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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

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