Don't Worry, Be Happy (Sorta)!


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We all have that one friend: he/she always looks on the bright side, with a big smile on their face, and is often heard encouraging others, saying "You can do it if you believe in yourself," "Good things are coming your way," and "Turn that frown upside down!"

And we kind of hate that friend sometimes, right?

People who are overly optimistic can sometimes seem like an annoying pain, especially when we aren't feeling to hot ourselves. However, that might just be the way we're wired. According to 
a May 2011 TIME article, recent studies have shown that humans might just be hardwired to be optimistic. It's not exactly a stretch. Think about it: we often prepare for the worst, but even when we think there is no hope left, we always have that little inkling of a doubt, that maybe things will turn out alright or for our benefit. Now, most times that doesn't happen, but that optimism certainly means something about who we are.

In our lowest points as humans, we are always thinking about a brighter future, whether it be because of our parents' teachings or because we have been told through other avenues (songs like "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac and "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey certainly make a case for optimism). And sometimes, it turns out, the future doesn't get any better. In fact, it could even get worse. But as humans, we believe that isn't true. A study showed that 70% of families were concerned about their current state, but 76% were also optimistic about the future of their family.

These optimistic outlooks can range in size: it can be something as small as not taking an umbrella even though the clouds look eerie, or as big as sizing up your odds for a job promotion while others are much more qualified. It's just something we can't help, and that is the science that confounds researchers. We can't quite explain why it is that people will always look on the bright side of life. 

What we do know is that this kind of behavior may not always be safe, as evidenced in this article. Imagine a drug addict, someone who has been exposed to dangerous toxins for many years. Surely, drug addicts are not thinking about the worst, but rather the best: that they are able to maintain a healthy life and enjoy their habit. But that isn't always necessarily true. One incident, even as mundane as smoking a cigarette, can change the course of a life. Thus, optimism becomes something no one could have possibly suspected: an enemy. Sure, it is great to think that not putting on sunscreen will make your tan look "totally super awesome like OMG shoes." but you could end up with sun poisoning, which is "totally NOT super awesome like OMG shoes." In a way, the optimism becomes a form of pessimism, not exactly expected.

Still, that doesn't mean we should always think about the worst. We would be completely paranoid. Imagine a world where people weren't always thinking about good consequences, but always bad ones. Not a fun place to live. Instead, it is good to maintain a healthy balance. It's okay to be optimistic sometimes, but not if it means putting yourself at risk. So maybe that friend who has that smile slapped on his/her face at all times has got it wrong.

And isn't that something to be optimistic about?

3 Comments

Maybe we are optimistic because of genetics and evolution. For example if a guy is totally pessimistic, he won't have confidence in anything he is doing and thus won't be able to get laid and pass on his genes. Yet at the same time being overly pessimistic can be a disease because it can cause depression. When people are depressed we give them anti-depression pills as a way to "correct" them into becoming more optimistic. Besides, if your not optimistic, you can't be successful, because if you assume something will fail before you do it, you most likely won't do it. It's that extra push that makes humanity the successful race that we are, and without it we might have become extinct a long time ago.

I agree that it's essential to have a fine balance between optimism and pessimism, as long as neither side overlooks realism. As a generally happy person, I still take the time to reflect on what I could make better in my life and how to fix it. Dwelling on the happiness is bound to pull anyone in depression, and even if some are less well off than others, I've seen people who have next to nothing who are surprisingly optimistic.
However, I disagree that many drug abusers are optimistic and think they won't harm themselves. Many people who turn to drugs do it as a last resort because they want to escape from their lives. A study with more than 20,000 participants showed that 50% of drug abusers also had some sort of mental disorder such as anxiety disorder or depression. Thus, they may turn to drugs not because they're optimistic about their health, but because they're desperate.

Source: http://rf-web.tamu.edu/security/security%20guide/Eap/Drugs.htm#Why%20People%20Abuse%20Drugs

I feel the example of drug use here is more about rationalization. I myself often rationalize my worst habits or decisions I am about to make, to free myself of guilt over making a mistake. I don't think addicts are being optimistic by saying "I can function AND smoke meth twice a day!" It's a childish way of avoiding guilt and having to change behaviors.

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