I think of optimism as a denial of reality. Both in it’s modern pop psych sense and in it’s original philosophical sense.
The original philosophy was that We are living in the best possible world. Clearly evidence abounds that this not true. But since it was a religious viewpoint it didn’t have to be factual, it only had to explain why the world sucked and to make people think that the world sucking was the best possible thing. The odd part is that it is so easy to subvert into making your current choice be OK. So one could do horrible thing or not help in horrible situations and just say – this is the best possible choice because this is the best possible world.
Today though, optimists are really just positive thinkers and so don’t say that this is the best possible world, but they use a variation of it. They look at the happy side of life in all situations. But in order to do that, one has to ignore the bad things. Or one has to manipulate one’s view of a situation to change a negative thing into a positive thing. So an optimist drops a glass of red wine and says “one less glass to wash!” “I need to drink less, this was fortunate.” How pleasant and positive. But it ignores the red wine stain on the white carpet. The dangerous broken glass that needs to cleaned up. And if you need to drink less – that is a problem that requires an active solution, not an accidental chance.
When I worked in Corporate America, this positivity thing was toxic. They would implement a change and if anyone expressed a concern or pointed out a problem, they were labeled negative. Don’t Be A Complainer! Be Positive about Change! As though that would fix things. But it quite naturally did not. Instead it taught people to avoid pointing out issues. As a result changes were often littered with problematic outcomes that everyone worked around without complaining to anyone who could fix it. More work but better for your career. Looking at problems and addressing them fixes it. Pretending they don’t exist does not.
That corporate positivity is an offshoot of the pop-psychobabble that pretends that if people think positively everything will turn up roses. Affirmations of positive things! Project your best future! Imagine your best life and it will appear! It’s not quite the same thing as positivity, but it takes that same delusional manipulation of reality as its platform and just magnifies it 10 fold by including magical thinking.
I think we need to look at life complexly. I recognize and don’t think that we should ignore the positive aspects of life. And I think being able to see the silver lining is good. But it is a silver lining in a storm. It’s not the entirety of the situation.
Optimism and Pessimism are equally pointless projections. There is value in Reality. In looking at the entire situation and acknowledging all of it. In the long run it means positive change. Because there is no point in changing if this is the best of all possible worlds or if all I do is focus on the positive and ignore the negative.
It’s important to see that same situation can be viewed from different perspectives, as with half empty / half full glass. Because we need to be aware that all we are doing is changing our own viewpoint, not the situation. The amount of water in the glass remains fixed. But being able to see it both ways makes you aware of the flaw of perspective. If you focus only on how full it is, you may not recognize that you will need more water. If you focus on how empty it is you may panic and start hoarding water. If you realize that there are two perspectives you can set that aside and look for larger context. How much water do I have and how much do I need and what actions do I need to take?
Reality is Complicated. Simplification doesn’t help you. Positivity / Optimism is simplification.