Optimism: is it always good?

optimismAfter I had written about my melancholy/depression, I allowed that my default position about events is not optimism, but pessimism. My friend Cee had heard the benefits of optimism.

And indeed, if you Google “Is optimism good?” the first thing one might find is this quote from Kids’ Health: ” Optimism Is Healthy. It turns out that an optimistic attitude helps us be happier, more successful, and healthier. Optimism can protect against depression — even for people who are at risk for it. An optimistic outlook makes people more resistant to stress. Optimism may even help people live longer.”

So it’s settled. Wait a minute. The next article is a 2015 piece from the Washington Post stating that “Researchers have found a really good reason not to be an optimist.” It references an NIH study.

That Wapo article: “Optimism isn’t merely unhelpful at times—it can be demonstrably counterproductive. Telling someone ‘you can do it’ when they actually can’t doesn’t change the outcome, and it makes them more likely to exert time and effort on a fruitless task. There might be no clearer example than the fact that optimists spend more time looking for Waldo, but are no more likely to find him.” But the piece allows that pessimism is not curative either.

Ben Franklin

I had mentioned to Cee that I had long been attracted by a portrayal of Ben Franklin, on, of all things Bwitched. His character [said]… that “he always going through life expecting negative outcomes so that when something positive happened, he would be pleasantly surprised. It was a punchline that was supposed to be funny – the canned laughter told me that – but, to me, it made SENSE… ‘Perhaps I’m an optimistic pessimist — prepare for the worst, but when the very worst doesn’t happen, I’m pleasantly surprised.’”

I’m more vulnerable when I’m optimistic. I’m thinking of someone in a particular position who despised the action of a perpetrator, and rightly so. When they were in the same situation as the previous villain, I was optimistic that they, remembering how crummy they felt, would act differently. Nope, they performed the same damn way. As bad as the mess was, it was my optimism that bit me in the butt.

This is why, for instance, I’m not disappointed in politicians anymore. If they end up being better than expected, I’m pleased. But if they have feet of clay, well, what did I expect? I suppose this sounds cynical, but it tends to regulate my highs and lows, which in the main, works for me.

So the fact that I was optimistic that we’d be out of this damn pandemic by now is why I crashed emotionally a bit. This commercial really spoke to me.