Optimism: Be a Light in the Darkness

harry potter optimism

Optimism. Sounds like a dirty word. That bright-eyed, Kingdom Hearts nonsense doesn’t belong in the real world, right? Only a rose colored glasses-wearing fool would turn a blind eye to all of the problems and strife of the world. Pessimism is totally where it’s at. There are chemtrails, Illuminati, Donald Trump, Reptoids, an economy on the verge of collapse, and crappy localization of Nintendo 3DS RPGs to worry about! Surely, those glass-half-full people are just idiots with their heads in the sand.

But what if they were onto something?

Hell in a Handbasket

There seems to be so much to legitimately feel depressed or pessimistic about. Every day our Facebook news feeds deliver more stories of conflict in the Middle East, mosquito-born pestilence in Brazil, a presidential race that has resorted to literal dick measuring, terrorism, rising hate crimes against both minorities and LGBT people, and a world of mounting economic hardship (for millennials in particular!). The downer moods aren’t helped when you drift to the comment sections and see enough cancerous comments that you feel like you need to receive chemotherapy. At some point, you’ll probably opine that 1984 or Idiocracy are morphing from fiction to fact!

optimism futurama

Make no mistake, there is much suffering, hardship, and calamity in the world today. To deny that would be not only foolish, but extremely disrespectful to those affected by the world’s problems. Every life lost or damaged is a tragedy. The world will look especially dark to someone who lost a loved one in a terrorist attack, saw their job shipped overseas, or fell victim to a hate-fueled assault. You cannot deny those people the painful emotions they feel. Misfortunes should not be ignored nor forgotten, after all, things can not improve without that awareness.

What Good News?

Despite the endless flurry of bad news we seem to find ourselves in though, there is a lot to feel excited and positive about. Reports deadly conflict are heartbreaking, but did you know that the number of high intensity conflicts have dropped by more than half since the end of the Cold War? Reports of the Zika virus or Ebola sound terrifying, but in the twentieth century, numerous deadly diseases have been eradicated by vaccines and advances in medical science? The West Africa Ebola epidemic of 2014, considered to be one of the worst outbreaks, was successfully contained in less than a year. Within the United States, deaths from heart disease and stroke have fallen by more than half. Global poverty and famine remain a continuing tragedy, but the number of people living in extreme poverty is projected to fall below 10% of the world’s population.

Plus, if you’re a tech nerd like me, there’s always something to be excited about. Make your jokes about people being glued to their smartphones, but consider for a moment that our mobile devices give us instant access to that great summation of human knowledge and experience, the Internet, in the palm of our hands. Replacement organs will soon be just a 3D print away. Development of virtual reality technology (and the accompanying price drops) bring us one step closer to Star Trek’s holodeck. Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak may be a reality in our lifetime. The health tracker Cue promises ailment checks at home, sparing us WebMD hysteria.

Why don’t we hear about all of these amazing happenings? Simple: Bad news sells. An outbreak of deadly Legionnaire’s disease in California generates ratings and clicks, successful containment doesn’t. When network and cable news alike must compete with sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows for eyeballs on advertisements, or when headlines have to catch interest on a crowded Facebook/Twitter feed, sensational doomsaying is the method of choice. Even worse, a continual cycle of bad news can contribute to depression symptoms. A negativity bias is fueled, positive stories are filtered out, and pessimistic attitudes are constantly reaffirmed.

optimism Eeyore disney
Pictured: Consumer of the modern news cycle

Optimism: Good for the Inside and the Out

Time for a sensational claim of my own: That pessimistic attitude about life and the world could be slowly killing you. Or, to look at it from a brighter perspective, you can improve your health and wellbeing today with incredible, edible optimism. Having a positive attitude does more than simply putting a smile on your face, though. Like meditation, an optimistic outlook boasts numerous benefits for physical and mental health. In a study conducted by a group of heart surgeons, 309 patients admitted for artery bypass surgery were given a psychological evaluation to determine if they held a positive or negative outlook on life. Over an observation period of six months, it was determined the pessimistic patients were nearly twice as likely to require additional hospitalization as the optimists. A study at Quebec’s Concordia University determined optimists produce lower levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone,’ which means lower risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Outside of your mind and body, optimism brings even more benefits. A Duke University study found that MBA graduates who hold optimistic attitudes spend less time and effort searching for jobs and receive job offers more quickly. The researchers surmised that those who anticipate favorable outcomes are put into a better mood, which makes them more personable and charismatic. That, of course, makes them more appealing candidates for jobs and promotions. That same principle applies to our social lives as well. Face it, people want to be around someone who is friendly and personable. An optimistic attitude can cultivate new friendships, relationships, and connections as well as strengthen existing ones. It’s a victorious circle. By expecting good things to happen, you will them to happen.

optimism godzilla
And Godzilla said, “Let there be awesome!”

Turn that Frown Upside Down

One can’t conjure a bright and shiny disposition overnight of course. So, here are a few tips for changing classes from cynic to optimist:

  • Cut the criticism and negative thoughts. Think positive thoughts about yourself and others, even if you have to scrounge to find the good things.
  • Examine your own philosophical or religious beliefs about the world and your purpose in it. Get your navel gazing on.
  • Comparing yourself to others only creates strife where there was none before. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday.
  • Try to find the good in any situation, even if it’s the fact you’re still standing after your world comes crashing down around you. Journaling about it helps.
  • Give your body some love. Focus on improving your physical fitness, diet, and personal hygiene.
  • Give your mind a workout, too. Seek out something new to learn, whether it be a new skill, some interesting facts, or getting to know friends or family better,
  • When undertaking a challenge, focus your efforts towards a positive outcome (even if it isn’t victory). Never expect defeat.
  • For the love of Talos, never read the comment section on a news article. That’s just asking for high blood pressure.

Try some optimism in your hectic, day to day life. The world we live in is far from perfect, that’s obvious. But, it just takes a few people with the belief that things can be better and will be better to begin making positive changes. Even if your improved attitude doesn’t inspire a society-changing social movement, a little bit of stress relief is always worth it.

And for the last time, no, the world is not on a course to becoming Idiocracy.

optimism idiocracy
Sorry, can’t reference Idiocracy without including this xkcd comic.

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