Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm Feeling Optimistic

Lately I've fallen into the habit of separating the reasonable optimists from the insane ones. Reasonable optimists include those who built a playground in the middle of the Iowa City Ped Mall, or those who take on an attitude of "whatever comes our way, we can handle it." Reasonable optimists seek to be productive. I typically think of those optimists who think that they will get whatever they want, even if the odds are against them, as the insane ones. These are the people who think that even though the sticker price says 120K, they can get a house for 100K. Recently, however, I'm rethinking my conceptualizations of optimism.

Did you know that optimists such as the insane ones that I reference above are actually more likely than non-optimists to get what they want?

Optimism, even when it appears unreasonable, actually plays an important role in the quality of life, even beyond the general happiness that comes from a positive attitude. People who are certain that they will succeed in their endeavors tend to try harder to get what they want and tend not to give up as easily as people who do not think that they will succeed.

Positivity can actually improve health as well! We've all heard of the placebo effect: a person thinks he's taken a miracle pill, which is actually a sugar pill, and he becomes healthier because he thinks that this miracle pill will help him. The placebo effect really isn't that different from the optimistic attitudes that some people naturally take on. When sick, those who think that they will recover do so more frequently than those who don't.

I don't think of myself as an optimist. If you read my last post, you'll see that I was not feeling very optimistically about our living situation. After recent conversations revolving around the world economy and seeing the bleak economic outlooks on the news, I found myself trying to decide whether or not to worry. I asked my psychologist if I should worry. She stopped me in my tracks to explain to me about the research surrounding optimism, which I paraphrased above.

Once I started to think about it, I realized that I am sometimes optimistic about certain things. I'm optimistic about aging. I cannot wait to be 30, and better yet 60 because I am so convinced that life can only get better the longer that a person has to learn how to approach it properly. Though, obviously, some people age more gracefully than others. Perhaps the difference is attitude?

Also, I am optimistic about my marriage. Owen and I believe that we will have a very happy life together, which has helped us through a difficult nine months of married life. Together, we've faced Owen's disillusionment from the idea that all of life's problems would melt away after getting married, and my struggle to find significance as life revolves around Owen's education. Our optimism has given us strength, a sense of humor, and continued excitement for daily life and the future.

Right now Owen and I are in the process of reading The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman. We like this particular marriage book because it's based on empirical evidence gathered from years of comparing happy couples to unhappy couples. We haven't read too much of it yet, but so far I am finding it worthwhile, and I plan on writing up a sort of book report for the blog when I'm finished.

According to Gottman, contempt kills marriage. Contempt stems from having such a negative view of your partner that you think that everything he or she does is wrong, and you take a moral high ground against his or her actions. Contempt sounds similar to pessimism. If contempt is a marriage killer could optimism be a marriage redeemer?

We cannot deny that optimism comes easier to some than others. Actually, I usually enjoy pessimism very much. I get caught in the loop of thinking that pessimism is just realism with a negative connotation. Pessimism is edgy and cool. Yet, the enjoyment that I find in pessimism tends to be self-centered. When I'm being pessimistic I tend to think that I know more about life than most everyone else. When I'm feeling optimistic on the other hand, I appreciate people more. I find that if I focus on those things that I am naturally optimistic about, such as aging and marriage, I feel more comfortable being optimistic about other things like finances and health.

I'm feeling optimistic today. It feels good.

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