Monday, October 21, 2013

Optimism Isn't Easy

Many of my friends comment on how "positive" or "optimistic" I am. Well, good. I'm glad I've got you fooled. Optimism is work, my friends. Most of the time I have the energy to put in that work, but it is not easy, for several reasons:

Pessimism Runs in the Family
Not everyone has it, though I'm reasonably certain my father and his mother had it. Maybe it's an Irish thing--a strong belief in Murphy's Law.

Pessimism Can Be Learned Through Experience
I've written elsewhere on these pages about my experiences with bullies, their enablers, and others in my peer group who gave me some very sharp lessons in human relations in my first 20 years. Bullying creates a paranoid mentality in the victim wherein they think that any attempt at positive behavior is an innocent-seeming prelude to something bad happening. It is damned difficult to overcome this expectation.

Pessimism is Easy
Occasionally bits of actual wisdom fall out of Limbaugh's mouth; here's one: "Being pessimistic is the easiest thing in the world. There are no books on how to teach you negative thinking." The human brain, I think, is conditioned to expect a saber-toothed tiger to jump out or lightning to strike nearby at any minute. We're wired, to some extent, to be fearful as a way to keep us alert to our surroundings. But in the social realm, it takes a special sort of thinking mind to realize that you can plan for negative outcomes and actually turn them to your advantage.

Since high school (or so), I've had to at least put on the impression of a positive attitude, partly because negative Ned is no fun to hang around, and partly because it's good discipline for my mind: act positively and eventually you might start thinking that way. I read somewhere that just the act of smiling sets off certain chemicals in your brain--like it or not--that cause you to think positively. Okay, so I'll go with that. Smiling, optimism, and positive attitude are all things that can be forced at times, but they can be done. Do them enough times and you start to believe them.

That's not to say it happens all the time, but at least I'm trying. As those goofy cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? sang:

Smile, darn ya, smile!
You'll find the whole world
Is a great world
After all!

Here's hoping. If I can't manage that attitude today, I'll fake it 'til I make it.

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