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How Being a Realist Can Make You Happy

Researchers have found that realism is the approach that brings the most lasting, long-term happiness.

Get real and be happy
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Those of us who spend time thinking about and working on walking a positive path through life might be best served by two simple words, according to a new social psychology study: Get Real.

Realists, those whose expectations are neither unreasonably optimistic nor heavily negative, are a group who the researchers found had the highest sense of well-being and happiness over the long term.

The study focused on participants’ financial expectations and outcomes over an 18-year period of time. Those who overestimated their financial outcomes over those years had a lower self-reported sense of well-being than those who had more unbiased expectations based on an accurate assessment of their finances. Similarly, those who negatively underestimated their financial outcomes by seeing themselves pessimistically were less happy and satisfied than those who were more realistic.

These findings are part of the case against “toxic positivity,” the overly-simplistic, ultimately harmful use of positivity in a vacuum, denying any challenging or negative realities in pursuit of uncomplicated optimism.

“We see that being realistic about your future and making sound decisions based on evidence can bring a sense of well-being, without having to immerse yourself in relentless positivity,” said Chris Dawson, an economics professor at the University of Bath, where the study was conducted.

This rings so true to me, and readers of this blog will recognize my advocacy for the term “authentic positivity” as a worthy goal. To be authentically positive is not so different from being a realist, actually. Being unreasonably optimistic about future financial success denies the possibility that financial challenges will arise, while being self-defeatingly pessimistic denies us the opportunity to succeed in unexpected ways. 

So instead, let’s be optimistic enough to affirm our own possibilities, while remaining grounded in the world in which we actually live. That is authentic positivity in a nutshell—for real.

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