Author Topic: Where does optimism come from?  (Read 4369 times)

ChpBstrd

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Where does optimism come from?
« on: February 04, 2017, 01:13:20 PM »
For those who'd describe themselves as optimists: Where does your optimism come from?

1) Rationality?
There is a better future within reach, and I can demonstrate this with facts, math, simulations, etc.

2) Personality Type?
Some people are either born or learn to be optimistic, and carry this trait with them throughout their lives. Others have a pessimistic outlook. Some have an emotional need to think positive thoughts. Others distrust positive thoughts and scan the environment for threats.

3) Situation & Sensations?
Optimistic people are generally not starving, in great pain, in danger, etc. If these situations are perceived, optimism takes a break while the person confronts the problem.

4) Belief Set / Philosophy?
Certain belief sets promote the idea of an inevitably better future, human progress, or individual salvation. If you believe either that things are great or that things will improve, you'll be more aware of trends of improvement than trends of decline.

Second, does your optimism turn on/off or are you optimistic about some things but not others?

pbkmaine

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Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2017, 01:28:36 PM »
I just feel very lucky. I have financial independence, good health, happy relationships. I live in a nice place with friendly neighbors. My optimism did take a hit with the recent US election, but in general, I'm with Bill and Melinda Gates: there's a lot of good in this world.

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2017, 06:35:32 PM »
A combination of rationality and personality.  I consider myself generally to be a happy person so that is where the personality come in.  On the rational side, I think being a survivor of 9/11 at the age of 23 made me realize that bad shit happens, you can't stop it so why stress about it.

Lski'stash

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2017, 07:11:05 PM »
For those who'd describe themselves as optimists: Where does your optimism come from?

1) Rationality?
There is a better future within reach, and I can demonstrate this with facts, math, simulations, etc.

2) Personality Type?
Some people are either born or learn to be optimistic, and carry this trait with them throughout their lives. Others have a pessimistic outlook. Some have an emotional need to think positive thoughts. Others distrust positive thoughts and scan the environment for threats.

3) Situation & Sensations?
Optimistic people are generally not starving, in great pain, in danger, etc. If these situations are perceived, optimism takes a break while the person confronts the problem.

4) Belief Set / Philosophy?
Certain belief sets promote the idea of an inevitably better future, human progress, or individual salvation. If you believe either that things are great or that things will improve, you'll be more aware of trends of improvement than trends of decline.

Second, does your optimism turn on/off or are you optimistic about some things but not others?

Optimism is a mindset for me. It was learned through practicing 'mindfulness,' i.e. cognitive behavior therapy. I'm not an expert on it or anything, I've just done a lot of reading. I found it at a time when I was having a hard time staying optimistic at my job (teacher) and I found a book that taught me how to stay optimistic on the job (Awakened, by Angela Powell). In the book, she goes over the different strategies to practice mindfulness, and applied them to different teaching situations. It took a lot of practice, but it really has made me a more optimistic and level-headed person.

1) Logic and Rationality does help. This is one of the strategies. As in, when a really awful thought pops into my head about something, I think, "Really?" Is that what really would happen? 99% of the time, the answer is no, and I can move on with my life.

2) Not a personality type, but a learned trait for me, as stated above.

3) I'm not sure what you mean, exactly, but for me, knowing that stress and situations are relative is helpful. A stressful situation for me (maybe a job loss or switch?) is only stressful because I make it so. If I think about my situation compared to others, in say, Africa's rural portions, where I've personally heard stories from women who have chosen between bringing water back for their family from a well or their child back from the well, my situation pales in comparison.

4) I believe in hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. It gives me a buffer if things go awry, but usually, things turn out.

pigpen

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2017, 08:10:17 AM »
My experience is a lot like Lski'stash's above. To slightly rephrase the question, you might also look at optimism as a type of awareness or as a practice or skill. All of us have millions of thoughts and emotions that pop up every day without us consciously asking for them. Out of all these thoughts, there's usually ample evidence for both a positive or negative interpretation of a given set of circumstances, so pure rationality could take you in either direction. It's how we react to these thoughts -- specifically the mental narrative that we create based on them -- that makes the difference.

For example, I'm sure almost everyone has had something like the following take place: I walk into the kitchen and there's a dirty plate with scraps of food. Clearly, the person who used it is finished with their meal. Our informal house rule is that everyone cleans up after him/herself. It wasn't me that used it, so it had to have been my wife.

Why did she just leave it there for me to pick it up? Mild annoyance. Oh, ok. This is payback for me forgetting to feed the dog last night. Real mature. Beginnings of anger. I wish instead of pulling crap like this, she'd just TELL me when she's unhappy with something. Growing anger. Geez, this always happens. I don't know why I thought that this stuff would go away once we got married. Everything I do is wrong, and she never makes a mistake. And now I've arrived at full-blown anger.

Wife walks in, and before I can say something nasty to her, she says, "Hey, honey. Sorry about the plate. I was about to wash it when my mom called. I've been waiting to hear what the doctor told her, so I wanted to make sure I caught her."

So what's happened is that I've acted in a way that mimics rationality by taking an external event, analyzing it using the evidence at hand, and then coming to a conclusion about what's happened. The problem is that all of my inputs, my evidence, were a complete fiction that I treated as fact. Along the way, the physical manifestations of anger in my body -- increased heart rate, tensed muscles, etc. -- fuel the fictional narrative in my head, and I arrive at an entirely irrational conclusion: "Dirty plate sitting on the counter" = "My wife doesn't respect me, and our very marriage may have been a mistake."

To put it in terms of the stock market, in the analyses that we all like to laugh at -- one person saying, "Dow on its way to 40,000" and the other, "Put all your money in canned food and bullets. It's about to get rocky." -- you've got different people using the same data to come to wildly different conclusions that are each rational in their way. One of them is choosing to argue one potential positive outcome out of an almost infinite number, and the other a potential negative outcome. The problem is when you start getting too attached to your own interpretation, which is, by virtue of the fact that we can't see or control the future, always by definition a fiction. When you habitually lean in one direction or the other, you become an optimist or a pessimist.

To return to the original question, you can learn to see and address this through Buddhist meditation, mindfulness training (pretty similar secular version of meditation), and cognitive-behavioral therapy. All of which basically teach you that "dirty plate sitting on the counter" does NOT equal "wife doesn't respect me, and our very marriage may have been a mistake." "Dirty plate sitting on the counter" = "Dirty plate sitting on the counter."

Gerard

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2017, 08:53:02 AM »
Thanks, pigpen, for taking the time to write that out. I think it's helpful for me.

I want to add a fifth category for ChpBstrd's original four: experience. I've been in lots of situations where I've tried something, and it's worked. Or people have promised me something and have generally delivered (allowing for some unforeseen complications). My parents fed me. My employers paid me. My partners and friends were loyal and supportive.

So I end up seeing the world (well, my world) as a mostly good place, where you get back what you put in, and I have enough energy to see roadblocks as temporary and misbehaviour as behaviour rather than as essential traits of the misbehaver.

Reminds me of a conversation in a much earlier thread about why many people put their short-term wants ahead of their long-term satisfaction: past experience has taught them not to trust the future.

Goldielocks

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2017, 12:39:42 AM »
Excellent question.

My answer:  The gut:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-health-may-depend-on-creatures-in-the-gut/

Our gut bacteria have a strong influence on our mental / personality.

Linea_Norway

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2017, 05:06:26 AM »
<...>

So what's happened is that I've acted in a way that mimics rationality by taking an external event, analyzing it using the evidence at hand, and then coming to a conclusion about what's happened. The problem is that all of my inputs, my evidence, were a complete fiction that I treated as fact. Along the way, the physical manifestations of anger in my body -- increased heart rate, tensed muscles, etc. -- fuel the fictional narrative in my head, and I arrive at an entirely irrational conclusion: "Dirty plate sitting on the counter" = "My wife doesn't respect me, and our very marriage may have been a mistake."

<...>

I recently went on a course to lower stress, which is very related to this question of being an optimist or a pessimist.

One of the things we learned there was to not have automatic negative thoughts. If something negative happens (e.g. your wife leaves a half full plate in the kitchen or a familiar person doesn't greet you in a shop), you should not automatically react with negative thoughts and hurt feelings. Instead you should try to think or alternative explanations of why this happened. And those alternative explanations should be kind to yourself, e.g. the person in the shop didn't recognize me and therefore didn't greet. We also learned not to try to read other people's thoughts.

It was very obvious that being in a situation of stress, makes a lot of things worse. You tend to interpret things more negatively than you would when not being under stress. I guess being an optimist could be a good thing for your physical health and we should try to become this. It can be practiced for us who don't have it naturally.

GuitarStv

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2017, 06:39:18 AM »
I think that being negative has gotten a bad rap.  Negativity has led me to frugality, to putting more into maintaining relationships, to working harder, and to find the drive to better myself in many aspects of life.  A certain baseline of negativity is your daily bread.

Optimism is like butter.  A little bit now and again makes that bread wonderful and tasty.  Too much of it, and stuff starts to taste a little gross.  You need to be optimistic occasionally.  It can push you out of your comfort zone, it lead you to try risky things that have potential payoff.  If you try to live on optimism alone, you're gunning for an early heart disease related death though.

Linea_Norway

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2017, 07:13:41 AM »

3) I'm not sure what you mean, exactly, but for me, knowing that stress and situations are relative is helpful. A stressful situation for me (maybe a job loss or switch?) is only stressful because I make it so. If I think about my situation compared to others, in say, Africa's rural portions, where I've personally heard stories from women who have chosen between bringing water back for their family from a well or their child back from the well, my situation pales in comparison.


This is so true. Compared to people with real problems our Mustachian people problems are peanuts. I once had 2 Indian colleagues. At that time I was infuriated about the train company that closed down our local train statio, forcing me to buy a second car and gave me half an hour a day longer commuting time. I was quite depressed by it and expressed this at work. One of my Indian colleagues was a bit provoked by this: "Linda, you are living in Norway where everything is perfect! How can you complain about anything?". Then the other Indian colleague explained to him: "Linda is content about Norway, but there is just a small thing that bothers her.".

I recently (last week) learned from a book that there are some things in life that are bigger than you and that you can't change. You should learn to accept these. The only thing you can change about it is your own reaction.
In regards to that train company I decided to find a job in another region and now I don't need to take the train anymore. This really got rid of my frustration.

The book I just read is this one:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FCJYFA/ref=kinw_myk_ro_title
It is really helpfull. It does let you see that a lot of negativity is self inflicted by your own way of thinking. And you can actually relearn to be more positive.

acroy

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2017, 07:25:19 AM »
1&4
Life is good, it has a purpose. Might as well be happy about it :)
I am not 'naturally' particularly optimistic/cheery. But it is a 'state of mind'. Practice it, then it becomes habit. The old well-known example is: feel down? force yourself to smile. Just activating those muscles will start to cheer you up.
Reasons to be cheery and optimistic:
- life is more enjoyable
- you will spread the good cheer to others
You can be optimistic/cheery while still rational and managing risk. i.e, I am not so optimistic as to play Lotto.

Mezzie

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2017, 07:27:40 AM »
I am very optimistic about my students. I believe they can fix everything wrong in the world.

That said, I am very pessimistic about there still being a world they can fix by the time they're old enough to vote, become ethical lawyers, judges, teachers, politicians, scientists, etc.

So where does that put me?

Johnez

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2017, 01:03:21 PM »
Excellent question.

My answer:  The gut:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-health-may-depend-on-creatures-in-the-gut/

Our gut bacteria have a strong influence on our mental / personality.

Fascinating!


sisto

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Re: Where does optimism come from?
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2017, 05:36:16 PM »
<...>

So what's happened is that I've acted in a way that mimics rationality by taking an external event, analyzing it using the evidence at hand, and then coming to a conclusion about what's happened. The problem is that all of my inputs, my evidence, were a complete fiction that I treated as fact. Along the way, the physical manifestations of anger in my body -- increased heart rate, tensed muscles, etc. -- fuel the fictional narrative in my head, and I arrive at an entirely irrational conclusion: "Dirty plate sitting on the counter" = "My wife doesn't respect me, and our very marriage may have been a mistake."

<...>

I recently went on a course to lower stress, which is very related to this question of being an optimist or a pessimist.

One of the things we learned there was to not have automatic negative thoughts. If something negative happens (e.g. your wife leaves a half full plate in the kitchen or a familiar person doesn't greet you in a shop), you should not automatically react with negative thoughts and hurt feelings. Instead you should try to think or alternative explanations of why this happened. And those alternative explanations should be kind to yourself, e.g. the person in the shop didn't recognize me and therefore didn't greet. We also learned not to try to read other people's thoughts.

It was very obvious that being in a situation of stress, makes a lot of things worse. You tend to interpret things more negatively than you would when not being under stress. I guess being an optimist could be a good thing for your physical health and we should try to become this. It can be practiced for us who don't have it naturally.
Yes, I definitely agree with this. One of the things I've tried to do lately is start off with the assumption that everyone is a good person. They are doing something from a good place with good intentions. This helps me to not make assumptions in the other direction. It's somewhat putting yourself in someone else's shoes or looking at it from their perspective.