Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 May

Are Humans Hard-Wired to Be Optimistic?

If you ask most people, they’ll pretty much agree that optimism is better than pessimism. Oh, you might get one or two who laugh at the cockeyed optimists and their naivete about the world and its harsh, grim realities, but when you get down to it, optimists feel good about their lot in life, while pessimists feel bad about where they and the world are headed. Feeling good is a good, desirable state of being. Feeling bad about the future, well, just feels bad. Which would you rather experience?

Exactly.

As they’re popularly understood, optimists are the glass half-fullers, the ones who sit in front of a full length mirror in a lime green cardigan uttering daily self-affirmations that may or may not have basis in reality. Pessimists are often seen as realists, as people who see the world for what it is and make the requisite prudent decisions based on that insight. If you asked a random person (or asked a random person to write an op-ed) who would be more likely to be successful (however you want to measure it) – an optimist or a pessimist? – that person would likely answer “the pessimist.” Optimists, you see, are too happy go lucky. They see nothing wrong with the world and have no desire to change that which is fine and dandy. They don’t plan for difficult times. They don’t save. The “biggest movers and shakers” of the status quo, however, were and are pessimists, because they are wholly dissatisfied with the status quo and seek to change things. Or something like that.

The truth is that most people are optimists. Even a nation’s people whose leaders are corrupt, whose natural resources have been sold to the highest bidder and whose natural environment has been laid to waste and ruin ranks as the world’s most optimistic. I’d even argue that we’re hard-wired for optimism. We must be, given our immense capacity for and reliance on forethought. You see, if an animal has the ability to plan ahead, to think about the distant future and modify its behavior based on that forethought, the animal needs to be an optimist. Humans can do all those things, and if we simply assumed the future was dark and full of terrors and that we’d crash and burn and fail miserably, we wouldn’t have left the caves, explored the savannah, left Africa, or approached the scary-looking glowing embers that radiated heat and burnt your hand if you went too close after a lightning storm. Optimism, then, enabled our progression as a species. Now, you (and I) might say that our “progress” has more than a few downsides, but the fact remains: here we are. We’re the products of millions of years of daring and optimism.

Humans are pretty unique like that.

Bird migration to warmer climes may look like planning for the coming winter, but they’re really just genetically programmed to respond to changing day length. It isn’t conscious planning. Some animals may be able to plan for the immediate future, like apes, who can assess a situation, leave the room, and come back with the right tool for the job, but it’s not planning for the distant future. It’s not gazing across a watery horizon and thinking – nay, knowing – that some wondrous land full of riches and resources lies beyond it.

Our heroes are, well, heroes. We look up to people with courage and derring-do. Explorers, warriors, heretics, revolutionaries – these people face death and oppression and danger, and we admire them for it. And ultimately, aren’t they the strongest kind of optimists? They acknowledge the chance that they’ll be killed or arrested or silenced and still decide to go for it. That’s courage, sure, but it also means they think things will turn out well. They think, deep down, that they’re going to come out on top and survive it all. If that ain’t optimism, I don’t what it is.

And those are the people we universally laud, to whose accomplishments we aspire. They’re cool, they’re ideal. “I want to be just like Steve Jobs/Amelia Earhart/Bruce Lee/that dude who keeps bringing home the fresh antelope after every hunt,” people say. That tells me there might be some innate component to our optimism. And whenever there’s an innate trait or behavior, I look at it a little harder. I start to think there might be something to it after all. Is there?

Well, neuroscientist Tali Sharot certainly thinks so. Her research has uncovered the “optimism bias,” one of the “most consistent, prevalent, and robust biases documented in psychology and behavioral economics.” Sharot speculates that “optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival.” That optimists live longer and are generally healthier than pessimists bolsters this idea. The virtual omnipresence of optimists among humanity does, too.

But as is the case with so many of our genetic proclivities originating in millennia past, the modern world presents a challenge to our genes. The world is much bigger, much more interconnected than ever before. There are millions of paths to success, but the potential to make a terrible decision has gone up as well. Unbridled optimism can be irrational, and that may have been “okay” twenty, thirty-thousand years ago, because there just wasn’t as much trouble to get into back then. Today, though, irrational optimism can break you. It can cause financial woes, convince you that everything will turn out when in fact it (obviously) won’t. “Extreme optimists,” as detailed in a paper entitled “Optimism and economic choice,” tend to display “financial habits and behavior that are generally not considered prudent.” (PDF)

Despite the obvious danger of irrational optimism in a world of endless choice and opportunity (for ruin or for gain), most evidence suggests that modern “moderate” optimists are still better off than modern pessimists. They save more money, live longer, have better health outcomes, perform better, and enjoy greater resistance to stressors (as indicated by the levels of stress cytokines released in response to stress) than pessimists. Pessimists, on the other hand, are more likely to be clinically depressed. They’re more likely to be diagnosed with dementia, later in life. There are exceptions, of course. Pessimistic law students get better grades, are more likely to make law review, and received better job offers after graduation (unfortunately, lawyers are also the most likely profession to be depressed).

I think Art De Vany’s “No failure, just feedback” is the perfect encapsulation of the optimal optimist outlook. When the optimist fails at something, he or she doesn’t go “well, that’s that” and morph into a lifelong pessimist. They bounce back. They try again, this time taking into account what worked and what didn’t the previous time. They learn from their mistakes and their partial success, because an optimist realizes that things aren’t black and white. Failures aren’t total failures. There are bright sides, little glimmers of success from which helpful data can be gleaned. That’s what optimism is, and that’s what humans are best at.

The good news is that since you’re human, you’re probably wired to be an optimist. So when life throws its worst at you, you’re still likely to be able to see the silver lining. Remember that next time you face something that appears insurmountable; overcoming an illness or injury, losing a substantial amount of weight, reclaiming your health and vitality. It can be done. You can do it. And it all begins with you believing so.

Thanks for reading today. Let me know what you think in the comment board. Is your glass half full or half empty?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I am definitely an optimist. Having a negative outlook narrows your options in life. Instead of thinking, What if… The pessimist tends to shoot down ideas before they have been fully considered. For those that struggle with thinking outside the box and general pessimistic thinking, I highly recommend the book The Art of Possibility– such a wonderful and helpful read, even for born optimists!

    Ariana wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Wow I just came from this site that was talking about how we often seek happiness in the flow of life but life by its nature is uncertain so happiness can only come from one’s attitude to life. Spooky synchronicity. I look at life differently depending on what is happening. its easier for me to be optimistic when things are going reasonably well or I am feeling strong inside but much harder when I am weakened by a stream of life’s challenges.

      The message for me tonight is to be more aware of how my attitude to what is happening at any particular time will determine the quality of that particular moment.

      SimplyPrimal wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • I agree that attitude is everything. I seem to continually come across this quote in a number of books and online articles – perhaps the universe is attempting to direct my attention to the truth of it. I’m not sure who the author is however.

        “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I’ve come that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.”

        Optimism is a higher conscious state of mind. You are wiring your brain to naturally orient itself toward positive outcomes – where attention goes, energy flows!

        Tony wrote on May 10th, 2012
  2. Optimism is a form of creativity, and we humans are a creative lot. I takes a certain amount of creative spirit sometimes to see that bright side or silver lining, but the satisfaction from finding it, just like the satisfaction from completing a work of art, is very, well, satisfying!

    Debra wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • ‘Optimism is a form of creativity’ – how true. And what a great way to look at it.

      Alison Golden - PaleoNonPaleo wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • and optimistic way to look at optimism lol love it :-)

        primalpal wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating” – John Cleese

      liberty1776 wrote on May 10th, 2012
  3. The glass is always full. #Air

    Dave wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • lol that’s so true. I guess the guy who came up with that analogy wasn’t of the scientific persuasion :-)

      TokyoJarrett wrote on May 13th, 2012
  4. I’d love to be an optimist but the best I can do is be optimistic that as the world hurtles faster and faster into a hell of natural disasters, famine, pandemic, totalitarianism vs anarchy, etc. over the next couple decades, Primal will help me survive. If you think otherwise about the future, yeah, I think you are naive.

    Harry Mossman wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I can understand that view Harry, though it’s very well argued otherwise in The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (starts with some excellent observations on early human history too!).

      I can’t recommend that book enough! Robb Wolf is a big fan as well.

      RedYetiDave wrote on May 10th, 2012
  5. Excellent post, Mark. I’ve often believed that people often become what they envision themselves to be, and that they are often the single biggest obstacle between their reality and their goals.

    The power of positive thinking is remarkable.

    Mike wrote on May 10th, 2012
  6. I’m often pessimistic. It is more than likely caused by the type of work that I do. I definitely do try my very best to be optimistic as much as possible. I fight back the pessimism as often as I can, although it is always a nagging thought at the back of my mind. I do find optimism a much better character trait :)

    Metric wrote on May 10th, 2012
  7. In everything, it is what you make of it.

    Individually, taking control and being personally accountable is the best way to stay optimistic.

    Bryan wrote on May 10th, 2012
  8. I am an optimist, my husband is extremely optimistic, a son who is a bubble of fun but we have another son who is not at all. The glass is often half empty. I really see the depressive outlook when he has eaten poorly. I hope this is a growth process and once he is an adult more in control of his world, he will take the bull by the horns and make it his own. Focusing on our weaknesses and tension relief rather than goal achievement go a long way towards negativity. But what comes first – the negative mindset or the negative result which produces the mindset?

    Alison Golden - PaleoNonPaleo wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • It is interesting to see where nature and nurture collide. As a parent I feel that we need to give our kids the tools to foster optimism, and it can be tough. I am not for a minute suggesting this is your experience with your child, but as my 3 boys grew into men, I saw plenty of their peers lack resilience as there lives were micromanaged by their parents, often mum, so they had little opportunity to experience setbacks (feedback), learn from that and move on. A lot of the time I was on my own, (husband at sea), and I felt that giving the kids control over parts of their life (age appropriate), gave them confidence resilience, and a good outlook. Having said that, when I gave up sugar mid last year I was almost euphoric! Fructose is a depressant, and what are young kids downing by the gallon? Coke!

      Heather wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Great post, Alison! I love the last two sentances!

      Candace wrote on May 11th, 2012
  9. I recall a Farside strip outlining the 4 ways people view a glass:

    1) The optimist: The glass if half full.

    2) The pessimist: The glass is half empty.

    3) The unsure: The glass is half full. No wait, half empty…

    4) The average joe: I thought I ordered a cheeseburger!

    liberty1776 wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • 5) The engineer: The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

      Martin_B wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • 6) ME: hooray there’s room for vodka!

        DDR1008 wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • The opportunist: “to bad, while you were debating, I drank the glass of water”

      Simone wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • *too bad*

        Simone wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • The Realist: it’s at 50% folks.

      Lex wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • The Sociopath: I just peed in the glass, and I don’t feel bad about it at all! Haw!

        Just Me wrote on May 16th, 2012
  10. “To a worm in horseradish the world is horseradish”

    Alex wrote on May 10th, 2012
  11. I disagree with that a realist is a subset of pessimism. Clearly optomism and pessimism are a binary opposite.

    Conflating realism with pessimism is not good. A realist can fall anywhere in between and can be either optimistic or pessimistic depending on the event, situation, circumstances, conditions, etc.

    The stock market, specifically the DJIA, is one of the best records of human sentiment because it reflects social mood. Socionomics, not to be confused with socio-economics, uses the premise that nature is fractal, humans are part of nature, therefore humans exhibit fractal waves of optimism and pessism. Interesting stuff!

    liberty1776 wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Agreed! Being realistic does not mean that you see the glass as half empty. I think realism is a healthy and necessary. When you see something in life that is not working and acknowledge it you are being realistic. Not letting it get you down and not seeing it as an unchangeable situation is being optomistic.

      FoCo wrote on May 10th, 2012
  12. Glass is always half full. If it wasn’t, i’d suspect a small black hole had formed in the glass. Unlikely.

    Nionvox wrote on May 10th, 2012
  13. I listened to some amazing TED talks last week on NPR about happiness and optimism, here’s one http://www.npr.org/2012/04/27/151361554/what-makes-us-happy
    (you can download it onto your MP3 from Sci Fri) The premise of the talk/research was, even when humans don’t get what they want, they tend to rationalize the outcome toward the positive. What’s more interesting about the research is they found that people are better at rationalizing and finding an optimistic outcome when they perceived that they had no choice (e.g. losing an election) versus having a choice (e.g. choosing between two things they like equally). The TED talks aren’t just fascinating, they’re expertly presented and entertaining.

    BootstrapsOnMyFivefingers wrote on May 10th, 2012
  14. Interesting article Mark. Perhaps we are all hardwired that way. I wonder where the line is between “blind optimism” and real optimism? And what about all the pessimistic news that’s pounded into us every day? Bad news sells. And it’s easy to get caught up in it. And much of it is real. North Americans have too much food, too big houses, too much money. Europe is being consumed by debt. There is plenty of food to go around, yet millions go without every day while our dinner plates are heaped full. Global warming. On and on. Perhaps the optimism I see is our children are being educated to become “thinkers” rather than “builders” of the previous generations. Perhaps they will have rewarding challenges of changing the world for the better.

    Steve wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I believe our children are being taught to become experiencers not thinkers – big difference. Most children that I talk to can’t think using logic. But they can tell you that the way they “feel” is “thought.”

      That leads me to be a pessimist.

      Barbara Hvilivitzky wrote on May 10th, 2012
  15. Hey Mark, I don’t get this part of your post today and I quote you:

    “Our heroes are, well, heroes. We look up to people with courage and derring-do. Explorers, warriors, HERETICS (my caps), revolutionaries – these people face death and oppression and danger, and we admire them for it. And ultimately, aren’t they the strongest kind of optimists?”

    Why should I admire “heretics?” This has no place in a very interesting post about optimists. As a Catholic I resent this intrusion here. I don’t admire heretics and if you do I’d appreciate it if you kept this to yourself in a health blog. Thanks.

    Barbara Hvilivitzky wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I seriously doubt Mark meant “heretics” in the narrow, technical religious sense, more in the sense of those who doubt received or conventional wisdom.

      As an atheist, I resent you reading far more than was intended into the casual use of a word and trying to censor Mark as a result. He can write what he likes on his own blog.

      Ridiculous overreaction, much?

      Tricia wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • Religion is not a necessary component of the term Heresy or Heretics.

        Metric wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • Wasn’t Issac Newton branded a heretic?

        Heather wrote on May 10th, 2012
        • Maybe by Liebnitz. You’re probably thinking of Galileo, who came quite a bit before–which is, incidentally, why he had such trouble getting his views accepted. Without Newton’s Theory of Gravity, nobody (churched or otherwise) thought much of the idea that the world was spinning–because without knowledge of gravity, what was to keep anything not nailed-down from just flying off?

          Bennett wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • And even though it were meant in the religious sense, everyone (even the catholics) is someone else’s heretic…

      Ophelie wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Jesus was a heretic at the time. All those who started your church were heretics back then. Being a heretic takes courage and optimism, whether they are heretics you agree with or not. Clearly you are a pessimist, evidenced by your first response being negative and not looking on the bright side of heretics.

      Stephanie wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Heretics are awesome

      ZenBowman wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Barbara, come on. I don’t want to offend you, but the term “heretic” has long passed into common usage as a general term for any person who goes against orthodoxy. No reason whatsoever to jump in anyone’s face about its usage in this context.

      Felix wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I resent your intrusion. The website is called Mark’s Daily Apple, not Barbara’s Daily Apple. I think he can write about whatever the heck he wants.

      Nick wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • +1

        Sabrina wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Hey Barbara,

      instead of feeling entitled to have Mark take care of your feelings for you – on his website, no less – how about you take care of your own feelings, like an adult?

      Jeffrey of Troy wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Why should you admire “heretics?” Because they liberate themselves and others from the entrenched dogma to live their own lives as they choose free from the suffering of self imposed subjugation to others.

      Freedom is a horrible thing and is not for the weak or timid, it forces you to think with your own brain and make your own decisions. Many people don’t want that and will go to great lengths to avoid it, and will do crazy things like invent religions and vote for some other human to lead them through life & constantly tell them what to do all their lives because thinking & being responsible for yourself is HARD! It makes you tired & gives you a headache, and once feel like doing your own thinking you have to do it all the time for the rest of your life, it’s HORRIBLE!!

      Sheesh! Yeah, that’s too much work & brain damage. Now I agree with you, DON’T admire heretics!

      conrack wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • MDA isn’t just a health blog, it’s a life blog.

      Most of us here who have embraced the Primal alternative to SAD are heretics in the eyes of the medical establishment and other powers-that-be.

      You are an a$$ as well as a pessimist.

      Hillside Gina wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Martin Luther: a “heretic” who is my hero. ;-)

      Leah H wrote on May 10th, 2012
  16. I’m very pessimistic, therefore my life is full of pleasant surprises! At least, it has been up to now, but knowing my luck, that’s going to change any time soon…

    Chaiku wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • The epitome of irony…

      Nicely done.

      Bryan wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • When life sticks it’s hands out to you and offers you peace joy happiness good health contentment & fulfillment in one hand and a shit sandwich in the other, DON’T choose, take or settle for the shit sandwich, but if you do, DON’T play the pitiful victim or blame it on others.

        conrack wrote on May 10th, 2012
  17. The book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman is great and I highly recommend it. He is a psychologist who has worked to create the field of positive psychology and this is a great read. It has been a while since I read it, but as the title implies, optimism is a SKILL that can be learned and cultivated. He also writes about how both optimism and pessimism are appropriate outlooks depending on the situation.

    Matt wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Martin Seligman is not a scientist, but he likes to pretend he is. What was the dogs’ explanatory style?

      A much better book is Confidence: how winning and losing streaks begin and end, by Harvard Business prof Rosabeth Moss Kanter. The winner’s mentality wants to know all the facts, good and bad, so as to know what to do to produce the desired result.

      Jeffrey of Troy wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • Since when is a psychologist that does research – published in peer reviewed journals – not a scientist? You do not have to do research on atoms, or stars, to be a scientist. Measuring and reporting how brains work in different controlled conditions is a valid science, just as drug studies are. Potentially more valid.

        How is a business professor more scientific – or better? Didn’t Ed Deiner just win the Nobel Prize for positive psychology – the field that Seligman helped to start? But I guess that isn’t science ….

        I’m glad for the optimistic people out there that don’t’ use narrow, meaningless labels. Doing good is doing good.

        thomjen wrote on May 10th, 2012
        • Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in Economics yet Ludwig von Mises is still unknown…

          liberty1776 wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Don’t ask for references, I am nowhere near my library right now….there are several studies that indicate that people with mild depression tend to make more accurate appraisals of reality.

      BUT, these appraisals don’t always serve the individual well. Sometime seeing the optimistic possibilities in a given situation serves as a good motivator for positive change.

      rarebird wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I absolutely agree. What is Mark in the field of nutrition is Dr. Seligman in the field of optimism/pessimism. Both are giants in their own subject.

      einstein wrote on May 14th, 2012
  18. I once heard it explained that if an optimist and a pessimist end up in the same place, the optimist will have had a better time getting there. Why not enjoy all we can?

    Jeff wrote on May 10th, 2012
  19. The glass is half empty – we still have half a glass to work with!

    james wrote on May 10th, 2012
  20. Nice, love this post.

    I think I am in love with you, in a totally no-homo way of course.

    ZenBowman wrote on May 10th, 2012
  21. “an optimist knows things could be much, much worse.” (unknown)

    Ophelie wrote on May 10th, 2012
  22. To hell with Optimists and Pessimists, I am an Opportunist. While the other 2 pontificate on the half full half empty point of view, I snagged the glass, drank it and put it back before they noticed.

    Those who dare, win!

    warmbear wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Ha! Funny.

      But also, more seriously, Opportunists sound neither cooperative nor nice. I don’t think I’d want to invite you round my house. Or to have you on my team, where you’d take all the credit from the rest of us.

      (Does this make me a pessimist?)

      Violet wrote on May 10th, 2012
  23. The glass has a hole in it. 110% pessimist here.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on May 10th, 2012
  24. I was for most of my life skeptical of blind optimism and I still am. It’s the realistic optimist that I admire. The guy who knows and understands all of the challenges and has taken his lumps, yet he keeps his eye on the goal. He doesn’t ignore his problems/obstacles (blind optimism). Rather, he addresses them with solutions and moves upward and onward while giving more attention to his success. That is the kind of optimist I strive to be.

    Pilgrim wrote on May 10th, 2012
  25. I tend toward optimism, but I keep it real. I don’t wear rose-colored glasses, but I also don’t expect the worst. I prepare for the worst but I believe that the best is possible.

    mars wrote on May 10th, 2012
  26. R’hllor and the Starks would disagree with you, Mark.

    Primal Texas wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Ha! YES!

      Lorii wrote on May 10th, 2012
  27. Pessimists spend all day building cages of dispair around them and go “See! I’m trapped!”

    I think one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that their environment isn’t static. In fact, almost everything is dynamic and responds to how you interact with it.

    Put a frown on all day and you’ll see to see a lot of other people frowning back.

    Be passive and complacent and a lot of things start to deteriorate and go bad.

    Optimism isn’t naivety since its should be solidly rooted with reality. But I believe optimism is to have hope during uncertainty and to always do your best regardless of what you think the outcome will be.

    At the end, you can complain that something has 50% chance of failure and win 0% of the time or you can play the odds and win 50% of the time.

    Great post, Mark.

    Swole Mike wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • “Pessimists spend all day building cages of dispair around them and go “See! I’m trapped!”

      Love your response Mike.

      mars wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • Would be better if I can start spelling properly! :)

        Swole Mike wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Now that is a powerful statement about pessimism! I think it perfectly defines the eternal pessimists I know, and it certainly rings true for when I hold my personal all-out pity parties for myself!

      Kim wrote on May 12th, 2012
  28. Barbara,
    I, for one, completely understand and appreciate the value of the heretic and also can see the appropriateness of the example in this discussion. The heretic is unafraid to question the common practice (much like the primal eater questions conventional wisdom on health choices)of organized religion. The very word “heretic” comes from the greek meaning of “Choice”. Also, since this is America, Mark is gifted with the freedom of speech and is unable to control the emotional results his views have on his readers.

    Blake Flaherty wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I too Wikipedia’d the word “Heretics”, just to be sure.

      Nick wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • To be be fair, explorers, warriors, revolutionaries, heretics, and so on can be good or evil. I don’t think the native people of the Americas were too glad to see “explorers” and “warriors” on the horizon, and the USSR started as “revolutionaries” and tried their darndest to spread it. Heretics of various stripes have ignited religious wars because they value ideology over humans (see mid-late 16th century German history, for example).

        Just believing something other than the norm doesn’t make you right or wrong, nor is courage a superior virtue to, say, wisdom or compassion. Sometimes, as Chesterton put it, the boldest and most revolutionary stance is actually to stick to orthodoxy (which literally means ‘right belief’), when standing in the wind of popular change.

        After all, the guys who brought lard, processed grains, and sugar to the indigents of various colonized lands were certainly explorers offering a revolution, and I bet the folks who thought that sticking to ancestral ways of life were branded as hopelessly backward and standing in the way of progress.

        If you don’t know where the boat’s headed, making great time isn’t necessarily a good thing.

        Bennett wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • I Googled her name on etymonline.com

        “Barbara, fem. proper name, from Latin, fem. of barbarus “strange, foreign, barbarous,” from Gk. barbaros (see barbarian). Popularized as a Christian name by the legend of Saint Barbara, early 4c. martyr, (heretic??) whose cult was popular from 7c.”

        HA!

        conrack wrote on May 10th, 2012
  29. I believe optimism or pessimism are determined by nutrition, climate, latitude and altitude.

    Sure, I’d be depressed if a meteor hurls down on top of my hut, or if a flood wipes out my local elk supply, but who wouldn’t?

    I was severely depressed as a teenager growing up in rainy, grey Germany at sea level.
    I now live in a sunny, dry high elevation desert climate and I’ve never been happier.
    Maybe my 50% middle eastern descent has something to do with that…

    Most of us aren’t geologically where we are supposed to be to feel 100% happy. There is a tribe in China (small, 4 feet tall humans) that when brought down to sea level die shortly after. They can only survive at high elevation.

    So…just some food for thought…

    Arty wrote on May 10th, 2012
  30. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you, Mark. Just Thank You!

    Michelle wrote on May 10th, 2012
  31. I am an optimist in pessimist clothing. I try to look at it from a down point of view, but just can’t help looking on the bright side of things. I know it’s terrible, but I just can’t help myself :p

    Caleigh wrote on May 10th, 2012
  32. Thanks so much for the Stuart Smalley link! LOL-ing is a good way to start the day! All is well that ends well, and an end is just another beginning, so… Positivity and optimism rule my realm! :-)

    yoolieboolie wrote on May 10th, 2012
  33. “the future is dark and full of terrors”

    I guess I’m not the only one reading George RR Martin’s “A Game of Thrones” series… hehehe

    Lorii wrote on May 10th, 2012
  34. The human spirit is designed to be resilient, and optimistic. Tragedy does not destine all its victims to give up on life, never to recover, never to crawl out of bed again. Quite the opposite. Modern society could not exist, could not have evolved, if humans could never rally to overcome tragedy with optimism.

    Paula wrote on May 10th, 2012
  35. I’d like to be more optimistic than I am.

    I’ve had some bad breaks lately — some of which are out of my control, and others that were based on poor decisions — and now I find it harder than it used to be to see things getting better in the future.

    Any suggestions?

    BigTed wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • From my favorite band, Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”:

      Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend
      Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again
      When the demon is at your door
      In the morning it won’t be there no more
      Any major dude will tell you

      ———————————

      We all fall down and go through bad times. But yesterday is gone. One tip from this middle-aged broad – start making happy new memories now – eventually those memories will crowd out the crappy ones.

      Hillside Gina wrote on May 10th, 2012
  36. From “South Pacific” —

    When the skies are brighter canary yellow
    I forget ev’ry cloud I’ve ever seen,
    So they called me a cockeyed optimist
    Immature and incurably green.

    I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
    That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
    But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
    And I can’t get it into my head.

    I hear the human race
    Is fallin’ on its face
    And hasn’t very far to go,
    But ev’ry whippoorwill
    Is sellin’ me a bill,
    And tellin’ me it just ain’t so.

    I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
    And appear more intelligent and smart,
    But I’m stuck like a dope
    With a thing called hope,
    And I can’t get it out of my heart!
    Not this heart…

    Hillside Gina wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • I love this song. Now it will go round in my head all day! :-)

      Violet wrote on May 10th, 2012
  37. Studying to be a psychologist, I’ve been taught that an average of 80% of human thought is negative. Supposedly, being able to see potentially negative connotations of any object or event was of value for the survival of early humankind.

    Conscious effort can change that ratio, though.

    Hanna wrote on May 10th, 2012
  38. Epic.

    I agree with your proposal, Mark. People are hard-wired optimists.

    Every inch of our biology thrives in the presence of a positive-outlook, and I believe there’s ample research to back this, not to mention personal experience.

    That being said, you seem to have created quite a discussion :)

    Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca wrote on May 10th, 2012
  39. Great article, I train a lot of people one on one, specialising in the people starting out on the fitness path. It takes a lot of time to shift their Mindset, to a more positive approach to health and well being.

    Keep on training.

    Steve wrote on May 10th, 2012
  40. I’ve found that since switching to a more primal diet, I find it easier to be optimistic. I was already on an upward trend of positivity, when I was younger, the possibility of failure kept me from so much, but not having to battle the ups and downs of uncontrolled blood sugar has given me a boost.

    SharonV wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • +1

      Karen wrote on May 10th, 2012

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