Do You Have Too Much Optimism?

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” Lou Holtz, retired American football player

This was the answer to a cryptogram puzzle that I once completed. My first reaction was, “Yes, that’s probably true!” and my second was, “That is SUCH an American statement!”

Americans, on the whole, are an optimistic people. One thing many of us like to say is, “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” We BELIEVE in the power of positive thinking. Our bookstores are filled with self-help books like “The How of Happiness,” “Learned Optimism,” and “Creating Optimism.” 

Once upon a time, I couldn’t imagine anything wrong with that viewpoint. After all, some studies show that people who are optimistic have longer, healthier lives. That’s good, right?!

Well, yes, BUT…did you know that too much optimism is seen as a negative trait by many other cultures? As Craig Storti says, “The deep faith Americans have that things will always work out and that nothing is impossible makes many non-Americans nervous, and likewise makes it difficult for them to entirely trust what Americans say” (Americans at Work, pg. 24). What we perceive as an upbeat attitude (“I think I can, I think I can”) is viewed as naivety by some and arrogance by others.

Does this mean that I think we should all become sourpusses? Heavens, no! The world definitely doesn’t need more frowns and sighs. However, I do think we need to realize that over-the-top optimism doesn’t appeal to everyone. Words that encourage one person might dissuade someone else. Actions that inspire me might make someone else doubtful. An increased understanding of our own culturally shaped worldview can help us respond to others in ways that THEY will appreciate and understand.

Now, get out there and “Be all that you can be” and “Just Do It!” After all, “practice makes perfect!”       

Photo by Theen Moy