Half-Emplty or Half-Full?

Overall I consider myself a fairly optimistic person, albeit one with your garden-variety streak of fatalism. As I see it, one day the ice caps might melt and the oceans might rise. But maybe it'll turn my little stretch of New Mexico desert into beach-front property.

Still, I have to wonder whether I suffer from something called "optimism bias." According an article in the New York Times Magazine, optimism bias is the habit of "systematically exaggerating our chances of success, believing ourselves to be more competent and more in control than we actually are, a tendency to overestimate our abilities." Unfortunately, this does ring true. Fortunately, I see no reason to let it get me down.

Some psychologists would say that say that my attitude is a sign of good mental health and ultimately it increases my odds of living a longer, happier life. Others, however, would tell me that optimists are more prone to suffer from depression, because we're constantly disappointed by harsh realities. (Just try and guess which group is looking on the bright side.)

Meanwhile, pessimism appears to have an interesting silver lining.Take people in Denmark, for example, who are generally considered to be "perennial pessimists," even though studies show they consistently report greater life-satisfaction than any other Western nation.

The reason? Their expectations are so low that they often find themselves pleasantly surprised when things turn out to be better than expected. It makes pessimism sound downright cheerful.

So, which attitude is healthier in the long run? Overall, most of us are optimistic about some parts of our lives, and pessimistic about others. I'm not sure if we can change our fundamental approach to life or which approach is likely to make us feel better. But the outlook does seem to predict the outcome.

Maybe it's really simple: Quit worrying about whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, and just enjoy the drink.


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