I've always been a glass-half-full kind of guy.
I'm always going to get a lot done on my day off, the car will make it through another year, and when we're on the road and wanting a Dairy Queen one will appear.
Now comes a new study -- and I'm generally a believer in good scientific studies -- saying that optimism is overrated.CartoonDavies' latest cartoon: HUD or huh?CommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday
Which, of course, you pessimists knew all along.
And I'm trying to square the notion that optimism is overblown with the well-established fact that better health, more happiness and stronger relationships have been linked to positive thinking. I suspect most of us recall moments when our own optimist-in-chief -- mom -- bucked us up and kept us going until we finally crossed whatever finish line we were trying to reach.
The study, from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, examined the value people put on being optimistic and whether they were correct to rate it so highly. And they found that yes, indeed, people think you are more likely to succeed when you're optimistic.
They also found that people try harder and longer to accomplish something when they think they can do it -- whether their perception of their ability is on-target or off-base. The experiment that produced that result involved people looking for Waldo, the star of the "Where's Waldo" book and puzzle brand. Those convinced they could find him spent longer searching for him.
But now we come to the real challenge for all of us Norman Vincent Peales: The people who sunnily and cheerily worked overtime scouring the pages for Waldo were no more effective than the skeptics at finding him. Optimism, in other words, did not improve performance. And the crew from Berkeley duplicated that finding in two other experiments.
The pessimists did not do any better, which is a tremendous relief, actually. And one could make a convincing case that a blend of the two is the best way to move through life.
That's the wisdom of the balance inherent in the popular saying, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." It's ascribed to Winston Churchill, who knew something about dealing with tough times, though experts say there's no proof Churchill is the one who actually said that.
Perhaps the problem simply is labeling. Perhaps success has never been about optimism or pessimism. Perhaps it is, as the Berkeley group suggests, a matter of being realistic about one's ability to do something and matching one's effort to that. In other words, if you know you can't do it, stop. But I'd like to think that being optimistic buys you time and keeps you motivated until your skills catch up with your dreams.
It's worth noting that Churchill did in fact declare himself an optimist, since "it does not seem to be much use to be anything else."
Being optimistic, in other words, is just a better way to go through life.
And around here, it's in our DNA. The great Dorothy Parker, the wise and witty writer-critic of the early part of last century, once compared New York to its older European brethren. "New York," she said, "is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it."
So I'm still going to be thankful today for my mother's optimism. I'm still going to channel two of our greatest philosophers, Winnie the Pooh and Emerson, by calling today -- and every today -- my favorite day. And I'm still going to think I'm going to beat the traffic.
Now excuse me, please. I'm going to look for Waldo.