Can Optimism Change Reality?

a newly-graduate female looking upwards

The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias.

A recent Time Magazine article by Tali Sharot examines this bias.

You might expect optimism to fade when confronted with the reality of 21st century dating: guys who don’t call after a great first date, relationships that fall apart after three months, marriage proposals that never materialize. The study concludes that we can become pessimistic about the general state of things, but privately, optimism about our own futures remains intact. Even hearing that the odds of divorce are almost 1 in 2 tends not to make us think that our own marriages may be destined to fail.

The extensive study used brain-imaging results to conclude that while healthy people expect the future to be slightly better than it ends up being, people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased: they expect things to be worse than they end up being. People with mild depression are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is.

Says Sharot, “A canceled flight is hardly tragic, but even when the incidents that befall us are the type of horrific events we never expected to encounter, we automatically seek evidence confirming that our misfortune is a blessing in disguise. No, we did not anticipate losing our job, being ill or getting a divorce, but when these incidents occur, we search for the upside. These experiences mature us, we think. They may lead to more fulfilling jobs and stable relationships in the future. Interpreting a misfortune in this way allows us to conclude that our sunny expectations were correct after all – things did work out for the best.”

According to social psychologist Leon Festinger, we reevaluate the options post-choice to reduce the tension that arises from making a difficult decision between equally desirable options. Without this, our lives might well be completely filled with second-guessing. Did we choose the right man? Should go back to our ex? We would find ourselves stuck, overcome by indecision and unable to move forward.

The article asks “How do we remain optimistic about dating while at the same time guarding against the pitfalls associated with being TOO optimistic?” What do you think? Looking forward to your comments.

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  1. 1
    Lisa M.

    I am definitely still optimistic about finding love.   I’ve been working on my commitment issues and putting the negative experiences behind me.   When I get back from vacation in a couple of weeks, I’m going to give OLD a shot again and this time I’m actually going to go out on a date with someone.   I often reject most of the men  who contact me or up communicating with the wrong ones too long.   I’m really going  to take it all seriously this time.  I’ve made  that   promise to myself.

  2. 2

    I think if youre reading this blog or any dating/self help material, you aren’t that optimistic…

  3. 3

    Ok let me elaborate on my above comment..
    We are reading it because we need some “continuing education”

    But what you say contradicts a lot of these negative studies.  
    “The possibility of love is what keeps us going. And coming to the conclusion after a bunch of frustrating dates that you should give up entirely is simply false. My darkest month of dating was November, 2006. I met my wife in January, 2007. You never, ever, ever know what’s in store for you.”

    I guess my real question is, I’m always feeling so down and negative. When we are bombarded with negativity everywhere (I’m not talking about your blog, I like it but often it strikes a nerve) and more reasons to feel bad about life and dating and keep our chins up??

  4. 4

    The truth of the matter is that the only thing constant in life is change. Things can always get better or worse. There is only so much in life that we can control. We will always continue to meet new people if the old ones didn’t work. It is not optimism or pessimism about our future that keeps us going but, the stamina to endure the sadness of today to find a better tomorrow. Resiliency is the key word here.

  5. 5
    Karl R

    Jackie said: (#2 & #3)
    “I think if youre reading this blog or any dating/self help material, you aren’t that optimistic… We are reading it because we need some ‘continuing education'”

    There’s a truism that I learned years ago:
    “Collectively, all of us are smarter than any one of us.”

    If you’ve ever noticed, hideously complex  online games generate online communities of people who discuss the best ways to succeed at the games. The most successful people are the people who participate in those communities … because they benefit from the insights and experiences of the rest of the community.

    And in a community where these insights are freely challenged and tested, the best ideas get filtered out of the rest.

    It’s a lot more efficient to do some research online than have to test every idea through trial and error.

    Optimistic people do better at dating for a number of reasons, but I’ll give one crucial example:
    If you’re convinced that you’re desirable and you’re ultimately going to succeed, you approach dating with a lot more confidence. Everyone finds confidence attractive. The more attractive that others find you, the easier dating becomes.

    I can’t tell you how you can remain optimistic. I found a number of facts that I could use to give me optimism:

    1. Dating is a numbers game for everyone. You have to date a lot of people before you find the right one.

    2. Since I was looking for a permanent relationship, I only had to succeed once. As long as I eventually succeeded, it didn’t matter how many non-successes happened along the way.

    3. A certain percentage of women find me attractive, fun, interesting, desirable. It doesn’t matter if a date decides she’s not interested in me, provided I can always turn around and find another woman who is interested. Furthermore, I could find quality women who were interested in me.

    4. If I didn’t find the right woman this week/month/year, there was still plenty of time in the future.

    Do you think any of these statements sound unreasonable? Untrue? And if you look at them collectively, it becomes rather obvious that finding the right person is a matter of perseverence.

  6. 6

    @Jackie #2
    I actually think the opposite!   I think pessimism is “giving up”.   Genuinely listening to professional advice, and seeking help is optimistic because you are looking for new avenues.
    Personally, I don’t feel like this is “continuing ed” for me.   I feel like what I want in dating is different now than previously, and enjoy Evan’s advice a lot.   I never felt like I wanted to get married before, because I was too young to have that sort of long-range vision that is necessary to commit to a marriage.
    Maybe if you are worn out for dating, you should give yourself a 3-month break?   Write it on your calendar that you will come back in September, and until then just take a little time out for you?   Go on vacation with friends.   Give yourself some spa days.   Keep an open mind in case you meet someone nice, but stop emailing people EVERY SINGLE DAY, etc.   Maybe if you stop pressuring yourself to have a relationship and lose the idea that you need a relationship to be happy and just enjoy the positives, you will stop feeling bad??

  7. 7

    Evan, I love that you’ve posted this article. I read it during the week and thoroughly enjoyed Sharot’s take on academic literature I’m very familiar with because my PhD crossed over with these psychological phenomena in people with cancer.
    We’ve evolved to have unrealistically positive biases in our thinking because  they serve us well.    The idea that we can  attain our valued goals keeps us motivated in the  face of adversity and set backs.    I worship in the Church of Persistence so noone needs to sell me on that idea.  

    I’ve had a few bouts of depression in my lifetime and used to feel righteous about my ‘realistic’ thinking, smug that I was much more rational than others who always looked for the silver lining.   Having seen over and over (during my PhD research) how looking on the bright side serves to keep people happier and more engaged with the world around them, I now take  a pragmatic view.   Why not make my life easier by being optimistic?   Being a cynical misery guts is not going to inspire those around me to spend time with me or support me in reaching my goals.   And let me tell you this perspective hasn’t come naturally to me, I was raised to be critical and judgemental, looking for the worst in everything.  

    I’m 46, single and childless.   I wish things weren’t this way.   I’m sure a bunch of people would write me off as  confirmed spinster.   But I don’t. I’m not going to give up on the idea of finding a partner.   I think I’ve gotten smarter over the years and I’ve worked hard to address the issues that have gotten in the way of me having a committed relationship.  

    Evan I like your  work because  you operate from the premise that we can make the changes that will help us find love.    Your optimism is realistic –  it is not Law of Attraction magical thinking.   So while I accept it’s too late for me to be an astronaut  and  I can’t do much about the fact my  IQ doesn’t quite qualify for Mensa membership, I  believe I will be able to find a good man and build a solid relationship.     I believe that for the large proportion of us, if we stay open to doing things differently,  meet the challenges that changing our  selves  brings, and persist in our efforts, then we can get what we want.  

  8. 8

    How do we remain optimistic about dating while at the same time guarding against the pitfalls associated with being TOO optimistic?

    Answer: Read everything you can get your hands on about dating, fix your own issues, get as skinny as you can and as good as you can, reflect on why the past was not so good and keep dating.

    I believe mindful dating and being hot can put you at the top of the pile and help you make a better decision. No jumping into a relationship – set standards and make sure he is into you. Be the person you want to date. No wishy washy – it is not about luck.

    1. 8.1

      This is the best response I have read so far. I am so certain my love will find me because I will be who I want him to be. To all, be true to you. Ladies express your desires and the man will run like hell or listen and take heed. I wish you all love.

  9. 9

    After I turned 50 several years ago, it occurred to me that many of my conceptions about dating and relationships, and where I might fit in, had changed significantly. Age, a divorce, raising a son who is now in college, had changed me. For one thing, I had become more set in my ways and was not as willing to take chances on a romantic whim, or give up control to prove myself to someone. All of us who are divorced have baggage, me and I am well aware, and all of us over 50 who have never married have baggage — yeah you do. The more I accepted this, the clearer dating reality became, and the less hold “optimism bias” has on me. I ended up changing my goal from “relationship” to “dating” to figure out what might work for me.

    I can only speak as one man, but something I noticed on POF was so many women said things like, “must be financially secure, must own a house, are you the one?, looking for a real man, looking for my last love, etc.” My gut feeling is that I must be fishing in the wrong pond. There is something so unrealistic about this. It sounds like a desire to cover all bases and get it right this time, as if a woman has to check my references and my resume before she’ll go out with me more than once. There is something very unappealing to me about this — a definite turnoff. Doing fine on my own. Maybe that’s my answer.

    1. 9.1

      Michael – I love what you wrote – and I think the same is true when I look at male profiles of POF who want women who are carefree, like to laugh and look good in jeans or a gown (seriously?) I wonder if anyone truly wants a fun, spirited, feminine partner and sees women as ‘real’ people vs. a pleasant golf-buddy (but in a skirt). Everyone has their lists for dating as if it’s a Chinese restaurant meal you can order up…perfection.
      Good luck to both of us!

  10. 10

    Finding a successful relationship is like any other goal you may have in life in that, 1.) You set the goal; 2.) You take steps toward making your goal a reality; 3.) You refuse to  allow the setbacks  turn you  into a quitter.

    Optimism is having a belief that you will reach your goal, and keeping perspective in the times of setbacks. Perspective is everything. We can wallow in each “failure” or decide to learn something from them that will benifit us, and set us back on the path.

    I’m an optimist in dating, and  everything else.  I really desire that quality in a partner. Life is just too short to spend feeling dejected about anything for very long, or to give up on things we desire.

  11. 11

    I am optimistic person by nature.   I think you have to believe that something is possible in order for it to happen.   I will go even further and say YES! your mind can take where you need to be.   I disagree with anyone that says reading this blog means you are not optimistic.   I find the responses interesting and Evans  guidance   to be helpful.   Everyone reading this is  not frustrated and unhappy.   I certainly am not.   I am dating and having fun.   But I realize that from some responses , some people are unhappy.   And my lessons learned come ot only from Evan’s guidance but  from not doing some of the things   that others do, that are unhappy and frustrated.

  12. 12

    I think optimism is always the best way. Far better to think the best of a person and be let down, than assume everyone is horrible and out for themselves. To me, that is just a way of proving yourself right – if you expect everyone to let you down you’ll always be right because you will make sure no-one ever lives up to your standards and expectations.

  13. 13
    Still Looking

    I was very frustrated with dating when I first began seeing women after a long marriage.   It was an emotional roller coaster.   I’d get my hopes up because of wonderful chemistry over the phone/email/texts and then we’d meet.   POOF – the magic was gone upon meeting.   Sometimes it was me.   Sometimes it was both of us.   The absolute worst feeling was meeting and having a wonderful time and having strong feelings (lust?) and then….(drumroll please)….she wouldn’t be interested in seeing me again.

    Reading EMK’s blog really helped me out.   Now instead of going through the emotional turmoil of wondering “what did I do wrong?” or “why doesn’t she like me” I’ve taken a new mindset.

    Now I date to have fun.   If I meet someone who is a 10 on the chemistry scale and she blows me off I just remember the articles talking about how it is futile to continue to pine for those who are not interested.

    Instead of having a goal of finding “the one,” I view dating now as a chance to meet new women, make new friends, and have some fun.   I date quite a bit and have never had a bad date.   Sure, I’ve met some women that I know I’ll never see again but overall I always have an enjoyable time.   

    I remain optimistic because I have forced myself to have a paradigm shift — instead of looking at each date as being a failure if we don’t have an LTR, I just look at each date as a chance to meet someone new and have a good time.   Eventually I’ll stumble across “the one” but until then I’m perfectly content with just meeting new friends and having a great time.

  14. 14
    Darren Miller

    @ Michael post#9

    I see this as massive plus in your favour. You have experience. Yes, to some extent you may have to adjust your ways when dating women, but don’t change so much that you fail to show your best self when trying to attract a woman. Before I started dating, I too, had those thoughts whether a woman will accept that I have a daughter.
    The answer in most cases is yes, they do. The goal is to to be realistic about what you bring to a relationship and what you desire from a partner. I recommend that you never ask for more than you are willing to give and you give whole heartedly. What you offer ideally matches what your potential partner offers you, if you seek long-term compatibility in a relationship.
    Be realistic about obstacles that interfere with creating a relationship in which you can love and be loved, know and be known with mutual desire and devotion. Avoid entering a relationship with too many obstacles against a joyful, loving partnership. This is called a “strategy circle”, a well-known effective dating tool that I also used. However, I personally feel optimistic, and why shouldn’t you?

  15. 15

    I think the hardest thing about dating and matters of the heart for me is the feeling of lack of control. If I decide that I want to be a scientist, I can go to school to get a degree, network and make contacts and work toward getting a job as a scientist. If I decide I want to be in a relationship, I can put myself out there, try to meet new people and use different avenues to do so, but I can’t force the right person or people to come my way. Then even I do start dating someone, I can’t make them like you. I can only be me and hope it works out. If I like someone more than they like me, there’s nothing I can do about that. If I’m ready to get married and my partner isn’t, what can I do? Not much. It’s very difficult for me to accept that I can’t really control that aspect of my life.   The other thing that’s difficult to accept is lack of logic behind why some things happen when it comes to matters of the heart.  

    In short, I certainly hope I can  positive  think my way to a great relationship, but it’s certainly hard to keep an optimistic outlook after multiple painful heartbreaks.

  16. 16
    Rosemary Breen|Compatibility and Love

    The question is what is meant by ‘too optomistic’? Surely this is a relative term.

    One woman’s pessimism may be another woman’s state of optomism.

    All is relative i reckon.


  17. 17
    Clinton J. Sullivan

    Article helped me with lots of information. Thank you for sharing !!


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