Thursday, January 11, 2007

Do worry, be happy

Several prominent people have responded to the annual question asked by Edge Foundation, “What are you optimistic about and why?” These worthies are optimistic about a wide range of issues- better hearing aids, decline of cult and superstition, better understanding of religion, reduction in crime and terrorism, elimination of poverty, discovery of mental illness genes- you name it.

So, with such abundance of optimism and hopefulness, the world is bound to be a happier place and much joie de vivre will result soon. Right?

Well, since I asked that question, and given my warped mind, you know the right answer is “wrong”, right? You are right. Optimism is unwarranted and actually inimical to happiness. Read on. (Source)

It all started with the University of Leicester publishing a World map of Happiness that clearly brought out the fact that the Danes were the happiest people in the world. In fact, for over thirty years, this country with 5 million inhabitants has ranked first in Eurobarometer surveys.

So, the British Medical Journal decided to dig deeper into this and identify the causal factors. In its study, BMJ focused on accounting for why life satisfaction in Denmark substantially exceeded that in Sweden and Finland, the two Eurobarometer countries most similar to Denmark. It looked into various differentiating factors like climate, food, genealogy, hair colour, habits, marriage, prowess in sports, etc .

In the end they ‘cracked the conundrum of Danish contentment’. The main reason for Danish happiness, according to the study, is that their expectations for the year to come are consistently low. And when they find that things are not more rotten in the state of Denmark than what they had expected them to be, they are jubilant.

So, there it is, the secret to a happy life. Eschew optimism. Peg your expectations lower. Enter into a marriage with the expectation that divorce is imminent; you will find much happiness even if it lasts a month. Take up a job on Monday, accepting the inevitably of being fired any time. Believe me, you will experience such relief and bliss when you still are at your workplace on Wednesday. If you find a feeling of rosiness stealing over you, kill it immediately.

Remember that the Great Dane is one helluva happy dog, because he is one helluva pessimist to begin with.


thepsychologic said...

At last something to support my beliefs. I can be optimistic about being a pessimist?

Raj said...

the psychologic, yes, pessimism is back in fashion.

Anonymous said...

thepsychologic, the answer to your question lies in your question. "I can be optimistic about being a pessimist?" shows that you are pessimistic about being optimistic about being a pessimist :)

Abe Burnett said...

I think it's shortsighted to say that low expectations cannot comfortably co-exist with optimism.

Such an attitude implies that optimism is boundlessly positive; no less real than the shallow, worthless, ineffictive happy-happy of positive affirmations.

Effective optimism is when you restrain your expectations and hope to achieve those minimalized expectations. You're at once both positive and realistic.

See, the gap between expectations and reality is often what triggers and supports depression and helplessness. If you seriously expect to be elected president someday, but never achieve any political standing whatsoever, you'll rightly feel pretty down about things. Likewise, if you expect to be wealthy, you'll suffer a great deal more with a middle income. However, if your expectations are low income, you'll experience pleasant surprise when you achieve a middle income.

I can see where some would equate pessimism to reduced expectations, but I don't think the two are inseparably connected.

Martin Seligman has a word for this type of optimism. I believe he calls it "realistic optimism."

Optimism at it's core only requires looking, literally, at the glass as half-full; i.e., the better side of things. It has nothing to do with grandiose dreams and expectations.