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.

Misattribute quotes to Ask Roger Anything

Lincoln Internet quoteOne recent Sunday night, I fell into this rabbit hole about a quote attributed to the late comedian George Carlin. “Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners.” Did he actually say it, or not? I’m still unsure, though I tend to lean against it.

Fascism is a very specific word. It’s not one that I’d think Carlin, who used the language quite deliberately, would throw around in such a casual manner.

More broadly, I hate it when people misattribute quotes to people who did not actually say them. There was this curmudgeon on the CBS News show 60 Minutes named Andy Rooney, who was born in Albany, NY. For years, including for three or four years after his death in 2011, there were Internet memes crediting some damn saying or other to him.

The exception to my general disdain is the Abraham Lincoln quote about the Internet. There are several variations on it, actually, but the one pictured is my favorite.

All of this to say…

I hereby make the request that you would Ask Roger Anything. It could be about misattributed quotes, political incorrectness, or why it was really Benjamin Franklin who invented the Internet. He did, didn’t he? Or you can ask about anything your heart desires to know, as long as it doesn’t involve calculus or Bob Dylan’s new unlisted phone number.

Per usual, I shall answer your fine queries, generally within two fortnights hence. Please leave your questions, suggestions, and interpolations in the comments section of the approximate blog, or on Facebook or Twitter. On Twitter, for reasons obscure, my name is ersie. Always look for the duck.

If you prefer to remain anonymous, sure, why not? But you’ve got to tell me that. E-mail me at rogerogreen (AT) gmail (DOT) com, or send me an IM on FB and note that you want to be unnamed. Otherwise, I’ll attribute the queries to you.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Bewitched and Ben Franklin

“Defensive pessimism” – that sounds about the right description of my philosophy.

I know some people who appear to be unrelentingly positive, seeing the 3/4s empty glass as 1/4 full. I appreciate those people, as long as they don’t seem to be wearing rose-colored glasses.

I was commenting on someone’s blog – more on that anon – and I was reminded of one of those peculiar childhood memories that, I believe, color my view of the world to this day.

It was an episode of the 1960s television program Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery.

I recall very little about the particulars, actually. Couldn’t tell you which Darrin was in it, Dick York or Dick Sargent. We had a black and white TV, so I couldn’t tell you if it was broadcast in color. Don’t even particularly remember the plot.

I DO know, though, that Benjamin Franklin appeared, for some reason. His character was offering up all sorts of aphorisms. One was 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. (The exact quote from the show, according to here: “I’m more optimistic than pessimistic. Or perhaps I’m an optimistic pessimist — prepare for the worst, but when the very worst doesn’t happen, I’m pleasantly surprised.”)

Last month, in her V is for Visualization post, Meryl at Departing the Text wrote:

Studies suggest…that optimistic affirmations designed to lift one’s mood, often achieve the opposite effect.

…The Power of Negative Thinking essayist, Oliver Burkeman suggests that there is an alternative approach to help us find that sometimes elusive (holiday) cheer: “…both ancient philosophy and modern psychology suggest that darker thoughts can make us happier.”

According to Burkeman, Albert Ellis (a New York psychotherapist) rediscovered this key insight of the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome: “the best way to address an uncertain future is to focus not on the best-case scenario but on the worst.”

Stoics called this worst-case scenario therapy “the premeditation of evils” and they believed that doing this would remove the anxiety “THE FUTURE” relayed. According to Burkeman, modern psychologist Julie Norem estimates that about one-third of Americans instinctively use this strategy which she terms “defensive pessimism.”

Burkeman further posits that: “The ultimate value of the ‘negative path’ may not be its role in facilitating upbeat emotions or even success. It is simply realism. The future really is uncertain, after all, and things really do go wrong as well as right. We are too often motivated by the craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives.”

“Defensive pessimism” – that sounds about the right description of my philosophy. On the other hand, I think that worrying is highly overrated.

This begs the question: was Ben Franklin portrayed accurately in a sitcom a half-century ago? This quote is attributed to him, according to several sources: “I’d rather be a pessimist because then I can only be pleasantly surprised.” So, kinda sorta, yeah.

Dammit, Dan, I’m a librarian, not a meteorologist!

Did you know I have linked to EVERY SINGLE POST you have written?

(Title inspired by We can’t see DeForest for the trees.)

Dan from albanyweblog.com griped:
Okay Roger… How come it’s so damn hot right now?
I want a thorough answer.


I went to Google and put in why is it so damn hot. Unfortunately, all that got me is why certain types are hot, e.g., “Why are Canadian girls so damn hot?” Or vegan girls, gingers, emo guys, biracial guys, Norwegian people, bad boys, werewolves, rugby players. And Justin Bieber. I also found the lyrics and the video to You’re So Damn Hot by OK Go.

Meanwhile, Shooting Parrots jumped in:
Ditto: why is it so damn cool in the UK? And wet. Can I feel a climate change answer coming on?

Well, for that question, I went to the only reliable source I could think of, Al Jazeera:

“As the sea ice melts at an alarming rate, the Potsdam Institute points out that the albedo (the reflectivity) over the Arctic Ocean continues to decrease and more heat is absorbed by the waters creating a positive feedback.

“As the polar winter sets in over the upper atmosphere, the warming at low levels causes instability in the atmosphere. The resulting low-pressure systems at sea level disrupt the normal circulation.

“This circulation is measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The Institute believes that such low-pressure systems enhance the NAO and AO early in the season but that, later in the winter, there is a delayed opposite effect. This would give rise to cold late winter spells across Europe.”

But the most thorough answer for both Dan and SP came from Jennifer Francis, who is a “research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, where she studies Arctic climate change and the link between the Arctic and global climates.”

“Does it seem as though your weather has become increasingly ‘stuck’ lately? Day after day of cold, rain, heat, or blue skies may not be a figment of your imagination…

“Arctic amplification describes the tendency for high Northern latitudes to experience enhanced warming or cooling relative to the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. This heightened sensitivity is linked to the presence of snow and sea ice, and the feedback loops that they trigger… [since] World War II, Arctic temperatures have increased at more than twice the global rate. A dramatic indicator of this warming is the loss of Arctic sea ice in summer, which has declined by 40 percent in just the past three decades. The area of lost ice is about 1.3 million square miles or roughly 42 percent of the area of the Lower 48 United States. “

Then there’s a detailed description of the jet stream and its “waviness;” read it yourselves. Point is that we need to limit the carbon pollution that causes global warming, if it’s not too late; the jury’s out on that.
Steve from Life Crits asked:
If you could pose God just one question, what would it be…aside from the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in it?

So it would have to be mundane, yet something I really want to know. Got it.

When I was a teenager, I was walking down the street, when suddenly something hit the top of one of the lens of the pair of glasses I was wearing, creating a fault line. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt my eye. It wasn’t hailing. I never found anything such as a BB that would explain it. What the heck WAS that?
GayProf from some university in a Decaying Midwestern Urban Center wrote:
Here is a tough, but fair, question: How did I get to be your favorite blogger?

Assuming the premise is actually true – it is the quality of your pieces. Did you know I have linked to EVERY SINGLE POST you have written since July of last year? Of course, that’s only two posts. But still…
Alexis, who I know personally, and who USED to blog, wants to know:

If you could have a conversation with any famous person, dead or alive, who would you pick?

I’ll choose Ben Franklin. I’d be quite interested to see what he thought of the current state of both technology and government. Could I bring him back to explain what the Founders meant by the separation of church and state? Or to explain the deadly effects of turtle sex? -I’m sure he’d find that fascinating.

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