For most of my adult life I’ve considered myself an optimist. I’ve certainly been called an optimist – however – I’ve also been called delusional with my positive attitude and faith in things “turning out how they should”. Dictionary.com defines optimism as “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”
So, at what point does over optimism actually become delusional? When does seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses go too far to the stage of becoming a mental illness? Interesting questions – perhaps ones asked by the pessimist?
“Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.” – Voltaire
Psychology Today says; “Optimists have a tendency to make lemonade out of lemons, and to then see the glass as half-full when it’s half-empty. It’s an admirable quality, one that can positively affect mental and physical health.” Scheier & Carver (1985) define optimism as a general tendency to expect good outcomes, and found positive correlations with optimism and good physical health and more effective immune functioning. Carver (2005) found that optimism helps people deal with breast cancer. All the research oin the subject seems to indicate that optimists “cope with stress in more adaptive ways than pessimists” (Nes & Segerstrom, 2006), and are more likely to engage in action-orientated problem-focused coping, more willing to seek social support, and more likely to emphasize the positive in their appraisal of stressful events – compared to the pessimist who is more likely to deal with stress by giving up of engaging in denial or wishful thinking (Weiten, 2010).
“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” – Harry S. Truman
There must be a reason for pessimism – or as some call it – realism. Although I consider myself an optimist, I have certainly experienced my fair share of cynicism, lack of faith in the human race, and “why do I bother” moments – however they pass. With the pessimist, I presume they linger. That – to me – is a one way ticket to depression. However without some levels of pessimism – whether it be from a “down to earth” friend or a blunt partner – I could find myself floating up into the realms of borderline delusion if kept unchecked.
So my ongoing question is this; at what point does optimism stop and delusion begin? Perhaps when being overly optimistic stops being realistic, when this attitude begins to indicate neglect, defying the laws of physics, or just plain stupid? This reminds me of the old philosophical debate about good only being able to exist as long as there is evil – and furthermore – if there was no evil – good would lose it’s meaning. The yin and yang. If left unchecked, “evil” can do some terrible things – however acts done in the name of “good” can be equally as unbalanced.
I haven’t answered my question, however I have come to a different conclusion; in order for optimism to exist there must be pessimists, and vica versa. Perhaps delusions comes into play when there is not enough pessimism to ground the eternal optimist..? Food for thought…