On Walkabout to See What's Out There

Resolve to be Optimistic

By: BriarCraft, 11:43 PM GMT on December 27, 2012


1. A tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.
2. Philosophy: (a.) The doctrine, asserted by Leibniz, that this world is the best of all possible worlds. (b.) The belief that the universe is improving and that good will ultimately triumph over evil.


We humans are hard-wired to be optimistic. It has been said that we are the only species with foreknowledge of our own mortality. That may or may not be true. I have yet to see any concrete proof that a cat believes it is going to live forever or that a dog doesn't know when it is about to die. They used to say animals didn't experience emotion and that has been proven wrong. But that's another discussion for another day.

We might, and probably do, have a more vivid and detailed imagination than less evolved animals. As cavemen, our ancestors could picture just what would happen to them if that woolly mammoth got them before they managed to get it. Or what would happen if they couldn't climb out of reach of that saber-toothed tiger in time. And then there was disease and infection and any number of other things that could go wrong to make life miserable, or worse.

If not for optimism, it would be easy to become depressed and despondent. Why make the effort? Why keep on struggling? Why keep trying for something better? One could say it's instinct. Maybe it is. Maybe instinct forces us to adopt an optimistic attitude most of the time.

According to an article in Time:
You might expect optimism to erode under the tide of news about violent conflicts, high unemployment, tornadoes and floods and all the threats and failures that shape human life. Collectively we can grow pessimistic — about the direction of our country or the ability of our leaders to improve education and reduce crime. But private optimism, about our personal future, remains incredibly resilient. A survey conducted in 2007 found that while 70% thought families in general were less successful than in their parents' day, 76% of respondents were optimistic about the future of their own family.

Overly positive assumptions can lead to disastrous miscalculations — make us less likely to get health checkups, apply sunscreen or open a savings account, and more likely to bet the farm on a bad investment. But the bias also protects and inspires us: it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat.

To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities — better ones — and we need to believe that we can achieve them. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals. Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more. Economists at Duke University found that optimists even save more. And although they are not less likely to divorce, they are more likely to remarry — an act that is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the triumph of hope over experience.

Most of us know from experience that when you feel optimistic about a project or about life in general, things just seem to go better and are more interesting. Conversely, when you are feeling "down" or pessimistic, things just seem to go wrong, and they aren't fun or interesting. Since optimism feels good and pessimism doesn't, you'd think we all would be optimistic all of the time. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Sometimes, watching too much news on TV or spending too much time around not-nice people or dealing with grief can bring us down. At times like that, I've found it helpful to just go through the motions of positive thinking. That seems to jump-start the feelings and thoughts that are optimism. It's a do-it-until-you-feel-it sort of thing. Or, if you prefer: Move the muscles and the brain will follow.

According to Mayo Clinic:
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

* Increased life span
* Lower rates of depression
* Lower levels of distress
* Greater resistance to the common cold
* Better psychological and physical well-being
* Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
* Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It's also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles -- they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

According to the Society for Building a Healthier Kugluktuk (a First Nation people in Canada):
Possibly the most outstanding attribute of optimists is their ability to persist in pursuing goals, especially when facing obstacles. They are committed to act on their wishes, and can tolerate hardships in pursuit of their dreams. The certainty of achieving their goals increases efforts when coming across difficulties. It is therefore little wonder that optimists are among life's successful people in business, sports, or anything they set their minds to.

Ring in the New Year
Welcome 2013
Seems like a good time to be optimistic.
What are your New Year's Resolutions?

At the top of my list:
Be generous with smiles and hugs and other gifts of happiness. I'll never run out, no matter how many I give away.

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.