I bought the cutest glasses at Restoration Hardware the other day! Italian,
white line around the middle, with the word PESSIMISTA above and the word OTTIMISTA
below. Get it? Half-empty, half-full. Oh! Oh! Tchotchkes like that give me hope
for civilization (half-full!). Italian civilization, anyway (half-empty).
Actually, at first I couldn't find the glasses, so I asked someone for help...and
that someone, I realized mid-request, was Ricki Lake. I played dumb. So poor
Ricki had to confront not being recognized (half-empty for her) ... but then
again, she wasn't really working there (half-full!).
So now I raise my glass, half-full of a lovely Chateauneuf du Pape, to the
latest psychology news:
The Power of Negative Thinking
There's a new gadget in town, and it's called The
Affirmatron. There's also a new movement in town, and it's called Positive
Psychology. A growing number of pros are moving away from wondering "Why
are folks bummed and how can we fix them?" and toward "Who are those
happy people and how do they stay that way (even in the face of bummers)?"
-- and, of course, "How can we use that 411 to help everyone?" After
all, scientists suggest that optimists are better able to bounce back from setbacks,
that a glass-half-full attitude is preventative medicine -- that optimists
may actually live longer.
Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., former president of the American
Psychological Association (APA), has even said: "Our concept of depression
is all wrong...maybe [in some cases] what looks like a symptom of depression
-- negative thinking -- is itself the disease." Psychology
Today (May/June 2000) also reports: "Seligman projects that the movement's
research will yield methods of making exercise less tedious, work more rewarding,
relationships more enjoyable [oomph added] -- in short, making what is
good in life better...A good marriage therapist might teach partners how to
fight constructively, says Seligman, how to change a bad marriage into a workable
one. But, the question is, how do you make a workable marriage sublime?"
To those ends, Seligman & Co. -- while acknowledging that optimism is not
universally appropriate or helpful -- are creating an authoritative body of
psychological literature on "learned optimism" so that folks can truly
be taught "how to maximize joy and good."
Oh boy! Now you're all, "...and why don't I feel happy about that?"
Worried that someone's gonna bust past BG security and come after you with "love
is..." cartoons, funny eyeglasses, and turn-that-frown-upside-down exhortations
that do the same to your stomach? Well, look on the dark side: there's also
been a louder and louder call for...whimpering. A few weeks ago, a symposium
was held at the APA's annual meeting called, "The (Overlooked) Virtues
The New York Times recently reported: "While positive thinking has its
advantages, [these psychologists argue], a little whining now and then is not
such a bad thing. Pessimism, in some circumstances, may have its place. And
unrelieved pressure to be upbeat, they assert, may gloss over individual needs
and differences, and may make some people feel worse instead of better."
Negative thinking can even be a coping strategy -- they call it "defensive
pessimism" -- if and when you act on it instead of succumbing
to it. A defensive pessimist (DP) would approach, say, a date, with a great
deal of anxiety. Rather than reassuring him/herself with positive affirmations
such as, "Doggone it, people LIKElike you!" the DP is more likely
to picture him/herself running out of things to say, tripping over...nothing,
squirting ketchup in his/her date's eye, etc. But the glass-half-full element
of that approach is this: the DP may then also make plans to avoid such pitfalls,
such as brushing up on current events, wearing sturdy shoes, and suggesting
sushi. Says Dr. Julie Norem: "This mental rehearsal tends to make defensive
pessimists feel less anxious, and so they actually perform better." Psychologists
have also found that when their subjects focus on -- rather than flowery-wallpaper
over -- big huge life bummers (say, by writing essays, or letters
to superheros, about them) their health and spirits actually improve.
Now, if you're already an optimist (or the Optimist)
don't worry -- you can stay that way! The bottom line (or at least the one between
OTTIMISTA and PESSIMISTA) is that your personal coping style -- whichever it
is -- is at your service. Both "positive thinking" and "constructive
negativity" can work fine, as long as you let them.
But if your glass does look as empty as your calendar, I'm not (Affirmatron
notwithstanding) gonna just say, "Buck up and it'll fill up!" Oh,
no. Go ahead and envision the worst -- like, as Bridget
Jones so daintily puts it, that you will "end up dying alone and found
three weeks later, half-eaten by an Alsatian." Then, in true DP form, take
steps to make that not happen. Or at least go
ahead and write to me about why it will. I'll at least try to keep you away
from all the optimists getting up, brushing themselves off, and saying, "Well,
at least I was only half-eaten!"
Predicament of the Week:
She broke El Duderino's heart! Will he break his code of honor?