Can Optimism Lead to Depression?
“The man who is a pessimist before forty-eight knows too much; if he is an optimist after it he knows too little"...Mark Twain
What I love about this site (Hubpages) is that it inspires others in several ways so let me first give credit where it's due. This hub was inspired by another hubber- Introducing...drum roll please..."themanwithnopants" (Jim). Recently he wrote a hub about optimism and a positive mental attitude. Also, in the past he's written a piece or two on depression. We haven't quite come to an agreement on where we stand on this, but I will put one more thought out there because I've experienced it, seen it, and believe it to be true.
I believe optimism can lead to depression. My hub friend Jim is an optimist and of course this doesn't mean he has no down times- if he does, you'll be the first to know about it. He can get himself out of a hole and believes others can and should too. I will still maintain that optimism is a slippery slope. I think it can set people up for harder down times and a further distance to fall. I prefer to ride the wave of reality, not pessimism, perhaps pragmatism.
"themanwithnopants" (Jim's) hub
- How To Own A Positive Mental Attitude ..
This short story talks about the benefits of a positive mental attitude, and how to get one.
Denial Takes the Stage
I must add a little slice of "izettl" (me- Laura) reality here. When I come across an incurable optimist I just want to shake them silly and wake them up- have you seen the world around you? My 4 yr old has a better grip on reality than you!! No! Wait! Peter Pan knows more about the real world! Okay I got that out of my system.
I really do appreciate optimistic people, but take off your rose-colored glasses and sit with me for a while. When I see you being optimistic I know there's another layer underneath called denial. A positive mental attitude, even most of the time, can set someone up for failure and/or disappointment. OK now you have your mind made up I am pessimist disguised as a realist. Well, whatever, but people know me as someone who is the most even-tempered person you'll ever meet. I don't have a lot of ups and downs, I'm even as she goes. I'll explain more of this later...there's good reason behind all of this.
For now, let's talk about denial.It is impossible to solve most of life's issues without being realistic and laying down a plan. This process requires seeing the good AND bad in a situation in order for a plan to work. Denial is also the first stage of grief (DABDA: Denial, anger, bargainging, Depression, and acceptance). If you noticed, depression eventually comes after denial.
Someone who says they're always optimistic is lying or in denial. Harsh statement but the whole world places such shame on depression and those in a funk that we believe we have to carry around this false state of optimism in order for people to like us. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer, but people like people who are real and there should be no shame surrounding depressive disorders. We are not made to be happy all the time- that's not normal.
Not to say optimists don't hold a place in my heart. After all, I stated earlier I appreciate these people. They are reported to have better health...in some cases. Interestingly enough I did research on health and optimism. "The relationship between optimism and health has been studied with regards to physical symptoms, coping strategies and negative effect for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and fibromyalgia. It has been found that among individuals with these diseases, optimists are not more likely than pessimists to report pain alleviation due to coping strategies, despite differences in psychological well-being between the two groups."
Why are those findings interesting to me? I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and in plain black and white, it states it wouldn't matter if I have a positive attitude or not- optimism wouldn't help my symptoms or situation. The people who are optimistic and report bettter health are the ones who engage in healthy habits in the first place. In other words I have to come up with better coping strategies that optimist because that won't get me out of any funk surrounding my arthritis.
Experience with depression
I know depression all to well. It is referred to as the "every man's disease" because every man/woman has some experience with it. I've had people close to me suffer from long periods and brief periods of depression. In fact recently I had a brief spell when I couldn't find one positive cell in my body.
Everything that formerly brought me out of the funk, I could not do for some reason or another. Mostly because I am pregnant and one step above bed rest so exercise is out- that used to cheer me up. Having a glass of wine to relax...out. Taking a nice hot bath...out. Pigging out on a special yummy meal...out. Writing...well not totally out but let me tell you how uncomfortable it is sitting at a desk with a big belly.
All my tools for getting myself out of a hole are gone due to a difficult pregnancy and the restrictions. I will not be pregnant forever but this experience made me realize that our state of mind can be influenced by greater things beyond our control; hormones, health, money, abilities, chemical imbalances. In true depression, someone can not will themselves out of it.
My husband also has experience with depression and this is where my friend (themantwithnopants) and I differ. He has a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality, but not everyone was built like this. I know this from being around my husband who has suffered from Post traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder for many years. Optimism isn't the right prescription for him. I used to think people could get themselves out of a funk until all the experiences I've had in life told me otherwise. If optimism worked we could convince depressed people to be happy- try it and you'll fail miserably.
Optimism is a false state of mind. Someone with a depressive disorder or bi-polar disorder will experience an optimism high before the really low and bad occur. I've seen it in nearly all people I know who've suffered from depression. My husband for instance would get optimistic and really happy, then I knew the down time was going to come shortly after. Optimism in my world at that time was the calm before the storm, or like a roller coaster. It is short-lived. The goal with most depression medications is to get people to an even state of mind.
Optimism can only occur when the person has a perceived sense of control or compentency over their situation. If you think all circumstances in your life will be under your control, you're sadly mistaken. It is one thing to go through something traumatic or devastating that lasts a short time, but the people who are susceptible to depression are those who go through something chronic- prison sentence, war, post baby blues, chronic health issue. In these circumstances, optimism gets tiring because the body and mind have already become exhausted. Not saying one must give up, but rather hope and making a realistic plan, sometimes even medication, prayer and therapy are necessary.
Perhaps you heard of the debate and animosity between Tom Cruise and Brooke Sheilds regarding her experience with Post Partum Depression (baby blues). She reported in her book that medication was absolutely necessary for her. Tom Cruise spoke out publicly that she did not need medication- anyone can will themselves to have a positive attitude. First of all, what does he know about baby blues and second of all, he has been observed as a little strange. Folks, that's what optimism gone wrong looks like.
When Optimism Dies
Ask anyone who has been unemployed for a lengthy amount of time with their world crumbling around them- that's nearly 10% of most state's population. These people have run out of optimism, run out of plans, but can cling to hope. I'll take hope over optimism any day.
What will people do if they don't have a positive attitude or a reliable optimistic outlook? Hope is more reliable than optimism. Hope exists independently from us, even when people are completely out of optimism and can't rely on themselves to pull out of a low. Some people find hope in God, hope in the knowledge that the universe is always changing- with bad comes good and there is an eventual end to suffering.
If you look up information on hope, you will find it is "distinct from positive thinking, which refers to a therapeutic or systematic process used in psychology for reversing pessimism. The term "false hope" refers to a hope based entirely around a fantasy or false optimism, sometimes an extremely unlikely outcome."
"Hope springs eternal" ...Alexander Pope's Essay on Man
Get off the Optimism Roller Coaster and find your Zen in reality
I mentioned earlier that optimism is a false state of mind and I say this because it implies "good" and "bad". When people get stuck on the constant labeling of good and bad in life they get stuck on a roller coaster. Optimism also implies we want to get back to a "good", favorable state, but good is always threatened by bad- why even try to reach for the illusory good? Not trying to constantly be happy or have all good in life releases us from the bonds of those labels. This notion is uniquely translated below in a story:
Excerpt from the book, "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle.
The deeper interconnectedness of all things and events implies that the mental labels of “good” and bad” are ultimately illusory. They always imply a limited perspective and so are true only relatively and temporarily. This is illustrated in the story of a wise man who won an expensive car in a lottery.His family and friends were very happy for him and came to celebrate. “Isn't it great!” they said. “You are so lucky.” The man smiled and said “Maybe.”For a few weeks he enjoyed driving the car. Then one day a drunken driver crashed into his new car at an intersection and he ended up in the hospital,with multiple injuries. His family and friends came to see him and said,“That was really unfortunate. “ Again the man smiled and said, “Maybe.”While he was still in the hospital, one night there was a landslide and his house fell into the sea. Again his friends came the next day and said,“Weren't you lucky to have been here in hospital.” Again he said, “Maybe.”
Honestly I believe the importance (and stress) of happiness, a positive attitude, optimism, in our society is detrimental to our well-being. People who report knowing a suicide victim will say they never saw it coming- for reason that we're all expected to put on a happy face or be able to will ourselves into optimism. Sometimes it's OK to just be.
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