Rose-Colored Glasses? Get a Pair and Wear Them!
By Shlomo Maital
There is a condition psychologists have discovered and long known about, known as ‘depressive realism’: the proposition that people who are depressed actually have a more accurate perception of reality. For instance, they are less affected by positive illusions of superiority (depressed people see themselves accurately as others see them; most of us think others see us far more favorably than they really do). * Most students, for instance, when asked, say they think they will get a grade “higher than average” in the course they’re taking, even though in reality it is impossible that everyone is above average (as they are in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon).
Writing in his Psychology Today blog, Dr. Ben Hayden quotes a song by Kurt Cobain: “I think I’m dumb, or maybe just happy.” Cobain was seriously depressed. The lead singer, writer and guitarist for the grunge band Nirvana, Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994. He seemed to believe that to be happy, you had to be dumb or ignore reality.
What depressive realism suggests is that if you see the world as it is, with war, hunger, deprivation, poverty, homelessness, disease, and now, people gassed to death with Sarin, well, the only reasonable condition is depression. But if you wear rose-colored glasses, and are hopelessly optimistic, you are far less likely to be depressed. Incurable optimism creates energy, serenity, and above all, hope for a better future, without which it is difficult to surmount daily difficulties.
Voltaire mocked optimism, in Candide, in his character Dr. Pangloss (“all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds”). Well, Voltaire, I’ve known pessimists and I’ve known optimists. I prefer the latter.
Hayden disagrees with the concept of depressive realism. He thinks that it somehow justifies being depressed and hence keeps those with depression from being treated. He thinks that if you accept depressive realism, then you accept being depressed rather than battle it.
Accept it or not, it does seem there are strong reasons for erring on the side of optimism. As psychologists affirm, perception sometimes is reality. If you perceive the world as a great place, then you are more likely to act to make it so. Imagine if we all wore rose-colored glasses. Soon, we wouldn’t need them.
Alloy, L.B., Abramson, L.Y. (1979). “Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: Sadder but wiser?”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 108: 441–485. doi:10.1037/0096-3418.104.22.1681.