COCKEYED OPTIMISM IS A WINNING STRATEGY
I recently posted the following statement on Facebook:
As a confirmed and certified optimist, I am absolutely certain that all pessimists will get what they deserve and expect.
Pessimism is not a winning strategy and is contrary to the principles on which the United States was founded. This is probably why the most optimistic candidate always wins presidential elections, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton being the most recent examples, though the value of Barack Obama’s 2008 slogan, Hope and Change, cannot be overestimated. FDR perhaps set the standard, being the first president to use mass media in his radio Fireside Chats, and with perhaps the most authentically American phrase ever uttered by a commander-in-chief, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” from his first inaugural address.
But it is not just about politics, which after all is a reflection of the national psyche. A Harvard study just released shows that people who optimistic and upbeat about life are less likely to have heart attacks. I have talked extensively about the importance of having “robust expectations.” And sixty-three years ago, Rodgers and Hammerstein encapsulated this hallmark of the American spirit in that great song from South Pacific, A Cockeyed Optimist. You can Google the lyrics, but here are a few of the most essential ones:
I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.
Just recently I coined the word, “neopessimism” to describe those people who are whining about the economic catastrophes facing us, and the lack of opportunity today. In other words, focusing on the doom and gloom rather than the boom and bloom. One definition of bloom is a condition of vigor and freshness. This is what really is going on now as Americans have broken all records on productivity, foreign exports are at all-time highs, and we have survived an economic challenge that, when history looks back on it, may actually have been more threatening than the Great Depression. There are certainly problems, and lots of hard decisions to be made, but, as was true in the 1930s with FDR, the best decisions need to be made in an aura of hopefulness and genuine optmism that we can do it. FDR tried some things that just didn’t work, but he never gave up, and many of his experimental solutions are still around today, like Social Security. The challenges facing us now are nowhere near as daunting as those we have faced and triumphed over in the past.
Those who count the nation and themselves out, who see current challenges and obstacles as insurmountable are sadly ignorant of our own history, and how time and again that indomitable American spirit has kept our heads above water. The basic definition of “indomitable” is “impossible to subdue or defeat.” Someone recently pointed out how many potential catastrophes we survived in the 20th Century–the great flu pandemic, AIDS, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and countless others. A part of our national psyche that is not emphasized enough, I believe, is our resilience.
In other words, we are very, very good at bouncing back.