We humans like to think of ourselves as logical and rational. We believe in weighing the options and making decisions based on a realistic assessment of the situation.
One of these is true, however, and the latest research from the neurosciences and social sciences suggests that we are more optimistic than realistic, as we typically expect things to turn out much better than they do.
Most of us tend to vastly underestimate our chances of getting divorced, losing our job, or being diagnosed with a serious illness. We also expect our children to be more successful and happier than they likely are.
It seems that we are hardwired for hope, and this “optimistic bias” exists across races, geographies, socioeconomic classes, and even age groups.
But this sense of personal hope is good for us because it calms our minds, lowers our stress levels, and improves our physical health. We must be hopeful and we should guard against it.
Previous generations scoffed at positivity, but now we have greater respect for it.
Simply put, evolution encourages us to hope that our lives will improve, and that hope makes us happier, healthier, and more reproducible.
This is one of the many reasons why we should be wary of constant news programs telling us that life is terrible, that people are brutal, and that death and destruction is upon us on the planet.
Yesterday I saw a young woman on TV talking about crop failures by 2030, then she predicted impending fuel poverty due to oil prices and how we are all on a straight path to climate catastrophe.
We already had the plague and hardly emerged from our bunkers in shock after being in and out of lockdown for two years when we were inundated with terrible news from Ukraine and the threat of World War III.
Violence, conflict, and death get the best reviews from the media because our brains are problem-solving organs, more likely to turn to these challenges to prepare for the future by understanding those problems and figuring out how we would solve them.
But it’s not good for us to keep thinking about difficult problems because all the bad news dampens our resilience and reduces joy. Not only that, the data tells us that despite Covid, we have never been healthier, safer, or had such a good chance of living a long and healthy life. We may feel more threatened, but in reality we are not.
A good example of our continuous improvement would be the deaths on our roads. Statistics show that the number of road fatalities in Ireland fell to a record low last year, making it the safest year since road fatalities were first recorded in 1959.
Of course, every preventable death is a tragedy, but perhaps we should take a moment to acknowledge the fact that road deaths have been steadily declining since the 1970s.
Many of us assume we were safer in the 1970s than we are today, but in the past year a total of 136 people died in fatal road accidents; As early as 1978, a whopping 628 people died on Irish roads.
We weren’t any safer then – we just weren’t living on a relentless diet of sensational headlines.
Because of this, it’s important to balance negative media with some simple, easy-to-achieve pleasures. When we can go for a walk and the daffodils are in bloom, the birds are singing and the first ice cream of the season is on the go, we can remind ourselves that life isn’t always terrible.
Maybe the future is disastrous, but today feels good sometimes – and today is all we have.
As long as we can wake up in the morning and stretch our bodies while contemplating our options for the day, we can make sure we have some joy in that day.
Luckily, most of us are still able to make ourselves a good cup of coffee and sit back and read the paper just for fun.
All in all, we might be right to be hopeful.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/even-in-the-darkest-of-times-evolution-has-hardwired-us-all-for-hope-41557870.html Even in the darkest of times, evolution hardwired us all for hope