Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 12, 2013

Things can always get worse

By Mike Redmond

— Did you catch this gem in the news?

Older people who see the glass as half empty and who harbor low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who are more optimistic, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Great. Just as I was trying to renew my optimistic outlook on life, along comes to American Psychological Association to ruin it for me.

I KNEW something like this would happen.

Being an Upper Midwesterner, I am well-acquainted with pessimism and, now that I think about it, the therapeutic benefits therein. I am thinking of my Grandmother Redmond, a pessimist who spent most of her life waiting for things to get worse. And because she had a very broad idea of what could be meant by worse - one cloud on an otherwise sunny day would qualify - she was seldom disappointed. She lived into her 90s.

(To be fair, we also have to give a nod to genetics. Great-Grandma Carrick also lived into her 90s, but I don't know if she was optimistic, pessimistic, or indifferent. All I remember about her is that she once spit out her false teeth to show them to me at the breakfast table, and when she watched the news she thought Walter Cronkite could see her as well as she saw him.)

The pessimists-live-longer conclusion came from a study of 40,000 people, a good many of whom must have been in rotten moods, over 10 years. The scientists theorized that pessimists, fearing the worst was yet to come, tended to live more carefully and take better care of themselves than others.

That last part puzzles me. If you're a true pessimist, and you believe that life is lousy and destined to get worse, why would you bother trying to beat the odds to prolong it?

I'm not pessimistic as a rule, and that's weird because I am hard wired for it. The people who brought me up followed a code that said life was hard in order to make us stronger people, the better to withstand harsh reality. This was not an optimist's outlook, especially in the realm of child raising.

We kids learned that brutal winters and blistering summers were intended to build character. Backbreaking labor was to keep us humble. And church was where you went to be closer to God, so he wouldn't have to reach so far when he leaned down from Heaven to smack you upside the head.

Not a lot of gosharoonie in that kind of upbringing. But you know, it actually made an optimist out of me, because instead of bowing to the pressure to be miserable, I came to the conclusion that there had to be something better out there, and all I had to do was go find it. Pessimism seemed like the easy way out.

It takes perseverance to be optimistic, but that's what I chose and, except for a few depressing episodes here and there, I've pretty much stuck with it.

And now I find it could shorten my life? That the sour pickle lasts longest? It's unfair.

But the optimist in me finds an upside: You might live longer, because news like that will make a pessimist out of you.

© 2013 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.