Privilege Blog

Walk Like An Optimist, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:56am

Recently I read this article in the Washington Post, Why Optimists Live Longer than the Rest of Us. Briefly, it made a good case that optimists fare well, and took a stab at why this is so. Some excerpts:

…the(se) results remained even after accounting for other factors known to predict a long life — including education level and economic status, ethnicity and whether a person suffered from depression or other chronic health conditions.

…The latest study found that lifestyle only accounted for 24 percent of the link between optimism and longevity, which suggests a number of other factors affect longevity for optimists.

…Another possible reason could be the way optimists manage stress. When faced with a stressful situation, optimists tend to deal with it head-on. They use adaptive coping strategies that help them resolve the source of the stress, or view the situation in a less stressful way. For example, optimists will problem-solve and plan ways to deal with the stressor, call on others for support or try to find a “silver lining” in the stressful situation.

Now, I have always considered myself an optimist. I should say, “had” considered. Because, despite decades of innate cheer, after my mother’s difficult death, America’s election of a needy, malicious clown as president, the more difficult death of my ex-husband and its effect on my children, a global pandemic, the out-of-the blue death of my best friend from glioblastoma, a continued global pandemic, and the revealed intent of our Supreme Court to enact a regressive and repressive agenda, I struggle with the silver lining bit.

It was interesting, however, to think about other ways optimists face stress, as I do still problem-solve and plan. I do still call on others for support. Quite literally problem-solve and plan, as in having assessed that I needed more novelty and conversation I scheduled four weekends away with friends and family in the next few months. And quite literally call on others, as in I am cultivating a phone bank of family and friends willing to natter on with me as I walk around my suburb in hiking boots fit for the Sierras.

(I think these work for political action too.)

I also realized that my optimism had been bruised, if not yet crushed, by feeling incredibly sanguine about people and institutions dear to my heart when suddenly they for reasons I could not control fell ill. Terribly ill. It makes sense, then, that the remedy is to problem-solve and plan to re-establish some control. To place your faith in what’s close to you. To organize your own future more closely. To relinquish blind trust in the future.

You may have your own reasons you’ve put aside unproved hope.

And yet a small voice that may be the charge of optimism in the wiring, the one that doesn’t go out, says,  “Well, why not fake it ’til you make it?” My small voice is a smart-aleck, is it not? But maybe worth listening to. I think I had told myself, Lisa, now that you’ve been through all this that you never expected, you must always prepare for the worst. But why? Does it help to prepare for the worst? Can I maybe now start to allow myself that lifting of the heart for no good reason?

Maybe I’ll act like an optimist even if I can’t locate the feeling, just pretend I believe it’ll be OK. And then maybe, with some problem-solving, and planning, and the support of good friends, it will. Or maybe not, but, the friends will still be there.

Have a hopeful weekend, everyone. And if not hopeful, beloved.


18 Responses

  1. Beloved cousin, I will share this small hope with you. It will get better.

  2. You made my day with the line “needy, malicious clown .”

    It’s a good time to schedule those breaks, turn your cellphone off, get some fresh air, reconnect with people we’ve been separated from for a couple of years.

    There is a lot right with our lives and you can get to doing what you can about what’s not right after taking a break to appreciate life.

    1. Rose, Hah! Word addiction is happy to be of service:). Here’s to doing what we can after a little break now and then.

  3. You’ve had a deluge of personal losses on top of our terrifying political situation. To remain sunny in the face of all that would be pollyanna-ish rather than optimistic. I think you’re right- optimism is based in a keep-moving attitude, in dogged problem-solving, in stopping to appreciate the light in nature, and the support of friends.

    I volunteer at the very local level. Within those activities right now I find people of disparate political views are treating each other with tender care. At first I was surprised- no gloating. But I think we are mostly pretty practical moderates, not as sharply right or left wing as our divergent news sources might indicate. Alienated in very different ways from the current political reality, but finding common cause and compromise around our local projects and cautious about driving wedges further. The big issues are still very troubling but it’s calming to work with other Americans on little things.

    1. Wendy, Thank you for the reassurance about my tempered optimism. Your volunteering, even though I don’t know what it is, sounds like what I wish we could all do. Build a “barn.”

  4. You have been through so much lately. Big hug for you, Lisa. <3

    I feel like I've lost my spirit in the past several years as well — and have noticed myself putting on a excessively happy face for others that feels jarring to my own inner state. I naturally seem to try to fake it, like a wounded bird. We're supposed to "open up," but that's so hard when you (and by "you," I mean "I") don't want to bring others down. And when the opposite feels so much better.

    Quite plainly though, I've been too upset to even speak about the recent actions of our Supreme Court. It's like I now realize for the first time that I'm genuinely not allowed to matter. Of course I, like most, wouldn't choose to lose a child if I could have one. But the original decision of Roe v. Wade concerned "privacy of body" and everything that entails. Your post is a reminder that I do need to reach out to friends, especially female ones.

    You are indeed so dearly beloved, and your cheer (whether genuine or simply hopeful for future hope!) is always infectious. Thank you for the thoughtful post and inspiration to seek joy — not because times aren't troubled, but because we deserve joy. Have a lovely weekend, my lovely friend!

    1. Jess, I’m so sorry you’ve lost your spirit. Faking it for ourselves is one thing, faking it for others is quite different and very draining. We do deserve joy. I have found my women friends, my family, to be a great support and connection. We don’t give up, you know, we are profoundly strong. xoxox to you my friend.

  5. Your article touches on some important points about recent losses we have experienced as well as those which are more personal.
    To emerge from this with optimism is difficult. I applaud your approach and hope that each of us finds solace in the ways that we climb out verse’s steps off our troubled world.


  6. Something that all the soul crushing events of the last few years has taught me, is to adapt and “pivot”, which helps a lot with giving me some feelings of optimism. I have learned much more about adaption, which I was never very good about before. I have learned that at times I can be OK, even if everything around me isn’t. Is this making sense. I don’t have a sense of a large global optimism, but a small, more personal one, which is really all I can have some control over. I’ve also learned that some days, or weeks, are just plain sad, and I can not try to shift my feelings, but have confidence that most likely they will pass, and certainly come and go. I don’t think (unlike you) I ever, even as a child, had blind trust in the future.

    1. Kathy, I have read this a couple of times. A lot of wisdom. I think I am in fact pivoting, as you put it. I fell from blind optimism into a semi-traumatized fear, and now I’m adapting or trying to, trying to shift my perspective into a measured hope. The middle ground has never been my strong point, and I don’t know any other way to map it out except step by step.

  7. I’ve been having issues with optimism lately as well. I have not had all of the setbacks you have experienced, but enough that a toll has been taken. I’m just trying to be grateful each day for all the many good things in my life–and there are plenty. I will say that gun violence, political turmoil, and climate change have troubled me greatly.

    1. Susan, I cannot imagine a decent, optimistic person who wouldn’t be troubled by these things.

  8. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I’m a life-long optimist but have found that as I move along through life, particularly these past few years, it’s not so easy to maintain. I’ve been blessed with a good degree of resilience but it’s certainly been tried. Stepping away from news, social media, etc. is my therapy. A walk, a good book, a visit with family or friends, music … these are my go-to places.

    1. Beth, not so easy to maintain indeed. Nature and beings we love have to be the starting point.

  9. I just flew across the country and back again in a matter of days. I was struggling with more luggage than a mule train, bags and car seats, and steamer trunks. I had to stop and transfer so I was in Wisconsin and Texas and NorthCarolina. But Lisa, , I was helped and cared for looked after by total strangers, every step of the way. I’m older now, I radiate a grandma’s vibe, maybe. . I too am terrified by the Supreme Court we have now, by the guns and violence that has been sanctioned. But on my trip through the country, I was engulfed by waves and kindness from older and younger folk, people from South America and Asia,Mississippi and Texas and Colorado. It’s as though we’re happy to have a chance to do something wonderful in the face or rising despair. The louder more virulent voices are heard through the media, but my cross-country trip reassured me of our basic compassion and decency.

    1. Bronwyn, I am very glad to hear this. I can imagine they saw something universal, something familial in your. A reference point for kindness.

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