Is It Naive To Look For A Silver Lining In Times Of Upheaval?
Updated: Jul 27
“It's a new dawn,
It's a new day,
It's a new life
And I'm feeling good”
It is an understatement to say that 2020 did not turn out the way anyone expected. Beyond the tragic levels of illness, loss of life, civil unrest and economic consequences, the experience of ‘lock down’ and social distancing have had a daily impact on all of us.
“The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.”
In our hyper-connected society, solitude is “more devalued than it has been in a long time.” Thus making aspects of 2020 challenging for many people. A recent study of the experience of solitude found that a quarter of the women and two-thirds of the men–chose to subject themselves to electric shock rather than be alone with their thoughts. Interestingly, those who are comfortable with introspection and were able to pursue periods solitude is by choice, found it extremely therapeutic.
In Australia “the curve” is starting to flatten and despite the inevitable but hopefully small spikes, were are fortunate to be gradually transitioning back to ‘normal’ life. Our schools, cafes, retail stores are reopening and some workers are returning to their offices.
So how can we best reflect on the months that have passed? Should we be looking for a silver lining?
Since the 1960s psychologists have been researching optimism, and many studies have demonstrated that healthy successful people, tend to think in generally positive ways. As with any construct optimism has been defined in multiple ways, by both psychologist and in popular culture. Personally, I find Martin Seligman’s perspective that optimism is as a style of explaining cause and effect particularly useful. According to his model Optimists attribute good events with permanent, pervasive and personal. In contrast, bad events impermanent, situational and due to external causes.
“If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing”
Eric Idle, The Life of Brian
Click here for the youtube
Regular readers would be aware of the following benefits of optimism:
Optimists cope better with stress and take more direct action in the face of adversity
Persisting through obstacles and making up for any deficits of intelligence or skill
Less susceptible to infectious diseases and strong immune system
Facilitates health-promoting actions
Creation of a positive, high-performing work environment.
“Optimistic people are happier because they imagine positive events more vividly and expect them to occur sooner. This all boosts the luscious feeling of anticipation, which is greater the more pleasurable the anticipated event, the more vividly we can imagine it, the more probable we think it is to happen, and the sooner it will be happening. Of course, it makes sense that having a sense of hope and positive attitude about the future would make us more content in the present.”
Is there a down side to optimism?
We all know that rose coloured glasses whilst delightful, can be misleading and at times dangerous.
"The way we expect the world to be changes the way we see it. But it also changes objective reality. It acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy."
There has been much research around the optimism bias, in health behaviour and significant business decisions. Research has found that the optimism bias may manifest in the following ways:
Underestimate how long a project will take to complete and how much it will cost
Overestimate our success in the job market,
Deriving greater pleasure from a vacation than we subsequently do,
Financial analysts expect improbably high profits,
Creation of an unrealistic bubble of optimism amongst experts in the midst of a global financial crisis
What is concerning is that unchecked unrealistic optimism may:
Reduce precautionary behaviour
Cause people engage in an act that is rewarding at present but costly in the future
Individuals' biases that are inconsequential on their own can accumulate together to produce a large negative societal impact
The strange thing about the optimism bias is that people continue to maintain their overly positive expectations of the future despite strong evidence to the contrary. On balance researchers have found that the benefits of optimism outweigh the consequences. However, it is always critical to use our knowledge of our optimistic biases to temper rather than quell our optimism. So please send me an email and tell me your personal and professional silver linings for 2020. For every reply I receive I will make a donation to RBWH Foundation Coronavirus Action Fund to help the Australian scientists who want to win the race against the coronavirus. https://www.rbwhfoundation.com.au/
References: Seligman, m. (2011). Learned Optimism. New York, United States: Penguin Random House. Seligman, M. E. P. (n.d.). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (Reprint ed.). New York, America: Vintage. Sharot, T. (2011). The optimism bias. Current Biology, 21(23), R941–R945. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2011.10.030 The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot: extract. (2018, March 22). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jan/01/tali-sharot-the-optimism-bias-extract Solberg Nes, L., Evans, D. R., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2009). Optimism and College Retention: Mediation by Motivation, Performance, and Adjustment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39(8), 1887–1912. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00508.x Steptoe, A., & Wardle, J. (2011). Positive affect measured using ecological momentary assessment and survival in older men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(45), 18244–18248. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1110892108 Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., … Shaked, A. (2014). Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science, 345(6192), 75–77. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4330241/ Winnicott, D. (1958). , D.W. (1958). The Capacity to be Alone. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 39:416-420 . Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 39, 416–420. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b491/33a8dcc46979911d506b75ca2407d787b74f.pdf https://www.ted.com/talks/tali_sharot_the_optimism_bias/transcript?language=en http://positivepsychology.org.uk/the-many-sides-of-optimism/ https://medium.com/@neocody/how-and-why-you-should-be-optimistic-8b7c7be219b3 https://www.google.com/search?q=Michale+buble.+im+feeling+good&rlz=1C5CHFA_enAU860AU860&oq=Michale+buble.+im+feeling+good&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l7.4641j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/03/the-virtues-of-isolation/521100/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU8yB3Of1Ao People Prefer Action Over Being Alone With Their Thoughts https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C5CHFA_enAU860AU860&ei=6HHUXtbnO9af9QPjqrSQDg&q=always+look+on+the+bright+side+of+life+lyrics&oq=%22Always+Look+On+The+Bright+Side+Of+Life%22+&gs_lcp=CgZwc3ktYWIQARgAMgQIABBDMgQIABBDMgYIABAHEB4yBAgAEEMyBggAEAcQHjIECAAQQzIECAAQQzIECAAQQzIGCAAQBxAeMgYIABAHEB46AggAOgQIABAeUK4oWO84YJRLaABwAHgAgAG5AYgB8wOSAQMwLjOYAQCgAQGqAQdnd3Mtd2l6&sclient=psy-ab