Shapiro: More than ever, it pays to be optimistic

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If American Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine were alive today, he would certainly repeat his famous 1776 statement, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

We’re experiencing challenges at every level from local issues to international relations and beyond.

Times are tough and we don’t know who to trust. The constant drone of news impacts us all.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) has been attributed to saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

We all know people who have stopped reading various newspapers or watching certain shows on TV. They’ve also unfriended people on social media.

Civil discourse has been replaced by vitriolic behavior.

Because of current events, this is actually a good time to refresh our spirit of optimism and look for opportunities to nurture common interests.

We need to change. A healthy dose of optimism is just what the doctor ordered.

Optimism is regarded as the opposite of pessimism. It exemplifies a positive view on life and a belief that things will work out in the end. It’s also a state of mind where people believe that things will more likely go well for them.

The concept of optimism is linked to a 17th century German philosopher named Gottfried Leibniz. He believed we live in the “best of all possible worlds.”

Today, people express optimism versus pessimism when they talk about a glass of water being half full or half empty. Assuming that full is good and empty is bad, people expect optimists to view the glass as half full.

Twentieth century psychologist Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania believes optimism has a strong relationship to self-esteem, psychological well-being and personal health.

Seligman criticized the academic world for focusing too much attention on pessimism. His research proved that in the last three decades of the 20th century, medical journals published 46,000 papers on depression and only 400 on joy.

His criticism of the academic fixation on pessimists could also be applied to the media. As they say, good news doesn’t sell newspapers. Maybe that’s why we see so many “half empty” stories.

The “prophets of doom and gloom” have never done us any favors. They have always poisoned the well.

It’s always a better idea to look for the “silver lining” and reject pessimism.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should conduct his or her life in an artificial or false sense of euphoria. Realities demand appropriate actions and strategic disciplines. But, lingering pessimism is destined to extend negative results.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic from the 1960s to 1990s examined personality tests and followed their subjects to determine if there was a relationship between optimism and long life.

Dr. Toshihiko Maruta, the study’s chief investigator, reported, “The important thing is that we’ve proven the relationship scientifically, and made a correlation between how people see the world when they’re young and how they turn out 30 years later.”

The Mayo Clinic concluded the actual difference between optimists and pessimists just might amount to about 12 years of longer life.

So, if an optimist lives 12 years longer than a pessimist, let’s share the wisdom and help our neighbors and friends.

It won’t be easy.

Thomas Paine wrote, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

That message was read to General Washington’s troops on Christmas Eve in 1776 and helped motivate them to victory that gave our Country liberty.

Ask yourself “are you are half-full or half-empty” person. Here’s an easy first step for any pessimists. Pour the water into a smaller glass.

Editor’s note: Mr. Shapiro is a resident of Scottsdale and longtime community advocate.

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