Physical Problems

Grumps: Humans are plagued with constant physical problems.

Optimist: Optimistic beliefs about health problems have been shown to have significant positive impacts.

It is generally assumed that it is healthy to be rigorously objective about one's situation. To paint a rosier picture than the facts warrant is often seen as a sign of pathology (cf. Peterson, 2000; Schwartz, 2000; and Vaillant, 2000, in this issue). However... Shelley Taylor and her collaborators argue that unrealistically optimistic beliefs about the future can protect people from illness (Taylor et al., 2000). The results of numerous studies of patients with life-threatening diseases, such as AIDS, suggest that those who remain optimistic show symptoms later and survive longer than patients who confront reality more objectively. According to these authors, the positive effects of optimism are mediated mainly at a cognitive level. An optimistic patient is more likely to practice habits that enhance health and to enlist social support. It is also possible, but not proven, that positive affective states may have a direct physiological effect that retards the course of illness.

One of the most interesting sets of studies [Peter Salovey and his coauthors] discuss is the one that shows that persons high in optimism and hope are actually more likely to provide themselves with unfavorable information about their disease, thereby being better prepared to face up to realities even though their positive outcome estimates may be inflated. 3


Grumps: Deafness is a terrible and alienating affliction.

Optimist: It's possible to overcome deafness, as Beethoven did.

Beethoven was suicidal and despairing at age 31, yet two dozen years later he composed the "Ode to Joy," translating into sublime music Schiller's lines, "Be embraced, all ye millions..." What made it possible for him to overcome despair despite poverty and deafness? ... George Vaillant (2000) reminds readers that it is impossible to describe positive psychological processes without taking a life span, or at least a longitudinal, approach. "Call no man happy till he dies," for a truly positive psychological adaptation should unfold over a lifetime. Relying on the results obtained from three large samples of adults studied over several decades, Vaillant summarizes the contributions of mature defenses --altruism, sublimation, suppression, humor, anticipation--to a successful and joyful life. 3


Grumps: I have some limitations in intelligence that appear to be genetic.

Optimist: Self-discipline - an emotion that can be learned - is a better predictor than intelligence in high school, for example.

Self-discipline is twice as good a predictor of high school grades as IQ (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). 4


Grumps: Covering our body with fashion is a superficial and wasteful activity.

Optimist: Fashion is a helpful way to indicate your true self to others.

Fashion is potentially a very serious part of life – but it has largely been abandoned to pretension, eccentricity and silliness. A vital function of clothes is to show that you belong to a particular tribe. This is most obvious in military or work uniforms. They announce a collective identity. But all other clothes are, in fact, uniforms of varying kinds. They let others know who we think we are, what we admire and what we consider important. Clothes are eloquent. They take their place alongside language as a tool of self-communication.

Actually, being true to yourself might mean you have have much in common with other people. Finding a good identity is more important than stressing how you are unlike others.

Clothes are part of a larger argument about material things – not as emblems of vanity or clutter (as our fears sometimes suggest); but as – potentially – aids and prompts, friends, in our quest to become the best – kinder, more focused, more sane, more confident, more balanced – versions of our authentic selves. 1

How we react to our body shape, and many other things besides, is to a large extent dependent on what we imagine other people might think. We are social creatures. And that means we are very much open to influence and the examples set by prestigious people. We mostly can't help wanting to do things, and look the way, the most prestigious members of our society suggest we should.

In the 16th century, the painter Titian made memorable representations of the charms of larger bottoms. The glamour of his art meant that, for a time, they became an ideal. Women adjusted their diets and exercise routines so they might look more like the figures in his pictures.

We are used to being down on glamour. It seems merely shallow. But it is in fact a vital agent of social change and improvement. There are so many other areas where we need the light of glamour to shine. There are lots of key things that currently have low status, but should be highly regarded. It should be glamorous to back down in a row when you are in the wrong. It should be sexy to be patient, to be tactful and to be kind. If you read to your kids or help with the maths homework, you should feel very good about yourself. Tidying up should be glamorous. So should going without a treat so as to reduce your credit card debt. 2

Last Updated: Monday, Sep 04, 2017 8:19:13 PM