In this week’s spotlight I would like to address optimism. We have all heard about the power of intention and positive thinking. Optimism is comprised of both but for it to have any real value, it must also maintain a realistic perspective, it must be reasonable. Reasonable optimism is anchored by hope!
The opposite of optimism is of course, pessimism. In the affairs of the mind, pessimism can lead to helpless/hopeless feelings that literally decimate our own self-healing faculties. Indeed, as a number of animal experiments have shown, when it seems that there is no escape, no hope, animals lie down, accept the suffering, and eventually die. Now I think these animal experiments are gross, but if they are to have any value whatsoever it is in what they teach us. I would argue that they teach two things, the potential inhuman way in which humans can behave, and of course, the intended objective, that when we give up, our immune, endocrine, and other major systems of the body give up as well.
So the challenge deepens: what is a healthy realistic form of optimism? It certainly isn’t one that quits on life, but it is one that takes into consideration the projected reality we live in.
Let me flesh that out a bit with an example I live with. My wife was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis years ago. According to her diagnosis, she would be unable to remain ambulatory and by today—well we all know how severe this disease can be.
Now my pretty bride ignored her doctors when it came to the prognosis, or projection of where she was headed, but she did not ignore all medical advice or scientific research. She committed herself to beating the disease and, using science and medicine, she did just that.
Now the contrast. A family member was recently diagnosed with RA as well. My wife reached out to them with help from her experience. Unfortunately they rejected this by informing Ravinder that the doctor disapproved of any alternative approaches and they would just have to live the progression of the disease.
In the first example, that of my pretty bride, there was a reasonable optimism that maintained hope, while in the second example, that of a family member, there is a pessimistic acceptance of what they consider to be the inevitable.
Allow me to make the point with one final illustration. In the 50’s Curt Richter performed what has been called the horrible experiment. What Richter did was to place rats in a glass cylinder filled with water. The rats could not escape and during the first trial, they died relatively quickly, on average within 15 minutes.
Now rats can swim for a quite long periods in nature. So in experiment two, the rats were again placed in the same cylinder filled with water, but this time Richter would rescue them after a few minutes, pulling them from the water, drying them, and then returning them to the cylinder. This time the rats could swim for up to 3 days. That is the power of hope!
Never give up your hope! Reasonable optimism refuses to surrender because it is firmly anchored by hope!
It is my hope that you will all remember this and hold onto hope right to the very last breath, and as a Star Trek fan let me add, “May you live long and prosper!”
As always, thanks for the read and I’d love your thoughts on this one.