Q:I recently retired, and my wife and children say I’m becoming “grouchy” and cynical. I think I’m being realistic, but they say that I’m pessimistic and that it’s healthier to be optimistic. Are they right?
A:We cannot determine if you are optimistic or pessimistic, but we commend you for taking your family’s comments seriously. Here are some thoughts:
When 1,000 65- to 85-year-olds were followed for 10 years, the highly optimistic ones had a 55 percent lower death rate than the very pessimistic ones. In 2010 a detailed analysis of more than 80 studies looking at the effects of optimism on physical health revealed that persons who were more optimistic not only lived longer but also had less pain, better outcomes from cancer and heart attacks, and better overall function and performance. So yes, it is healthier to be optimistic!
Psychological literature suggests that healthy doses of optimism are helpful in energizing and inspiring us and make life more enjoyable for us and for those around us. Both optimism and pessimism are learned habits of thinking; that means there is hope! To be an optimist is to embrace reality, confront it, and take steps to cope. We can choose to see defeat as temporary and its effects limited to a specific area in our lives (optimism), or choose to see every bad event as long-lasting and each outcome as undermining everything we could have hoped for (pessimism). While the core of pessimism is helplessness, hopelessness, and a “fixed mind-set,” optimists have learned to accept empowerment and develop a “growth mind-set” and a can-do attitude.
Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Both optimistic and pessimistic thinking can be cultivated; so whether you are really pessimistic, as your family suggests, or realistic, as you see yourself as being, here are some ways you can cultivate the benefits of optimism:
Reflect daily on what you can be thankful for. Develop an attitude of gratitude.
Remember in whom you have believed; be persuaded that He is able to keep that which you have committed unto Him against that day (see 2 Tim. 1:12).
Release the things and circumstances that you cannot control. Let God deal with them.
Reject negative self-talk. Follow the advice of Philippians 4:8.
Reframe negatives by learning to look for the positive. Practice this!
Refocus your attention on what’s before you today—on what you have, not on what you don’t have. Have no anxious thoughts of tomorrow (see Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:6, 7).
Relentlessly pursue your calling for this time in your life. You’re not over the hill; you are just getting to the peak!
Reinvest in making your home a piece of heaven on earth; your church a welcoming place for strangers; your community a place that is as blessed as Potiphar’s house because you, as Joseph, are there. And one more: be the grandpa that every child longs for!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.