IN THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, research into
our thinking patterns and their affect on our moods and behavior
has brought us to an understanding far beyond the positive thinking
pioneers of the earlier part of this century.
Theres an age-old battle between
pessimists and optimists. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?
Pessimists say its half-empty and only a starry-eyed dreamer
would think otherwise. Optimists say its half-full and
you only make yourself miserable to think otherwise.
After the last thirty years of research
into this issue, cognitive scientists have gathered enough data
to say who is right. Or rather, which general mode is more practical.
A pessimist and an optimist can argue with more fact and less
opinion these days. Heres how a conversation might go...
SHERRY AND NICK WALKED along the road.
It was autumn. Small gusts of wind were knocking leaves off the
trees ahead of them. Ive never felt so sure of anything
in my whole life, said Sherry, This new business
is the opportunity Ive been looking for!
You shouldnt be too optimistic,
said Nick. He looked serious.
Sherry seemed startled out of her reverie.
Because youre just setting
yourself up for failure and disappointment. He said it
as if it was the most obvious thing there was. If you get
all pumped-up and things dont work out, you might deeply
disappointed, maybe even depressed.
How could I get depressed?
Shes surprised. If I hit a setback, Ill change
my approach and keep trying. Theres no such thing as failure.
Only temporary setbacks. The only way I could fail is to give
up, and Im not going to give up.
But what if you never succeeded?
What if you kept living on hope your whole life and ended up
a failure? What good is optimism then?
Well, whats the alternative,
Nick? Think about it. Whats better than optimism? Being
unhappy? Never really trying anything challenging because youre
afraid of disappointment? The alternative to optimism is pessimism
and pessimism is the road to depression.
Maybe you dont have to be on
either extreme, Sherry. Did you ever think of that? Or do you
think optimism is better than the middle-ground?
I know it is. Optimistic people are
happier, healthier, and more successful.
Lots of studies have been done on
this. And thats what they found out. Its a self-fulfilling
prophecy: If you think you have a chance, youll keep trying.
And if you keep trying, of course, you keep increasing your chances.
But if you dont think you have a chance in hell, you wont
even start, so of course, you cant possibly succeed. If
you hit a setback and think its a small, temporary thing,
youll try to fix it or get past it. If you think its
huge and permanent, you might just give up right there.
Nick has been a pessimist all his life,
but he never thought of himself as a pessimist. He considered
himself a realist. This conversation is getting to
him. He doesnt know why, but it feels like a cherished
religious faith is being attacked. But, he pleads,
if youre too optimistic, you wont see the bad
news coming your way. Pessimistic people actually see reality
more accurately. There are some studies that prove that too!
Your right. Pessimists see reality
more accurately, are more miserable, not as healthy and dont
make as much money. Even if I never dropped into a pessimistic
mood and I do once in awhile but even if I never
thought about what could go wrong, optimism would still be the
best way to go through life.
What makes you say that?
Because what difference does it make
if you avoid more bad stuff in life if, at the same time, you
end up avoiding most of the good stuff too? And you have to admit,
if you arent happy, healthy or successful, youve
missed most of the good stuff in life. Its kind of a second-rate
booby-prize to say, Yes, but I see things more accurately.
They walked on in silence for a long time.
A leaf floated gently down and landed on Nicks shoulder,
balanced there for a second, and fell behind him. He never noticed.
Finally he said, Maybe you have a point. But I dont
think I could become optimistic. Ive been pessimistic my
whole life. I dont think I could change.
Thats kind of pessimistic of
you, isnt it? says Sherry, laughing.
Nick gets the irony of it and smiles. I
guess that could become one of those self-fulfilling prophecies,
Sounds like it to me, says
Sherry, putting her arm over his shoulder.
Maybe I should just give it a try
Thats the spirit!
Hey, you know what? I feel a little
They walk off into the sunset. Music rises
to inspirational tones. The End.
OPTIMISM WORKS. Its a practical,
hardheaded, and realistic approach to life. It works better than
pessimism. Thinking theres no hope doesnt work at