The other night after some disappointing channel surfing, we “fell upon” (as the French would say) a reportage about optimism. All I could think was, “I’ve got to see what this is all about.” So we settled in to try to understand why, in this rich, beautiful country, so many inhabitants seem to be at one end of the spectrum, pessimistic, and at the other, downright depressed.
I ran for my notebook and started jotting down information as quickly as I could. Unlike the circumstances of an interview I didn’t have the luxury of asking the television to “please repeat” so what I wrote and what I remember is incomplete, but still interesting I think.
When, by all rational indicators — no serious problems — life is good there is often a general malaise that seeps into the psyche it seems. Perhaps it’s the world we live in, perhaps it’s a rational way to live, perhaps it’s intelligent to pose existential questions or perhaps human nature is in some way perverse. I have no idea and even the psychologists participating in the program were challenged by the reality. Still, they unanimously agreed that living in a constant state of pessimism is neither productive nor joy inducing.
Let me slip in a little disclaimer on my part: I think all of those cute positive reinforcement quotes and slogans may be helpful for some — and why not(?) — but largely, that’s not my thing. Then one of the experts quoted Milan Kundra, the Czechoslovakian-born French writer, and I thought: “That’s more like it.”
“Je préfère vivre en optimiste et me tromper, que vivre en pessimiste pour la seule satisfaction d’avoir eu raison.” Milan Kundera (“I prefer to live as an optimist and be wrong, than to live as a pessimist for the sole satisfaction of being right.”)
If we fill our brains with pessimism, which transmits a conscious or an unconscious negativity in the way we conduct our lives, what a depressing self-fulfilling prophecy.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it is already true.
It seems to me in that case that we have made a choice: We expect — and worse, accept — that life is largely filled with disappointments and unfulfilled dreams.
Below are some of what the experts suggested we do to recalibrate our attitudes:
- We need others.
- One day at a time toward goals.
- Obstacles are inevitable, jump over them.
- Renounce/talk yourself out of doubts — consciously.
- Have projects.
- As parents model optimism and joy with actions, words are never enough although the two together are an excellent idea.
- In every way possible, take charge of our destiny. Otherwise we are a cork on the sea and circumstances dictate our lives. We feel out of control and ultimately helpless and unhappy.
- Clearly define desires and then set out to fulfill them. They probably have nothing to do with “things.” Decide to believe they’re possible.
- Optimism engenders confidence. (You can see where that leads.)
- Every day, before walking through the door to our homes in the evening or opening the curtains to a new morning, stop and think of the good in your life. This naturally launches the possibility for optimism and graphically makes the argument against rigid pessimism.
Finally, here comes that old standard: “Fake it ’til you make it.”
The experts unanimously pointed out that “pretending” to be an optimist is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What do you think?