If you’ve ever sworn off backpacking after a brutal weekend in Yosemite that left you with baseball-sized blisters, only to plan the same exact trip a year later, you aren’t alone.
That’s because, according to neuroscientist Tali Sharot, who has been studying optimism for the better part of a decade, 80 percent of us have what’s called the “optimism bias” — the “tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing good events in our lives and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad ones.”
It’s the idea that we have more control over our lives than we really do — a notion that transcends age, gender and social class. New graduates expect to be offered higher salaries than they end up getting, newlyweds assume they’ll stay married for longer than they actually do and parents believe their kids will be more talented than they become.
And that surf trip to Baja this fall? In all probability, you plan on it being more fun than it will be.
So, it seems, the key to happiness is to lower your expectations for your next climbing or surf trip. That way, when things go well, you’ll be pleasantly surprised; if things go poorly, no big loss.
As it turns out, that vein of thinking is flawed.
It all comes down to how we interpret the events: Optimists are happier because they are better able to reframe the bad and magnify the good. When plans fail, optimists don’t blame themselves; they concede to the idea that what happened is the result of random circumstances, an isolated instance that is out of their control.
In other words, they have the ability to amplify the positive to outweigh the negative.
Whatever happens during a trip — poor weather or excellent conditions, ease of travel or a missed flight — the people who enter an experience with high expectations always feel better and cultivate more positive memories, says Sharot. It’s the same reasoning that helps explain why most people prefer Fridays to Sundays.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? Friday is a workday and Sunday is a day of rest, but we still favor Fridays because they bring with them the anticipation of the weekend and the plans we’ve made.
According to Sharot, that anticipation is what enhances our well being, and without our optimism bias, we’d all be slightly depressed. So go ahead and set those hopes for your next trip on the highest rung. You’ll be a happier person for it.