Jonathan Wolfman's Blog
MAY 24, 2012 6:51AM

Choosing to Live Longer

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     I've said here that I'm a skeptic and that I try to avoid cynical impulses because a cynic rarely acts as she see little or no possibility of The Good winning. Her 'the-game-is-fixed' lens on life calcifies her mind and her heart. The skeptic's belief that Good/Evil are equally likely to hold the day (if not the arc of history) moves her to act and, more often than not, to win.

     Skepticism has an important corollary.

     A skeptic is far more likely than a cynic to understand this truth:

                                action precedes happiness.

People often think that they'll be able to act, to do the right thing, to progress in their lives, to help others move forward, if they wait to act until they feel better than they now do.

     The truth is that acting for Good makes us feel well. That's why the toddler who figures out a way to put on his jacket or, later on, to tie his shoes, often becomes next-to-ecstatic at his accomplishment even before his parents reinforce his action with praise. And then he tries to accomplish something new. 

                                We must act right to feel right.

     Waiting to feel good before we act means eons; acting right moves us toward feeling good swiftly.

     Now comes, from science writer Jane Brody, some evidence that what I believe (and encourage us all to believe and act on) is so. In the New York Times, Ms. Brody, speaking of optimism (which, I'd argue is a basis for a life of healthy skepticism), reports on studies of optimists and pessimists (as shown through psychological testing).

     Ms. Brody reports that "adults shown to be pessimists...had higher death rates over a 30-year period that those shown to be optimistic." She reviews a book by University of Kentucky psychology professor, Suzanne  C. Segerstrom. In short, Professor Segestrom argues that "optimism is not about being positive so much as it is being motivated and persistent." 

     While I encourage you to read Ms. Brody's piece in full (link below), I'll leave you today with some brief words from Dr. Segerstrom.

          - "...when faced with uncontrollable stressors, optimists tend to react by building 'existential resources' -- for example by looking for something good to come out of the situation or using the event...." 

      -  "...with the right guidance optimism can be learned by adults" despite our personal histories biological predispositions.

     The first step is, as I said above, to act as if what you do will make a positive difference in your and others' lives. Dr. Segestrom calls this 'Fake It 'Til You Make It'. Makes sense to me. I could not imagine doing even the little that I do in social justice writing/activism if I did not act as if it mattered. 


  A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full -


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I wish you all a long, productive, rewarding way forward!
This makes sense. Problems look less insurmountable if you're in the habit of addressing them because you think you can.
you get no argument from me.... I'll accept that theory...
In other words, the longer we delude ourselves the longer we postpone the inevitable?
kosh i think that's right!
Matt that's called Religion, man. (I could go for that Jamaican Religion... ... ...)
ray me too continue to have fun on holiday!
Having a positive outlook helps. Deluding oneself and thereby creating a greater disappointment doe not help. Being realistic and trying to achieve the best outcome is, what I believe, helps us live a healthier life. My dad was a cynic. He lived to be 101 +. Lot of it is DNA and chance.
Ande I'll take your word that he was a cynic (as per the meaning, above) and salute him, tho I do believe skeptics tend to lead happier, longer, on average.
However, researchers have found that pessimists perceptions tend to be more congruent with reality. (*sigh*)
Always looking for the good even in a very bad situation is the way to live, to move forward and I am happy to see it seems to be the right way to handle what life throws at you.
LL2 Bless you for your courage.
I like the definition of optimism you present. Being blindly positive without planning a course of action to improve one's circumstances is fruitless and idiotic. Well said.
Every day I wake up I am winning right?
Jon, thanks for posting about Jane Brody's column! My wife also commented on it yesterday when it appeared. In general we agree that optimism is great, but Brody should have acknowledged her great fortune compared to other people. From age 24 onward Brody has been privileged to have a high profile, lucrative, and glamorous job and, interestingly, she shows no sign of retiring anytime soon.

In our view, Jane Brody proves our point in the quote below which also features advice about getting such a prestigious job that clearly is unrealistic for most of the population (and, in fact, if she applied for the same job in 2012 and said the same thing they'd probably laugh her out of the interview office):

"When I applied at age 24 for a job as a science writer at The New York Times, an interviewer said I was foolhardy to think I could be hired after just two years of newspaper experience. “If I didn’t think I could do the job, I wouldn’t be here,” I told him."
Some lovely thoughts here.
When I first wake up, I often say to myself, "What shall I make of today's events? How shall I train myself for better things than before? What is there left to learn?" I'm convinced that's how I've learned to overcome doubt and worry, which in my book is a major first. Given my background, it's practically a psychological miracle, really. But maybe it's only that I'm naturally optimistic. Interesting.
Nice article, Jon. Very thought-provoking.Thanks.
Des Thanks, and very well-said.
i ignore most of these type theories.....but this seems to make some sense....i think....shit i dont know...
Waiting isn't doing anything. It's worse than being stuck in traffic. You go nowhere real fast and quickly become agitated when another vessel passes your path, stagnation occurs keeping one from moving forward.
I also agree with Ande.

Interestingly enough, I think cynics could be born that way. Depends on their family history as well as biofeedback as to why some are deeply depressed about everything and everyone within their immediate environment.

Funny. I've heard that pessimists are realists and optimistics are surrealists.
Balt I assure you The End will not arrive as a result of this election. :)
Steel it makes sense to me :)
B. I've heard that, too, tho I don't believe it. :)
I think we're born with a propensity for a half-full or half-empty attitude, like a sense of humor. You're blessed if you have it, and if you don't you may have to just relax more to relieve the stresses of life, and not stress over it.
Lea in part I see that tho I'm intrigued by what the professor says...that adults may, in fact, learn freater optimism and so live longer.
Makes sense...and you'll find that people are more likely to seek your company. Skeptics of the world, unite!
All well and good, but the Reaper gets you in the end anyway. I support reincarnation.
It sure works for me.

I agree!
Thanks for this ~
It's the evil cortisol we rose-colored-glasses wearers are preventing from coursing through our veins with our positive thoughts...if anyone needs a chemical reason this is valid.
Sarah I'd vote for reincarnation, too, if I could be assured that I wouldn't return as a Republican.
Very engaging and interesting. Sharing with my son. Do you discern a difference between happiness and contentment?
Amy on first glance, contentment seems more lasting. Will think more.
Skipping is intrinsically more cheerful than walking. We should all become Skipniks.
It took me thirty years to come to the "glass half full" view of life...1989 when the Berlin Wall started coming down. It took another few years until I was dancing and cheering in front of the TV in my loft. This is what sealed the deal:
I believe in a Zen-attitude--against surrounding stupidity and evil--rather than optimism. R