On optimism

On Saturday morning, I woke up determined to locate a few sentences on ‘optimism’ that I had used for my ‘signature’ in email messages. I had shown it to a friend few days earlier. I thought I had used them in 2011. Turned out that I had used them in 2010 and hence I could not locate it until I remembered good friend Shekhar Gupta’s email that helped me identify the author of those lines as ‘Julian Baggini’, editor of ‘The Philosophers’ magazine’ and author of a book called ‘Complaint’. I had not read the book. I then searched on ‘Julian Baggini’ and found a page of quotes attributed to him. Several of them were interesting. Sample two below:

Every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with every recollection the memory may be changed … Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretive realities.

Many philosophers have argued that we are constituted by a psychologically continuous web of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and memories. Dementia says, well, okay, let’s pick that web apart, piece by piece and see if anything of you remains.

Then, I found that he has a TED talk on an interesting topic, ‘Is there a real you?’ Must listen to it. Here are his lines on the distinction between being positive in an intelligent sort of way and being positive for the sake of it:

The issue, …., is whether we start with the facts or with our attitudes. What positive psychology gets right is that when we confront reality, we always have some control over how we then respond to it, and that a lot of misery is avoidable if we try to make the best rather than the worst of things. In practice, however, this sensible advice often degenerates into an excessive optimism, in which reality is whatever we think it to be. But you can’t make the best of a bad situation if you pretend it’s really just a good one in disguise.

These lines appear towards the end of an interesting review of four interesting books on the cult of optimism and happiness. The book review is worth a read. I had picked up the book by Ehrenreich some two years ago but yet to read it!

Hence, the Saturday morning hunt for a quote returned a treasure.

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