Are you an optimist or pessimist?


Each of us carries a word in our heart. For some, the word is “yes.” Yes, we believe we can succeed. Yes, we can learn. Yes, we can make a difference. Others carry a “no,” with all the negative baggage that accompanies it. —Martin Seligman

Which of these two words best describes you? Are you inclined toward “yes” or “no”? What is your default setting? What is your first response to life’s stimuli? Asked another way, are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Before you answer that last question, know that Dr. Seligman’s research indicates that 3/4 of Americans have a proclivity toward pessimism, so three out of four readers of this essay are in the “no” camp. Are you? Most of us have a hard time being honest with ourselves, so you might want to take a random survey among your friends and family.

Why would anyone choose to be a pessimist? (It is a choice one makes.)

      • Long term, people won’t enjoy being around you.
      • Your view of life will be sullied.
      • Your mental and physical health will suffer.

Choose to be an optimist:

      • People will be attracted to you.
      • Life will be more enjoyable.
      • You’ll enjoy better mental and physical health; optimists get sick less often and live longer.

Some people accuse optimists of being naive; after all, bad things do happen. Yes, we need to be realistic about the past and the present, but let’s be hopeful and optimistic about the future, and let’s not dwell on the negative.

I appreciate the balanced approach espoused by psychiatrist Leonard Zunin, who has identified four basic orientations:

      1. Those who see only the negative
      2. Those who see only the positive
      3. Those who see both and focus on the negative
      4. Those who see both and focus on the positive

It seems to me that number four is the preferred position.

When I think of an optimistic leader, former President Ronald Reagan comes to mind.

Immediately following an assassination attempt on him, while being wheeled into the operating room, he said to the physicians, “I hope you boys are Republicans.”

In 1982, at the depths of a depression, Richard Wirthlin, Reagan’s pollster for six years, came into the Oval Office with his semimonthly report. He told Reagan the bad news, “Thirty-two percent approval rating—the worst ever for any sitting president in the second year in office.” Reagan reportedly smiled and said, “Dick, Dick…stop worrying. I’ll just go out and try to get shot again.”

The following poem describes a young optimist. When this lad enters the workforce, I’ll hire him.

I passed a sand lot yesterday,
Some kids were playing ball
I strolled along the third base line
Within the fielder’s call.
“Say, what’s the score?” I asked.
He yelled to beat the stuffing,
“There’s no one out, the bases full,
They’re winning forty-two to nothing!”
“You’re getting beat, aren’t you my friend?”
And then in no time flat
He answered, “No, sir, not as yet!
Our side hasn’t been up to bat!”

8 Replies to “Are you an optimist or pessimist?”

  1. Larry Myers here (mando/fiddle with Brush Arbor on the Cruise) Good to hear from you! I am an optimist🤙.
    I want to give you a heads up. Sunday I played for worship at San Gabriel Presb and one of the young men playing with us , Dimitri Tabala, is a violinist who recently graduated from Cal Lutheran with a music degree. He is Russian and has played for 18 yrs. He will be starting his Masters degree at SMU in the Fall. I told him about the orchestra at Stonebrier and urged him to contact you about possibly playing in the orch. He expressed interest and said he intends to follow thru. So if you hear from him you’ll know it’s not a random contact.
    I want to say how a much I enjoyed meeting and worshiping with you and especially for the opportunity to sit in with you and the other musicians. The Cruise for Nancy and me was indeed the experience of a lifetime to be relished and never forgotten. I wasn’t able to share with you that in 1968 when I began studies at DTS Chuck and Cynthia invited me to stay with them in their home during the Christmas recess. Curt, Charissa and Colleen were toddlers. It was also for me an experience of a lifetime, memories that I have cherished. So to be with Chuck and Cynthia and their children becomes sort of bookends in my life, deeply meaningful. Thanks again, and rich blessings

    1. Larry, thanks for taking the time to write. I, too, thoroughly enjoyed our time together on the trip. Great story about you staying at the Swindoll’s house at Christmas time. They are generous people.
      I’ll be on the lookout for Dimitri Tabala. SMU has a great string program and we would love for him to be part of our program. Thanks for the recommendation. Take care. I hope we are together again. Don

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