“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” – Lao Tzu
Beware the downfalls of hubris if you want others to like you.
Optimism is generally considered one of the most desirable psychological qualities. We like to be with optimists more than we like to be with pessimists, and we believe that optimism is generally a more successful life strategy. Being a “cockeyed optimist” (in the words of the famous “South Pacific” song) means that you’ll be better able to cope with whatever challenges come your way. To Leuven University’s Vera Hoorens and colleagues (2016), however, being an optimist can come at a price: It may make you look naïve, and you may be in for disappointment when your sunny predictions fail to materialize.
There’s another trap involved with optimism, and it occurs when you fall prey to the hubris hypothesis. As noted by the Belgian team, the hubris hypothesis involves comparing yourself favorably and explicitly with other people. This leads others to believe that you hold disparaging attitudes toward them, because you’re letting them know that you think of yourself as superior. It’s a particular form of pride in which the claims you make about your own worth come at the expense of acknowledging that of other people. The example used by Hoorens et al. contrasts the statement “I am a better friend than others” with “I am a good friend.” When you make the comparative statement with others, you’re showing an explicit form of hubris. When you simply state what a good friend you are, the claim of superiority is implicit, and it’s no harm, no foul to everyone who hears you make that claim.
When optimism involves a similar comparative spin, it’s likely to trigger the same reaction as explicit hubris. If you think the odds of something bad happening to you are lower than the odds of something bad happening to others, according to this view, you’re invoking the hubris hypothesis. Why should you be so immune to misfortune? What makes you so much luckier than the people around you? When it comes to something favorable, why should you be so much more likely than your competitors to get a job for which you’ve applied? In terms of absolute optimism, you can think that you’re qualified for the job. If you’re using comparative optimism, though, you believe you’re more qualified than everyone else, and therefore, you should get the job — and of course, they shouldn’t.
In the two experiments conducted by Hoorens and her team, participants rated the warmth and competence of claimants (people making claims about themselves) expressed in either absolute or comparative terms.
In the first experiment, the researchers presented three scenarios depicting individuals who were either optimistic or pessimistic about living to be old, finding romantic happiness, and experiencing happy family relationships. Absolute optimism was represented by having the claimant project optimism for him or herself without comparison to other students; comparative optimists projected having more positive outcomes than would the average other student. Participants then rated the claimants on five traits reflecting warmth (forgiving, helpful, honest, loving, polite) and five reflecting competence (ambitious, cheerful, competent, independent, intellectual). They also rated how much they would want to be around these individuals. In the second experiment, the claimants also indicated whether they would have more favorable outcomes not just compared to the average other student, but compared to the participant him or herself.
People rated the comparative optimists less warmly than the absolute optimists, and as a result, didn’t want to affiliate with them. The second experiment, with its added feature of having relative optimists believe they were better off than the participants, provided the full test of the hubris hypothesis, because the sunny outcomes expected by the claimants came at the expense of the participants themselves.
The authors concluded, therefore, that “optimism loses some of its appeal when it is expressed in a comparative than an absolute manner and that it does so because comparative expressions of optimism suggest that the claimant views the observers’ future gloomily” (p. 9).
Ironically, most people do prefer to see themselves as “better” than the average person which, of course, is an impossibility. What happens with the hubris hypothesis is that we don’t like it when someone else openly expresses that viewpoint. It’s fine to think you’re luckier, happier, or more likable than everyone else, but if you happen to voice this assessment, you’ll end up facing the exact opposite outcome.
One reason we don’t like hearing others brag in relative terms about their qualities is that, as the Belgian team notes, we’re always processing information about other people through the somewhat egocentric eyes of our own self-images. If your best friend’s mother is constantly trying to show how much better a cook she is than everyone else, you won’t go over there for dinner, no matter how good the food actually is. Her tendency to self-promote puts your own mother, or perhaps you, in the position of seeming inferior. For her part, she won’t see how much she’s offended you and will be puzzled when you turn down invitations that seem so well-intentioned.
In summary, we know that bragging is the kind of behavior that most of us would rather avoid being exposed to. These studies on comparative optimism show, further, that it’s the hubris expressed at the expense of others that make that bragging so objectionable. Optimism is certainly one well-known path to fulfillment. As long as you can express it without casting aspersions on the possible fates of others, you’ll be able to make full use of its advantages.
Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2017
Hoorens, V., Van Damme, C., Helweg-Larsen, M., & Sedikides, C. (2016). The hubris hypothesis: The downside of comparative optimism displays. Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, doi:10.1016/j.concog.2016.07.003
Happiness is something we all strive to attain yet very few of us know the actual meaning of happiness. Most people think that material success—owning a big house or luxury cars, and fat bank account, great career achievements, having a family, and high social status and reputation are the things that make a person truly happy. But the truth is, true happiness has got nothing to do with these worldly things. Happiness is actually a state of mind and so, how a person perceives and reacts to life says a lot about whether he or she is on the right path to happiness or not. Here are five key traits that you should try to develop to keep yourself happy and which are typical of genuinely happy people already:
1. Live in present: Happy people focus on the present. They don’t dwell on things that have happened in past or they don’t worry about the future. They are aware that life is happening now and so they live in the moment. Research has shown that worrying too much about future is the source of anxiety and various other mental health issues, just as thinking too much about the past can be a cause of depression. Thinking too much about how things were or how they should be, rob us of our present. Happy people live in the present and make the most of it.
2. Grateful: Happy people are grateful for everything they have. Gratitude is the key to happiness. One must truly value everything that they possess in order to be happy. Being too occupied with one’s desires sometimes mislead us from the path to true happiness. Also, desiring more and more leaves us depressed and discontent; and in the process, we often forget to be thankful for the things we already have. Happy people achieve satisfaction by being grateful for everything they have and they consider themselves fortunate enough for whatever little they possess. Happy people express their gratitude on daily basis and that’s what becomes their source of happiness.
3. Optimistic: Happy people always look at the bright side. They possess a positive attitude towards life. No matter how difficult circumstances may be, they never lose their positive outlook and that’s what helps them survive difficult and challenging circumstances. They always see the glass as half full and look for the ways to fill the glass to the brim. It is the optimism that helps them stay happy and patient in difficult circumstances. Although it is not always easy to stay optimistic when things become too challenging, with practice one can certainly acquire this trait.
4. Kind: Kindness is another trait of happy people. Happy individuals are not only kind to others but to themselves as well. They build rather than destroying others. They also forgive and forget and don’t hold grudges. They find happiness in helping others. They believe in sharing and know that money spent on one’s own self does not always lead to happiness. Research too has shown that happiness or joy received from buying stuff for one’s own self is short lived or momentary. But if the money is spent on others, one gets longer-lasting and stable happiness.
5. Secure: Happy people are secure in themselves. They are confident and never compare themselves with others. They know their strengths as well as weaknesses and are comfortable with both. As they feel secure and confident in themselves, they never seek approval of others or try to please others yet they never brag. Their self-esteem is not derived from superficial things and is rather more internal. They always try to maximize their strengths and are always open to work on their weaknesses.