Is there such a thing as too much optimism? Does optimism have a downside?
My general belief is that there are upsides and downsides for most everything. Thus the process of making choices is pretty simple, in theory anyway. All you need to do is figure out the upsides and downsides of a choice, weigh them, and then choose the path that makes sense based on what matters most to you.
It sounds like a nice, sensible process. Yet, in reality, we often have a problem with figuring out those upsides and downsides. We may not have all the facts or know how to get them, and when we do, how do we know they’re true?
For example, is coffee still good for us? Is milk bad now? Maybe we should just drink wine. (Please don’t take that as advice. I’m mostly joking.)
Besides, who has the time to work all this out? We could spend every waking hour trying to avoid making mistakes in even minor decisions.
That said; our lives are filled with opportunities and the need to make choices. I still believe it’s worthwhile to consider upsides and downsides when comparing courses of action.
For example, do I choose to make an effort to reach out to someone with whom I have a poor relationship, or do I choose to keep my distance? The upside of making the effort is that this gesture could develop into a good, satisfying relationship for both of us. The downside is that I could be snubbed. Then I might become resentful and not want to reach out to anyone else ever again.
What are the upsides and downsides of optimism?
A big upside to optimism, positivity, the practice of gratitude is that they all contribute to our happiness. Happy people are said to be more productive (not to mention, happier.) Happier people tend to be more pleasant to be around, so they likely have good relationships. Happy people might even see more fun in everyday events.
However, there are downsides to optimism, too. Skipping along in a la-dee-dah fashion, optimistically assuming nothing bad could happen, could lead us into unpleasantness.
For example, we might ignore physical danger, such as optimistically thinking that isolated camping spot looks fine! Or we might gloss over financial difficulties by assuming that somehow we will cover the rent even though we spent the rent money on lotto tickets. Sometimes people have unexamined optimism about relationships, such as “My partner seems uncaring but it’ll work out ok.”
A realistic assessment of potential downsides could bring our attention to things we could do to prevent potential difficulty. This seems like a good thing.
So optimism has both upsides and downsides. When you have a specific choice to make, which approach d you choose? Optimism? Or pessimism?
In his book, “The Hope Circuit,” Dr. Martin Seligman offers a simple question to help: “How dire are the consequences of failure here?”
If the potential failure could lead to catastrophe, then a healthy dose of pessimism may be in order. Or at least, assess the negative possibilities and how you might handle them.
If the potential failure has a minor consequence, you may as well forge forward optimistically. It might work out, and if it doesn’t, there’s no devastating consequence to suffer.
So it might be worth re-considering my optimism about the bear-infested campsite, considering the potential consequences. But I could try optimism when reaching out to a broken relationship. Optimism may have a benefit, and there is no devastating downside.
A generally helpful question is, “What could possibly go wrong?” Listen to the answer. Perhaps this will help to point you toward optimism or pessimism.
Are you optimistic? Does it have a downside for you?
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
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