Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why Are Optimists so Obnoxious?

Okay, I'm an admitted optimist. Yep, born that way. I'm guessing my genetic predisposition toward optimism  is well over the 50% that researchers say is present in society. On top of that I choose to be optimistic the other 40% of the time and the 10% of my life circumstances aren't too bad. So why it is so difficult to be around me? After all, I'm the cheery guy who always sees the bright side of things. Therein lies the problem.

"I'd like to slap you upside the head" said an HR Director yesterday when she heard from Jan, my business partner, how optimistic I am. "Yep" agreed Jan, "sometimes it's obnoxious." I took all of this in the fun in which it was meant,  but it caused me to think. With all of this happiness and positiveness being promoted by books, speakers and workshops is it making some of us tough to live with?

What is it about optimists that make us so difficult to be around? Well, I'd like to offer my side as an optimist, but I'm open to hearing from others. The researchers say that the difference between optimism and pessimism is about "explanatory style." That means when something bad or good happens to us we "explain" it by telling ourselves how it will affect us. Is the negative event permanent and pervasive, or just temporary and local? Our explanation then drives our behavior. So, it's not about whether the glass is half full or half empty, it's about what you are thinking after you dump it in your lap. Does it ruin your entire day, or is it a momentary accident?

My theory about why optimists are considered obnoxious rests on what optimism or pessimism allows us to do. Pessimism, because it leans toward the believe that bad things will continue to happen, or something will go wrong, allows us to wallow in the difficulty of the moment. We comfort ourselves that we've done our best and can savor all of the pity of our friends and family. We can rest for the moment because, after all, nothing else can be done. Optimists on the other hand, seeing the challenge as temporary, realize there is  more that can be done, perhaps another avenue of departure, and we move forward. There is no resting, no wallowing in the moment, but just charging ahead seeing another opportunity.

No wonder we're considered so obnoxious. Sometimes it feels good to have people comfort you, give advice, or just feel sorry for you and you don't have to do anything. We optimists rain on that parade big time! The worst part is that we usually foist our optimistic advice just when the other person is enjoying the attention, or the rest.

So, I think I'll try letting others enjoy their moment of attention, or wallowing. If they want my advice they will ask for it. As for me, I'll be on the sunny side of the street.

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