Optimists are everywhere. No matter where you turn, there seems to be a collective insistence on focusing on the positive. And all too often we are bombarded with goody-goody cliches like “look on the bright side,” “it’s always darkest before the dawn” or the ever-sickening “look for the silver lining.” Despite this trend, I have come to discover that optimism as a means of dealing with life’s pitfalls is foolish.This realization of mine came suddenly – in the course of one clumsy day, I had the misfortune of burning and cutting my hand while cooking. So naturally, due to the pain in my hand, when asked about how I was by a friend later in the day, I answered “not so well.” My friend’s response to this led to my epiphany. “Look on the bright side,” he suggested. Furthermore, making a comparison to current events, he said, “At least your house isn’t getting blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade.” He apparently felt that I should not let the minor injuries to my hand bother me since, after all, “things could be worse.” As I considered his statement, a major flaw associated with such optimism became crystal clear – yes, things could be worse, but the mere fact that there are worse possible hardships does nothing whatsoever to stop the pain in my hand.Thus, contrary to the claims of optimists, positive thinking fails to ease the suffering of any given situation. Moreover, I argue that optimism can, in the long run, actually make things much worse.For instance, a pessimistic student is more likely to do well on a test than an optimist. The pessimistic student will worry about his or her upcoming tests, and is thereby often moved to study. An optimistic student believes that everything will turn out just fine, and besides, who wants to have a negative thing like an upcoming test on his or her mind? The optimistic student in this way makes his or her situation worse all because of his or her positive outlook. Also, there is an example along the same lines as my cooking incident. Imagine that there is a man who, by accident, badly cuts his hand. Yet, he decides not to focus on the negativity of the experience. He instead decides to ignore the pain, not treating the wound because he would rather just focus on the bright side. And, after all, “things could be worse.” If this man’s wound becomes infected, it will have been as a result of his optimism – his bizarre notion that he should not worry about his injury because he would be better off focusing on the positive. Some may think an example such as this to be absurd, for common sense clearly maintains that a bad wound ought to be treated. I agree with this, and therefore believe that the tenets of optimism are at odds with common sense. It is obvious that in our lives we must focus chiefly on the negative. When doing so, we can identify and usually fix our problems rather than pretending that they do not exist in order to satisfy the backwards values of trying to “look for the silver lining. “This is not to suggest that people should be pessimists to the point of self-burden. For any given situation, a person has the option of focusing on the positive, the negative or refraining from personal consideration on the issue at all. People need not actively seek out situations about which they can feel negatively. When people live their lives as perpetual optimists – participating in the folly of constant positive outlook, they have crippled themselves to the point at which they are ill-prepared to identify and fix the hardships they encounter. The warped doctrine of optimism does not ameliorate life, but instead serves only to bind positive thinkers in the chattels of a rosy-colored fantasy world. As optimists are continuously beguiled into complacency, optimism becomes more and more clearly wrong by its very nature. Mack can be reached at jmack@campustimes.org.

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