Monday,15 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1375, (4-10 January 2018)
Monday,15 October, 2018
Issue 1375, (4-10 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Identify yourself

This is a perfect time for self-examination.

Suppose that you have embarked on a new adventure as you embrace a new year.  It is exciting as it is frightening. We know little of what lies ahead and the future holds mysteries laden with joys and sorrows. The rebirth of a new year renews our hope and determination to make good things happen.

Hope is all the future offers, but the future is cloudy, mysterious and unknown. “Only the unknown frightens us”, wrote Antoine de St Exupery… but we are not altogether helpless.  Besides hope for triumphs, treasures and a million pleasures, we possess determination and resolution. “Yes we can” is a good philosophy to adopt and we usually can. 

As long as we are intent on improving ourselves and our lot, we are moving forward — one step followed by another in the right direction.

This year will be better than any other and we can make it so.

On our forward march we reach a fork on the road.  Obstacles, problems, disappointments, failures cripple the best of us, so what are we to do. Our basic instincts determine our choices.  We either travel up the road of optimism, or down the road of pessimism. In other words we see a glass half full or half empty.

Are we cowards, weaklings cowering with fear and uncertainty? Is that who we are? How can we be so unkind to ourselves and yet show great kindness to others. We should speak to ourselves more kindly, as to a loving friend. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never get it right”, let us replace it with, “I’ll do better tomorrow.” Tomorrow is not so far away, or tomorrow will never come. It all depends on your attitude. A negative frame of mind breeds negative results.

If you have deduced that we are back to the age-old subject of optimism and pessimism, we are. How can we avoid it, and what better time to revisit it, than the beginning of a new year.

Some believe optimism is a gift of the gods, bestowed on some, denied to others.

The term became current in the early 1800s to describe German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s doctrine, that: “this is the best of all possible worlds”. Optimists maintain that “the world is on the whole good and beautiful”.  They possess the tendency to look on the bright and hopeful side of life. They are happy to be alive. 

Science however has proven that it takes only a few weeks to break the cycle of negativity among pessimists.  

A healthy belief in ourselves is neither naïve nor unrealistic as long as we guard against unavoidable disasters.

Life is not easy: success is not guaranteed, but tough-minded perseverance and concentration is sure to produce positive results. 

In his famous book, “Learned Optimism”, renowned researcher Martin Seligman conducted groundbreaking work on optimism and concluded that even among children, the highest scores for optimism were predictive of excellence in everything. Furthermore, optimists are more resistant to infectious illnesses, “and are better at fending off chronic diseases of middle age”.

A remarkable study that goes back to the 80s still holds true among physicians. Ninety six men who had had one heart attack were closely observed. Within eight years, 15 of the most pessimistic died of a second heart attack, while only five of the optimists died. Optimists live longer.

Optimists in general possess a set of ‘self serving illusions’ that enable them to maintain good cheer and good health in a universe essentially indifferent to their welfare. It was all up to them. Even if their good cheer was unwarranted, it accomplished over and above what reality dictated.

Studies from the Mayo Clinic, conducted regularly show that optimists live longer because their immune system is more effective and they are more likely to seek medical advice.  They generally stick to a healthier regimen. All this is doable, if you so choose.

Optimists also believe that good things will happen whereas pessimists close all the vistas of hope. To change may take some effort, but well worth it. Consider a list of great minds that had a hopeful view of life, such as Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, the Scholastics, Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Lotze, Wundt… even all religions encourage hope, goodness and uplifting promises. In Genesis (I 31) of the Old Testament, acknowledges: “And God saw all things that He made and they were very good.”

Optimism is associated with ‘good’. What about Pessimism?

Are pessimists doomed for life? Is it in their genes or can they too learn the skills of those blessed by the gods. Scientists believe a negative frame of mind offers fewer or negative solutions. By boosting your self-esteem you can break the barriers of pessimism.

Humour saves years of your life. It has been well documented. If you cherish life do not squander time, “for time once lost is never again found”.

You can choose your identity. You can control your thoughts just as well as your muscles. All it takes is time and will.

Observe the children at play. How happy and carefree they are. How they laugh at everything and nothing. The world is beautiful to them.  Become a child once more as you embark on your new journey of 2018.

Let your old habits die with the old year. This is a new birth.


“Ring out the grief that saps the mind, Ring in redress to all mankind”.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

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