As someone who has been in and around psychology in some form for nearly twenty years it is always exciting when I discover something psychological that I have never encountered before. It is a real sense of excitement, like discovering a long lost Dads Army episode in the loft or a Morecambe and Wise skit never before seen!
I had such a moment earlier today when I discovered the concept of ‘Optimism Bias’. I can sense your excitement as you read this… I know, me too!!
In a nutshell optimism bias is when a person is more likely to believe that good things are going to happen to them than bad things. Therefore that person is optimistic that good things will happen and this can lead to assumptions being made because of this belief. Those assumptions can lead to decisions which can then have a positive or a negative impact, dependant on what happens to the person following the decision.
I was reading this in the context that fit and healthy people between 20 and 50 with optimism bias are more likely to be unvaccinated against covid, because their optimism bias leads them to view the virus is something that if they do get, they will be minimally impacted by, so why take a vaccine that they are not 100% sure about.
In the vast majority of cases, this will be the true. An unvaccinated optimism biased person will likely shrug off the virus and recover completely. However, that does not take into account the reality of covid and life. There are numerous examples of fit and healthy people with no previous health problems contracting covid and then dying shortly afterwards because of it. It is rare, but it happens enough that even the most optimistic person must take note and add this to their list of things to consider when thinking about vaccination.
One of the statistics that really raised my eyebrows though was this:
‘about half of the 20% of the population who do not exhibit optimism bias are clinically depressed’
If you do not have optimism bias (a basic belief that good things are more likely to happen than bad) then you have a 50% chance of being clinically depressed. To be clear here, ‘clinically’ depressed. Not just a ‘bit’ depressed, but clinically! Clinical depression to me is when a person is struggling to even get out of bed, let alone get out to work, have a social life or enjoy ones family and life.
I think this shows just how important it is to have balance in life and in the way we as individuals view the world and our position in it.
The world is an imperfect place, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. It is also a place where loss and pain are guaranteed. However, if we focus too much of our attention and energy to things like this we will lose sight of all of the amazing things this world offers us – love, friendship, joy, beauty, clouds, the sea, sand, fresh bread, a bacon (or haloumi) sandwich etc etc – and this can lead us to a place of depression and darkness.
Conversely, if we focus a little bit too much on the positives in life and fail to heed the basic realities of it, then we can discount the seriousness of something like covid and make an assumption that we will be OK when that is actually not guaranteed at all.
So, balance. We need to find that balance of realism, but with hope and happiness there in droves too.
I didn’t hesitate around the vaccine. I was at the front of the queue jumping up and down for it, because I knew that even though I was in a low risk category, that didn’t mean I couldn’t get it and become seriously ill and maybe die because of it. I felt better the second after I had had it and have not regretted my decision once. This doesn’t make me more clever or insightful or anything than anyone else, it just means I am painfully aware that bad things can happen and I didn’t want to take any risks. I sometimes could use a little more optimism bias if anything, but I did not want to risk getting ill or dying and leaving behind the people who love me, so I did what most of us have done and got vaccinated.
I hate to bring Star Wars into this (I’m lying, I love the fact I can get Star Wars into this!), but there is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke say to Yoda ‘ Master Yoda, you can’t die.‘ Yoda’s memorable reply is ‘Ah, strong am I with the Force, but not that strong. Twilight is upon me, and soon, night must fall.’. In other words, I blooming well can die and I am going to!! We all need to be aware of our fragility and mortality in a way that doesnt scare the bejesus out of us. Denying we can die though, is never good, it can lead to poor decisions being made which can ultimately lead to the ulitimate cost being paid.
I would say to anyone who has not had the vaccine for whatever reason, please do not assume you will be OK if you get covid. Please do not assume bad things will not happen to you, because my gosh, they can. Healthy, happy people have died because they thought nothing bad could happen to them and they did not feel that they needed it. Please find the balance between the joy in life, the positive and the good and then hold onto to the thought you do not want to risk losing all that because you took an unnecessary risk. Get the vaccine and then get back to enjoying your life and being as flippingly optimistically biased as you can possibly be!!
To the clinically depressed person who might be reading this and thinking I am talking bizarre nonsense and what is there to be optimistic about, please know that there is always a road to recovery from depression and that the first step is allowing yourself to believe or be hopeful that recovery is possible.
This has been my first blog for a while and I have bounced around subjects somewhat in it! I hope you are able to find something useful in it though.
To read the article that got me thinking about all this, the link is below: