AN OPTIMUM OPTIMIST

An optimist thinks that the world can be a better place. One of the corollaries of this simple understanding is that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today. An optimist thinks that things can only get better. Are there more optimists or pessimists in the world? Among the two, which approach is better to lead a good life? It is not an easy question; both optimism and pessimism have their advantages and disadvantages.

Optimism prepares us to deal with unpredictability. A pessimistic mindset also performs the same function. A pessimist thinks about the worst outcomes, and one of the consequences of it is that it prepares us to face the situation, however bad it is. By thinking about what might go wrong, pessimism protects us from going wrong when things do go wrong. Optimists think about growth. Pessimists, on the other hand, are more preoccupied with security and safety. Pessimists perform better when they think in negative ways. Optimists are more engaged with their task when they think positively. Optimists respond better to positive feedback. Pessimists seem to respond better to negative feedback. Optimism and pessimism are not just accidents. These are two different but effective strategies for coping with a complex and unpredictable world. What we need is optimum optimism.

The optimism-pessimism journey, like a sine curve, goes through a well laid-out route. The first mid-station of this journey is excitement. Optimism gives us hope, and that generates excitement. The natural consequence of excitement is a thrill. Thrill gives birth to euphoria. Euphoria causes anxiety. Anxiety develops a tendency of denial, which, in turn, arouses fear. Out of fear grows desperation and panic. Once panicky, one develops the tendency to surrender. As a result, there is despondency and depression. At this mid-station, hope steps in to get over depression. Once we overcome depression, there is relief. Relief clears our path to regain optimism. Optimism grows out of hope, euphoria kills it, and the journey continues. An optimist believes in achieving the best possible outcome. The optimist believes in pleasant events more than unpleasant ones. He often discounts uncertainties. Often we are overly optimistic. Daniel Kahneman says that excessive optimism is one of our most significant biases. He says that the blessings of optimism are offered to only those individuals who are mildly biased.

Research shows that a majority of people believe themselves to be smarter, more attractive and more talented than the average, and they commonly overestimate their future success. A pessimist is not afraid to discredit himself but is afraid to apportion himself the due credit. The midpoint between optimism and pessimism is realism. A realist is careful enough to reject impractical and impossible outcomes. There is always room for uncertainty in a realist’s agenda. A too optimist doesn’t see the troubles that lie ahead and often get deceived by the rosiness of the future. One can get away from a stranger but not from their grandchild, by showing an unrealistic ray of hope.

An optimum optimist has a realistic perception of himself and his surroundings. He knows that simply becoming too self-critical doesn’t help. He knows when to focus and on what. Before theorising, he gathers the data. An optimum optimist knows the way to prepare a mixture of concrete and abstract. An optimist thinks that a good student can be a good teacher. An optimum optimist thinks that a not-so-good student can also be a good teacher; for an optimum optimist, academic credentials are not the sole criterion to become a good teacher. An optimum optimist is an adaptationist. He doesn’t believe in pure extrapolations. He knows that the logical extensions under certain circumstances fail. Being an adaptationist, he knows how to manage situations when extrapolations fail. He knows that too much optimism blurs vision.