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Lately I have been thinking a lot about happiness and unhappiness not as moods or states of mind but as basic personality traits. Same thing with optimism and pessimism. I think a lot of people on this site are constitutionally unhappy or pessimistic. That is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to analysis (see below) but it is a problem when it comes to action. Often success requires an unreasonable degree of optimism and self-confidence, and the ability to sustain it for long periods of time.

Overconfidence bias leads people to prefer "winner-takes-all" systems of rewards instead of more proportionate systems, of overestimating their likelyhood to be in the top x% of earners (and so to support policies that benefit not themselves but the wealthy they think they are or unreasonably hope to become), or being reckless with debt, etc. Apparently

Overconfidence bias may cause many individuals to overestimate their degree of control as well as their odds of success. This may be protective against depression - since Seligman and Maier's model of depression includes a sense of learned helplessness and loss of predictability and control. Ironically, depressives tend to be more accurate, and less overconfident in their assessments of the probabilities of good and bad events occurring to them. This has cause some researchers to consider that overconfidence bias may be adaptive and/or protective in some situations.
(my emphasis)

The issue really is the difference in explanatory style (and this is something very fundamental to people's cognition)

Psychologists have identified three components in explanatory style:
  • Personal. People experiencing events may see themselves as the cause; that is, they have internalized the cause for the event. Example: "I always forget to make that turn" (internal) as opposed to "That turn can sure sneak up on you" (external).
  • Permanent. People may see the situation as unchangeable, e.g., "I always lose my keys" or "I never forget a face".
  • Pervasive. People may see the situation as affecting all aspects of life, e.g., "I can't do anything right" or "Everything I touch seems to turn to gold".
People who generally tend to blame themselves for negative events, believe that such events will continue indefinitely, and let such events affect many aspects of their lives display what is called a pessimistic explanatory style. Conversely, people who generally tend to blame others for negative events, believe that such events will end soon, and do not let such events affect too many aspects of their lives display what is called an optimistic explanatory style.
Although this has the trappings of an unconscious component of cognition tehse are "internalised narratives" that may be based on life experience and may be culturally influenced.

Anyway, just a couple of fuzzy data points.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 06:32:47 AM EST
I tend towards gloom on the site, but that's because it's a useful way to try to get the usual mainstream propaganda out of my system.

Some while ago I went through a similar phase in a different context eliminating the last vestiges of a Christian upbringing. That was often not fun - arguing with fundies isn't - but it was a very liberating way of clarifying what I did and didn't believe, and why.

Also, if the doom turns out to be realistic, it's better to deal with it now when the physical situation is still relatively stable, than later when everyone else is trying to deal with it at the same time.

Off-site I've been working towards some projects that might make a difference. I haven't diaried them because they're not ready for prime time yet. But they are - measurably - getting closer to being so.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 06:47:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Clarifying what I do and don't believe, and why, is one of the many benefits of being on ET. Though I suppose to follow your Christian example, a stint at Free Republic might be more "efficient".

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:01:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fuzzy data? You?

Is this the end of civilization as we know it? This is what happens when you have unprotected congress with psychology. ;-) One should always wear latex - preferably over the head.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 06:51:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, fuzzy data. It's psychology, not mathematics.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:07:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting, but indeed fuzzy. Though I agree we have a basic personality, call it a temperament, in which the optimism/pessimism spectrum is a major component, I feel people who come here know themselves enough to situate their natural bent and compensate for it.

I think a lot of people on this site are constitutionally unhappy or pessimistic. That is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to analysis (see below) but it is a problem when it comes to action. Often success requires an unreasonable degree of optimism and self-confidence, and the ability to sustain it for long periods of time.

Success is perhaps easier to achieve with an unreasonable degree of optimism and self-confidence, and the ability to sustain it for long periods of time, (Sarkozy won), but it doesn't make success inevitable (Royal lost).

And I don't think the down feelings are entirely constitutional. There's an explanation there that you rightly relate to the myth of individual success in the rat race (ie the overconfident rats are getting screwed by the fat cats - overconfidence doesn't necessarily win 2). Circumstances matter too. Internet may be a new means of communication that allows for encounters and networking that surprise and delight us, it doesn't change the fact that we are atoms, one (or two) people on a terminal with a real life to live and often a fight to do that. The kind of task we see ahead is huge. It certainly calls for optimism (if you're really a pessimist, why bother?), and a degree of self-confidence is a sine qua non (can't do anything without it), but how much more optimism and confidence would we have if we had all the time we needed and the technical and financial means to work together (meaning more physical meeting and collaboration)! Whereas in fact we're each in her/is small corner, and what needs to be understood and thought is so colossal we get despondent.

What will come, will come because we care about it and it occupies our thoughts. It will come by bursts, appearing spontaneously rather than by conscious effort (though that doesn't mean there are no conscious efforts to be made!). There will be plateaus, deserts to plod through, but there'll be leafy oases.

So I wax lyrical. Pessimist, me?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:22:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Success is perhaps easier to achieve with an unreasonable degree of optimism and self-confidence, and the ability to sustain it for long periods of time, (Sarkozy won), but it doesn't make success inevitable (Royal lost).

That just underlines the point that rat races at the very top are between unreasonable optimists. The pessimists dropped out either because they got depressed or because they realistically saw the rat race for what it was.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:26:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we're dealing with different axes here. Being compulsively driven towards power isn't the same as being an optimist.

A standard problem is that it's compulsives who are often least qualified to lead effectively who push themselves into leadership positions.

This doesn't make them optimistic, so much as obsessive.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:33:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah. On a somewhat related note, my father always says that if you're "too smart" you'll never be rich, since you wouldn't take risks that you knew would have a very small likelihood of paying off.
My own personal theory is that most rich people are in league with Satan, but I don't say that out loud.
Of course, if you're "too smart" you might realise there's more to life than heap loads of cash, but that's another story...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:48:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I don't think the down feelings are entirely constitutional. ... how much more optimism and confidence would we have if we had all the time we needed and the technical and financial means to work together (meaning more physical meeting and collaboration)!

See? You're an optimist. Your personal explanatory style is external. I'm a pessimist, my personal explanatory style is internal.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:29:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're an optimist.

Well, that was my conclusion above.

But you're making plans for a commune or phalanstery, which surely makes you a raving optimist? ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:34:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just because I'm making plans doesn't mean I believe they would work.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:42:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't wanting to set up a commune a sign of despair?

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 09:51:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An optimist is someone who thinks that the world is as good as it's ever going to be.

A pessimist is someone who thinks that the world is as good as it's ever going to be.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 08:12:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
wax away, and may your waning be distant and distanceable.

lyrical is right!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 06:31:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is something that interests me a lot and i've covering quite a bit of the most prominent popular literature on the subject.
We are rigged for achieving status and reproduce. Happiness seems to be a side effect.

The conundrum to be solved, if the science is right, is how to implement a system that protects people from themselves without at the same time give them precisely that depressing feeling of lack of control.

Education seems like the only reasonable way to do it. Starting to learn statistics and psychology as early as pre-school maybe?

by Torres on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:40:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're going to teach people "advanced" mathematics I believe probability and statistics to be wildly more useful and instructive than calculus, to be honest. And not all that "advanced" either.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 07:44:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Probability and statistics without calculus?  Well, yes, many problems are small and finite.  And the basic concepts can certainly be illustrated by examples that are small and finite.  

But:  

Bell curve, Poisson distribution, probability density, all calculus.  

Every time you replace an intractible situation involving very large (but finite) numbers with a continuous model you are doing calculus.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 10:22:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't need calculus to teach what you need to teach for good citizenship. Proving the finite cases and presenting the infinite cases where necessary should suffice.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 10:32:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With Nelson's Radically Elementary Probability Theory, everything including stochastic processes is countable, even finite. But that's a facetious answer.

A better answer is volume 1 of Feller's "Introduction to Probability Theory and its Applications", which uses entirely elementary techniques.

Epistemologically, all statistics is finite, and infinites and continuity only appear in the limit (via a process of closure useful because completeness simplifies many proofs, but not essential as sophisticated but straighforward proofs by closure can be turned into involved proofs using elementary techniques). Also, stochastic processes are equivalent iff all their finite-dimensional distributions are equivalent, so even there things can be a lot smaller than they are made to be by professional mathematicians.

My actual point is that the fixation with Calculus as the gateway to higher mathematics is misplaced. There is nothing more useless that what Americans call "AP Calculus" or "Freshman Calculus", especially for people in the humanities and social sciences (who, often, take a single term of Calculus as their only exposure to 'higher math'). I would much rather teach people "finite mathematics".

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 10:34:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Radically Elementary Probability Theory

Which I must finish reading. When I find it again ...

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 12:34:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time you replace an intractible situation involving very large (but finite) numbers with a continuous model you are doing calculus.

Yes, but you don't have to teach calculus on its own first, you can just do it, in context.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 11:12:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it might be more useful to teach people to recognise when their leaders, the media, and the ad companies are all talking crap and trying to eat their brains.

Some elementary stats might be useful ('the increase in cancer risk is a shocking 100% greater! - from p = 0.0000001 to p =  0.0000002...') but perhaps best left as an optional extra for those who want the advanced course.  

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 11:44:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it might be more useful to teach people to recognise when their leaders, the media, and the ad companies are all talking crap and trying to eat their brains.

Which part of math is that? The point of the subthread was that, if you're going to teach people "advanced math", it should be prob/stat.

Although making "How to lie with statistics" compulsory reading in secondary school wouldn't be all that bad an idea.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 11:48:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not math. It's education.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 03:13:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All these rat races and psychological nuances of self-confidence are luxury of our times. We (all humans) have energy abundance in food and oil, and we know nothing better what to do with the energy than to waste it against each other. We assume that we are obeying (as perfectly as we can) the "right" Darwinian imperative of surviving when fittest, and we assume that we were always doing that, and that any ever living creature on Earth had no choice but to do that. We do not have to make any other assumptions - that's quite a blessing, though temporary...

It is no fun to think that a dramatic turnaround is coming. We do not have a fair and obvious warning - but the expanding civilisation did not gave any warnings either. Humanity deserves certain suffering and life loss - it is not possible to avert consequences of self-indulging illusions within the real world. We (progressives) do not really know what is coming and what we can do - but we know attitudes that could have helped to avoid or substantially postpone the trouble. Yet, the same attitudes can help us to go through the singularity of collective stupidity - and keep (or even make) the world as good as possible beyond it. An apocalypse is not a joy, but a privelege nevertheless.

Ok, my thoughts are not exactly uplifting. We ought to relax sometimes with some delight, and then try to do something - whatever you can do with the anticipated problems can be very significant, since no one else would probably do that.

by das monde on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 08:53:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to say that happiness or unhappiness couldn't be personality traits (certainly there are some disorders that are more biological in cause)...but I'm quite certain happiness and unhappiness are "states" not "traits". Anyway, it would be hell to be born with an immutable unhappiness trait...and I have met (and treated) a few chronically unhappy people in my time, but most (if not all) usually had something happen to be unhappy about.

I would argue that a person who is severely depressed is not seeing reality any clearer that an optimistic person...and in fact, would argue that their "reality" is distorted. Sure, a depressed person sees truth too, but from a distinct perspective. I find depression very difficult to work with, because is so damn sure they know what reality is...and they often don't.

Anyway, another world heard from...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 11:02:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about resilience?

Perhaps you have heard of resilience...which is increasingly being discussed in psychological circles, but comes from physics...as in the ability of a metal to bounce back to its original shape after it has been bent or put under a heavy load. The concept of resilience in people is that it is an internal process in which an individual is able to adapt positively to particularly adverse circumstances and be able to cope with stress.

People who have a strong resilience tend to have strong positive concepts and optimism. In fact, per Colman's rant, I'd say our survival is a matter of having resilience...

Here's a piece of an article I wrote that was published in the ,,International Platform on Sports and Development" in January of this year on resilience and kids. But it is just as applicable for adults too.

Trauma, Sport & Resilience

Based on the findings of various research endeavours, four key protective factors which serve to support and promote resilience in all youth have been discerned. These are:
  1. the presence of healthy, supportive relationships between adults and youth;
  2. healthy peer to peer relationships;
  3. the ability of youth to develop and utilize internal and external problem-solving strategies, in order to affectively mediate adversity (including developing cognitive skills and understandings in order to better deal with stressful and uncertain situations); and
  4. healthy involvement with and commitment to a broader community, which includes the encouragement to contribute to the common good of that community.

The existence of these over-arching protective factors are believed to help shield youth from such risk factors as trauma or severe stress experienced in catastrophes, as well as to help them "bounce back" after such experiences.

Maybe I should do a diary on this at some point...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 11:10:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I touched on it here..

It didn't seem to convince everybody....

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 03:11:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FWIW, I thought your article was great. But the concept of resilience is still somewhat of an esoteric topic at this point...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat May 26th, 2007 at 03:12:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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