Wednesday, December 7, 2016
It reminded me of Dylan Thomas, who went into a pub in America and got beaten up by some big bruiser – a future Trump voter, no doubt – for calling him heterosexual.
But, since you ask, I'll tell you – much as I hate talking about myself.
I think it's partly heredity, and partly by choice. When you grow up in the Salvos, professing to be "saved", it's natural to be happy with life and confident Someone Upstairs will look after you.
My mother was an incessant worrier and I grew up seeing her worrying about a lot problems that never eventuated. My father wasn't a worrier. I decided to take after my dad.
In truth, as optimists go I'm out and proud.
I can only guess at what the future holds, but people are always asking for my prediction.
If you want a forecast that errs on the optimistic side, I'm your man. If you want death and destruction, feel free to take your business elsewhere.
Many people switch between economic optimism and pessimism depending on whether they approve of the present government. Not me.
Of course, if I thought we were staring recession in the face I'd say so. Even if I thought the possibility was a lot higher than normal I'd say so – though I'd keep the announcement sober rather than sensational.
Most of the time, however, the safest and most likely prediction is that next year will be much the same as this year. When it's a half full/half empty choice, you know which way I'll jump. (You know, too, that an economist is someone who thinks the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.)
What I said at that event last week was that I'm an optimist because "it's easier to get through life that way".
It's true. I commend it to you. And I have scientific proof. Professor Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, a founder of the positive psychology school and author of Learned Optimism, has written that optimism and hope are quite well-understood, having been the object of thousands of empirical studies.
They "cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, particularly in challenging jobs, and better physical health".
Other research has shown that individuals who profess pessimistic explanations for life events have poorer physical health, are prone to depression, have a less adequately functioning immune system and are more frequent users of medical and mental healthcare.
A study by Toshihiko Maruta and others at the Mayo Clinic, which followed almost 450 patients over 30 years, found that optimists lived longer than pessimists and reported better physical and mental health. Wellness is attitudinal, not just physical.
My conclusion is that optimists live happier lives than pessimists. But are optimists happier people or are happy people more optimistic? Bit of both, is my guess.
Which is not to say optimism is rational or realistic. It isn't. Seligman defines optimism as a style of explaining life events.
Pessimists think the bad things that happen to them are permanent ("the boss is a bastard") whereas optimists think they're temporary ("the boss is in a bad mood").
Pessimists think the good things that happen to them are temporary ("my lucky day") whereas optimists think they're permanent ("I'm always lucky").
Pessimists have universal explanations for their failures ("I'm repulsive") whereas optimists have specific explanations ("I'm repulsive to him").
But don't knock self-deluding optimism. It's a motivating force for innovation and entrepreneurial endeavour and it keeps the capitalist system turning.
Business people invent new gismos and launch new products because they're convinced the new thing will be hugely successful, making their name and fortune.
Few succeed. Most do their dough. But the ones who do succeed make us more prosperous than we were. Then they try again.
But I confess my optimism is part professional calculation. As a commentator I have a contrarian streak. When all my competitors are saying black, I look for a way to say white.
This isn't hard or contrived because the media have an inbuilt tendency to predict the worse, believing this will please the audience and make them more popular.
Journalists believe our audience finds bad news more interesting than good news. For sound evolutionary reasons I've discussed before, this is right.
But ever intensifying competition has prompted the media to go over the top in their search for the big and bad.
Trouble is, most readers are optimists like me. They want to sustain their belief that, despite the bad things happening, the world is still fundamentally good, Australians are basically decent people despite some recent lapses, and life will get better, not worse.
I fear the bad-worse-worst news formula may be too depressing for some people, prompting them to switch to Facebook and photos of their friends' latest holiday.
If that's how you feel, dear reader, I'm here to help.