Reality Check: But How to Still Be Happy

reality check sign

One of the goals of this blog is to help people to become more accurate about themselves, others, and the world without becoming depressed. That might sound like a cynical outlook, but there are two sides to this coin.

Yes, apparently for most of us, seeing reality exactly for what it is predicts moderate depression. This phenomenon is called “depressive realism” (e.g., Moore & Fresco, 2012).

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. (-Mark Twain)

Spoiler Alerts (sorry)…

On average, we’re not going to become rich. We’re not as smart as we think we are. We don’t have as much control over life events as we think we do. When bad things happen to other people (e.g., losing a job), it is usually not all their fault. These are tough realities for most of us to handle.

On the other hand, look how resilient human beings can be. In the face of personal failures and negative life events, most of us can function relatively unscathed through unrealistic optimism, self-serving bias, illusion of control, and victim blaming (i.e., just-world beliefs). Such illusions predict good mental health and even good physical health (e.g., Taylor, 1989; Taylor et al., 2003).

In sum, in looking at life, most of us apparently need a positive skew to function well. (See my earlier post:

So reducing people’s typical biases is one thing. Reducing those biases without incurring depression is something else.

Thus far, this blog has focused almost exclusively on reducing biases, by helping people to learn about them, to slow down their judgments, and to accept uncertainty.

Reducing biases is generally a good thing. There are many documented benefits. Reducing typical biases can improve decision making in so many ways, reduce conflicts and prejudice, and otherwise increase good will toward one another.

But it’s time to talk more constructively about how to reduce biases without increasing depression. The only tip I’ve provided so far is to know that you’re not alone – this blog PARBs Anonymous can act as a support group. This tip is largely about addressing the angst that might result from realizing you or all of us may have so many biases in the first group

You’re not alone in this fight.

But how do we stop the depression that might result from winning the fight, from succeeding in reducing our biases?

Among possible answers (to be discussed here or in later articles), I suggest reminding ourselves that being more accurate about ourselves and others is a sign of intelligence. Really. It’s a combination of book smarts and street smarts.

brain lifting weights

Accuracy = Intelligence

I also suggest reminding ourselves of all those benefits of increased accuracy: Improved decision making (for ourselves and our families), reduced conflicts and prejudice (which can hypothetically prevent wars), and otherwise increased good will toward one another.

These are no small things. These benefits might be worth a little personal depression, and that realization might help reduce the depression.

I surveyed 133 social science students after they learned about depressive realism (Stalder, 2008). I asked them to what degree they’d be “willing to sacrifice a little mental health to be more accurate.” The average response exceeded the midpoint of the scale.

It’s an honorable sacrifice.

I also asked those students if they would feel good or smart if they could see themselves more accurately. The average response well exceeded the midpoint.

The way our egos work, doing something honorable that makes us feel smarter can fight off depression. Just keep it in mind.



Moore, M. T., & Fresco, D. M. (2012). Depressive realism: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 496-509.

Stalder, D. R. (2008, May). Using social psychology instruction to reduce bias, defensiveness, and conflict. Poster session presented at the annual Teaching Institute of the Association for Psychological Science and Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Chicago.

Taylor, S. E. (1989). Positive illusions: Creative self-deception and the healthy mind. New York: Basic Books.

Taylor, S. E., Lerner, J. S., Sherman, D. K., Sage, R. M., & McDowell, N. K. (2003). Are self-enhancing cognitions associated with healthy or unhealthy biological profiles? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 605-615.


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