On Optimism

We started off the first day of class by reading a really interesting blog post on Optimism. It references a book by Dr. Martin Seligman which essentially quantifies optimism through empirical studies.

According to Seligman’s research, optimism comes down to three main axes: personal vs. impersonal, general vs. specific, and permanent vs. temporary. Optimists take positive things personally, generally, and permanently, and take negative things as being impersonal, specific, and temporary. Pessimists are just the opposite.

I think the concept of quantifying someone’s degree of optimism is a very interesting one. “Optimism” and “pessimism” are both phrases that are thrown around, and are both often considered to be known without having to be defined. “Looking on the bright side of things” and other vague colloquialisms are used as definitions. Having actual things to use as measurements of optimism brings an additional element to the word.

The author poses that it is good to be an optimist, and bad to be a pessimist, but didn’t pay much attention to the middle of the spectrum. There is a wide range of emotions that fill the range from optimism to pessimism and there are people who change between the two points of views depending on external factors. There’s a whole range that is ignored.

I also think that the author glosses over healthy pessimism. While optimism is good, I think that someone who always takes everything impersonally, generally, and temporarily could move away from optimism and more towards naiveté or willful ignorance. I think it’s important to stay optimistic, but to temper that with realism and weighing all sides of a situation.

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