Hope is highly overrated, whatever the research says

Chalkboard: Your optimism is killing me

You do realize that my completely fabricated blog persona’s optimism is perpetually clouded in the real Annie’s doubt and insecurity, don’t you? I write my blog to convince myself that all clouds have silver linings. I can’t see through my rose-coloured glasses, when I can even find them. The future would be bright if I didn’t keep knocking over my half-full glass. You get the idea.

Did you know that, according to a recently published Harvard study following 70,000 women, optimists live longer? In this study, optimists died less often of heart disease and even cancer. The study didn’t address whether their optimism caused them not to be diagnosed with these illnesses, just that the illnesses wouldn’t kill them at the same rate as their pessimistic cohorts.

Now let’s be careful interpreting this research, shall we? Just because two factors co-occur does not mean that one causes the other. In fact, other variables may be responsible for the optimists’ longevity, including, for example, their better self-care. But the research still makes me wonder: should I stop drinking out of my half-empty glass?

I could listen to the Harvard researchers or John Cleese in Clockwise. Cleese said, “It’s not the despair. The despair I can handle. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” (Credit goes to my dear psychologist friend, M., for alerting me to Cleese’s wisdom.) I find this sentiment compelling. The inconsistency does me in, those darn glimmers of hope interspersed with disappointment. I’m certainly a person who needs to know what to expect, and that’s hard in a situation like mine.

I’m thinking of my leukemia. (Am I ever not thinking about my leukemia?) I’m feeling better than I have in a long time, yet I have struggled to accept that I will never work full time again, and that my daily functioning will always remain well below the level it was pre-cancer. The leukemia has affected my functioning profoundly and in ways that are beyond my control. My rational self gets it, but my emotional self continues to have trouble getting my head around my not-so-new reality.

If I didn’t have glimmers of the old Annie peeking through, moments when I feel more like the pre-cancerous me, maybe I’d have accepted these losses sooner, mourned them, and moved forward. Maybe Cleese is suggesting that I’d have accepted my impairments sooner were I to have none of these good days. I knew there had to be an upside to keeping my cup half empty, but I needed John Cleese to explain it to me.

Just as I accept I must give up hope for unrealistic changes in my functioning, I learn that not hoping may kill me. But all is not lost. The Harvard researchers noted that, for the pessimists among us, optimism can be learned. Have at me, Dr. Smartiepants. Best of luck taking me on since I am somewhat resistant to change.

I wonder if John Cleese went to Harvard. Nope, I just looked it up: turns out it was Cambridge. I guess that gives him some credibility.


6 thoughts on “Hope is highly overrated, whatever the research says

  1. Ah, Seligman’s “Learned Optimism”. I may even own a copy….. I for one am so happy that you’re feeling better. I have to say that you’re looking fabulous as well. That may have something to do with all the good volunteer work you’ve been doing recently.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s