Science

A new kind of optimism

I like to think of myself as an optimist.  I spend a lot of time happy and quite a bit of time anticipating good news.  I think that many others would characterize me in the same way.

Looking around at some of my friends, however, I realize that the binary optimist/pessimist dichotomy doesn’t really cover everyone.  I know some people who seem to live under a permanent storm cloud–anything that can go wrong does.  When they begin to expect bad things to happen to them, that doesn’t really feel like pessimism to me.

Conversely, I don’t think that I am as optimistic as many people who continually anticipate good things happening even when they have experienced great tragedy in their lives.  My own life has been largely devoid of seriously negative experiences, and so for me to expect good things to come my way does not require any leap of faith.

All of this thinking led me to the conclusion that perhaps we need some new vocabulary.  To explain what I mean I decided to create a little table.  Yeah, I’m kind of a geek and I find visual representations of data to be very comforting.  So, I decided to put Expectations and Outcomes (referring to historic outcomes more than future ones) into a matrix that included positive and negative versions of each.  In the table, I inserted the term that we commonly use to describe people with each set of Expectations/Outcomes.  As you can see below, I find myself in a little quandary.

Negative Outcomes Positive Outcomes
Negative Expectations REALIST PESSIMIST
Positive Expectations OPTIMIST ???

It seems clear to me that people who expect bad things because that’s what has always happened to them are more accurately called “realists”, and that the term “pessimist” is better applied to those who expect bad things to happen even when there isn’t a history of that happening.  “Optimist” is a term that should be reserved for those people who keep their chins up despite a history of bad events.

But that leaves me without a term to describe… me.  I don’t like the words “charmed” or “blessed”, mainly because they imply a supernatural cause that the other terms don’t.  I understand that this is splitting hairs, and I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining.  I’m just curious what you think.  How should we describe people who expect good things to happen to them because they always have?

photo credit: avlxyz via photo pin cc

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