Oh, no! I'm gonna die!
A Dutch study followed about 950 65-85-year-olds and concluded that
people who are temperamentally pessimistic are more likely to die of heart disease and other causes than those who are by nature optimistic.The article's (comments) author, Dr. Richard Friedman of Cornell, is a bit worried.
This is the kind of study that worries me. Not personally, though — I’m as optimistic as they come. No, I’m worried about my pessimistic friends and patients who will get hold of this article. After all, if the findings are valid, how much can anyone really do about a gloomy disposition?Drugs!! No, seriously...
So am I gonna die, pessimistic nihilist that I am? Of course I am. Sooner rather than later? There's no way to know. I think one thing pessimists could do if this article bothers them is to think. Divide the things they're pessimistic about into those they can do something about and those they can't. If the things that bother them are not things they can act on, maybe that simple realization can be helpful. Don't worry about things you can't do anything about. It seems elementary, but maybe it's not.
Maybe there's nothing one can do. There was another interesting article in the NYT a few days ago, Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don't (comments). Is free will an illusion or not? I've long felt that free will is largely illusory, but does it matter?
Other studies apparently show that religion confers benefits similar to the benefits of optimism shown in this study. Could I decide to acquire faith and thereby derive those benefits? Could I decide to become optimistic about the pressing global issues that cause me gloom? Seems bloody unlikely, but maybe that's the pessimist in me talking.
I remember an acquaintance I had a few years ago. This man was brilliant, but he was suffering great mental anguish over something that had happened to his family, a great injustice that had forever damaged his entire family's physical health and ruined him financially. This man had done everything in his power to deal with the situation, but he was unable to avoid ruin. Things had reached the stage where I was actually worried that he might resort to violence. He was under tremendous strain and entertaining murderous thoughts.
In one discussion we had I stupidly tried to bring up the idea of addressing his psychic suffering via counseling or introspection. His immediate response was, "I've never been a navel gazer." End of story.
Maybe navel gazing is a learnable attribute of optimism. Whatever...