in this video in which she summarizes some of her research at the University of London.

Her research intrigues me for two reasons. First, her research suggests ways in which people can improve their quality of life through understanding, cultivating, and appropriately compensating their optimism bias.

Second, her research helps to explain why hope is such an important theological concept. People who believe that God is active in the cosmos have more reason to expect good things in the future. This belief is no prophylactic that protects a person from bad things. Bad things do happen to good people. Jesus, whom many believe was without sin, died a horrible death. However, God never abandons anyone and God’s continuing involvement in the cosmos assures us that eventually death, suffering, and tears will end.

So, prepare for the worst but expect the best.

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