Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Double-Edged Optimism

Hey, look! Two and a half weeks later and another blog post! TWO posts in ONE month? Now that's something to celebrate. (On the upside, despite my lack of regular posting, I added an update to my novel info on the right column here to at least provide more of an indicator of progress. And I HAVE been productive despite how slow I've been here lately. Last ten chapters and epilogue, and then it's time to start chucking bricks through agents' windows. (Metaphorically, of course.))

At any rate, we're less than a month from the autumnal equinox, so we've arrived at last in the final weeks of summer! Summer has a track record of being a slower blogging period for me, so I should be getting back to business on this front more soon. (Especially once I've begun the agent querying process, since I'll effectively be laying the groundwork for my second novel at that time, and that tends to take longer and is generally less intensive than the main writing and editing work.) Plus, with the new TV season beginning next month, that always provides some decent pop culture babbling fodder.

Getting down to business, as some may recall, I blogged about optimism and its seeming apparent health benefits not quite half a year ago. You've all developed an appetite for my science posts by now, haven't you? Of course you have. (YOU DON'T GET A CHOICE.) Anyway, the short of it is that optimists lead longer, healthier lives than pessimists, according to University of Pittsburgh researchers. As a cynic, I was a smug jerk about the whole thing. (It's contractual.) HOWEVER! Nearly half a year later, I get to enjoy contradicting that last post (Implicitly smugly) courtesy of a recent study by Canadian psychologists.

The power of positive thinking, you say? NOT SO! The power of frustrating failure to delude one's self! We all knew that self-affirmation is a pretty weak concept to base self-improvement around - it doesn't matter how much time you invest in complimenting yourself if you don't think much of yourself, and frankly, all you're doing then is lying to yourself since you don't really believe what you're saying. The root of the problem is being ignored. But hey, who's to say you have to love yourself? You can be a real jerk sometimes, y'know. If anything, the world's far too full of people infatuated with themselves. (America's especially guilty of this problem.) It might just be better, I postulate, not to worry about loving or hating yourself, but rather finding a comfortable neutral ground: you are who you are, and self-improvement is all well and good as a concept, but if it doesn't come naturally and organically - if you force it - it's not exactly genuine, is it? Nobody's perfect.

Now that I've gone off on it (in)appropriately, the study found the long-recommended practice of self-affirmation to be flawed. For some people, forcing themselves to be positive about their undertakings or who they are doesn't make them feel any better. (Words are empty if you don't mean them, after all. Nobody can really lie to themselves, at least, barring serious mental illness.) They asked people with high and low self-esteem to repeat "I am a lovable person" to themselves, and those who started with low self-esteem came out feeling worse after having said it. Again, something that obviously stems from their immediately thinking the opposite when pushed to make a statement like that, because it's not what they really believe. And, of course, some of them probably just thought, "This is stupid." (Can you blame them?)

Of course, positive thinking is still thought to be effective when part of a broader therapy program, but the quick cure-all it's been presented as on daytime talk shows, in self-improvement books, magazines, and such? It's useless. Of course, if you already have high self-esteem, you don't need positive self-affirmations and shouldn't be feeding your ego on them. (Cut it out already. You're annoying the rest of us.)

That's it for today - I'll try to get another something up here before September crashes down on us next week. In the meantime, what you should take away from this is that we're not all Stuart Smalley. (And after months of recounts and legal jousting, he's a sitting Senator now.)


Matt said...

But I *am* a lovable person! ...yeah.

Benjamin Fennell said...


I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.