Optimism in the 21st Century
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA – AUGUST 04: A job seeker meets with recruiters during the Catalyst Career Group job fair on August 4, 2011 in South San Francisco, California. The Employment Situation report for July, 2011 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to be released tomorrow. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
If you are presently out of work then you know how hard it is to find a job. Well you are not alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest numbers the unemployment rate was 9.1% in May (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This Report also said there were 822,000 discouraged workers in May. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a discouraged worker as a person who is not looking for work because they don’t think there are any jobs out there for them. These discouraged workers are not very optimistic about finding jobs. Which raises the question, can optimism affect your physical health?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines optimism as –“3. The tendency to hope for the best or to take a favorable view of circumstances or prospects: hopefulness, confidence in the future.” (Oxford English Dictionary). Back in 2007 my mom died from lung cancer. A few months later in 2008, I was laid off from my position as an Operations Manager. I looked and looked for work. As I searched for a position the stories on the news of more and more layoffs was not encouraging. I was not finding the ideal position and people where being laid off all over the country. I was not very optimistic.
John Milton coined the phrase “every dark cloud has a silver lining” which came from his original quote; “Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?” (Milton line 221-22). When I heard this phrase I imagined a black sable cloud with a shiny metallic lining. Sparkling and twinkling in the navy blue, night sky. Optimism is a lot like that seeing a way when it seems there is no way. Optimism is a way of thinking. It means looking for something positive when it seems there is nothing but negative. Hearing about so many people being laid off while I was looking for work was a circumstance that I needed to be optimistic about.
Optimism is a positive reaction to a negative situation. Another great example of optimism is when someone is ill, and they keep fighting to survive. In 2005, my mother called a family meeting to tell us she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Obviously when we heard this grave news we automatically thought the worst. Yet my mother remained optimistic. She changed her life style, began to eat a more healthy diet, and followed her doctor’s instructions, all the while keeping a positive outlook. When she passed away in 2007 she lived longer than her doctor’s had projected.
According to a Rasmussen Reports National Survey, taken in June of 2011, “46% of Americans expect the economy to be stronger in five years. That’s unchanged from March, which marked the lowest level of optimism in over two years of surveying.” (Rasmussen Reports). With the U.S. economy in such terrible shape Americans are becoming discouraged. Even people who have jobs are not optimistic.
The opposite of optimism is pessimism. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines pessimism as – “an inclination to take the least favorable view (as of events) or to expect the worst.” (Merriam-Webster Inc). When we expect the worst we have lost hope. We have given up on seeing a positive outcome. In some instances this can be very detrimental. I was not optimistic at all about my mother’s situation. As I learned about the disease thru research, I found that my mother’s future was grim and I began to lose hope. Knowing what I knew I wondered how she could be so positive. I wasn’t very hope full.
The Rasmussen Reports National Survey taken June 5-6, 2011 reports, “The number of Americans who think the economy will spiral into a depression similar to the 1930’s is now at its highest level since March 2009. Fifty percent (50%) believe it is at least somewhat likely that there will be a 1930s–like depression…” (Rasmussen Reports).
The title of the Rasmussen Reports National Survey could have been “Pessimism at Highest Levels in Over Two Years.” The American public is pessimistic about the future. Low levels of optimism mean high levels of pessimism. When you’re pessimistic about the future you see no rational way out of the situation. Often people give up trying when they are hopeless, and they become depressed.
Dr. Heather N. Rasmussen has studied the physical effects of optimism and has come to the conclusion “optimism is a significant predictor of positive physical health outcomes.” (Rasmussen 239-56). So while the future is not looking very bright it is important to your health to be optimistic.
Dr. Rasmussen studied all types of people, from completely healthy people to the chronically ill, her findings were the same. “…research shows that optimistic people, compared to those more pessimistic in outlook, report less pain…, better physical functioning…, experience fewer physical symptoms…., and are less likely to be re-hospitalized following coronary artery bypass surgery…” (Rasmussen 239-56).
It is also important for the reader to know that the type of study done by Dr. Heather Rasmussen was qualitative which means she sat down and interviewed people and made firsthand observations. I learned first-hand the effects that optimism has on your health from my mother. She kept fighting the Lung Cancer with a gentle smile and great expectations.
My mother was very optimistic about her treatments and was often excited to go see her doctor. She looked forward to finding out how she was progressing. Her positive outlook was so infectious that I even gained hope. I began to realize that the doctors who diagnosed my mother didn’t really know her. She was optimistic and determined to fight.
When things aren’t going our way we begin to get stressed, and stress is bad for your health. In March of 2010 WebMD.com, posted a report by Jerome F. Kiffer, which said, “The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges.” (Kiffer). He goes on in his report to explain the physical effects that stress can have. Kiffer also reports that “seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress related ailments and complaints.” The stress of being unemployed not only can cause headaches and an upset stomach, but stress can also cause high blood pressure, chest pains, trouble sleeping, heart disease, diabetes and much more.
So while the economy may be doing badly at the present time Americans should try to remain optimistic, their lives could depend upon it. While it is hard to find a job, and the economy doesn’t seem to be getting any better optimism plays a part in our overall health.
In 2010, I stopped searching for a job. I decided I needed to do things differently, so I started my own business and began taking classes. I remained optimistic and positive about my future. I believe my optimism opened doors for me that I would not have seen had I been a pessimist.
So although it may seem silly to think that every dark cloud has a silver lining, it might just be practical thinking. Instead of having a negative outlook people affected by the economy should try looking at the situation from a more optimistic perspective.
An optimistic attitude can help you keep a positive outlook. It’s even more important to be optimistic if you’re ill because your life could depend on it.
UPDATED: 7/2/2012 Fast forward to today Now there is a report out that says Americans are more optimistic According to an Article titled A reason to be optimistic in today’s economy
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“A sample of Americans were asked how they rated economic conditions.
49% said things were good or excellent in the city that they lived in. That percentage drops to 37% for how Americans feel about their state; it drops to 25% for all of the United States; to 18% for Europe, and only 13% for economic conditions in the world at large”(CNN.com). So what do you think are you more or less optimistic Take our poll.
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