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JC Bowman Commentary: Optimism Wins!

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You remind yourself that the holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness, gathering of friends and family and most importantly optimism for the coming New Year. Yet you get inundated with reminders of the holidays that may conjure up unresolved issues like grief caused by a missing friend or family member, your own failing health or that of a friend or family member. Sometimes there is a sense of increased isolation and loneliness or recognition that there is a difference between the perception of holiday joy and the reality of one’s own life. Holidays can take a toll on even the happiest person.

From now until after the first of 2018 more than likely your life will be busier and certainly more stressful. You will have more things to do, more things to buy, there will be more traffic in our streets, stores will become more crowded, parking will become more difficult, and you will have your patience tried to the extreme waiting longer for service. Guests in your house will further add to your frustration. Heaven forbid if some person accidentally sits in your seat at your place of worship. The additional demands on our time, attention, energy and finances can be very traumatic. All of these issues come to a head during the holiday season. You want love or something like it.

Remind yourself all these issues can help you develop a strategy to tackle this short period of time. Most people struggle with holidays at some point in their lives. Just as we often struggle with life itself.

It requires effort to overcome any problem. Recognition of our own thoughts and feelings helps us be successful in being triumphant over even the worst of times.

We begin our adult life with idealistic dreams of running off into the sunset, chasing whatever it is that makes us happy. We hope we are fortunate enough to reach those goals set by our youthful optimism. But for many of us we also learn we can only run so far before reality sets in. We must be extremely careful that we do not turn this optimism into pessimism, or even worse cynicism. This cynicism is often couched in anger and we hear or see the wounded cries. People become blinded by their own pessimism, then cynical of everything but their own cynicism.

Part of what makes us human is the ability to project into the future. However, do not believe for one moment you can find redemption by escaping your situation. Life is never really easy or is it? Are we not the ones who complicate it? When we complicate it do we become our own victims?

Perhaps the best scientific exploration of optimism, an incredible research study thirty-five years in the making entitled “Pessimistic Explanatory Style as a Risk Factor for Physical Illness: A Thirty-five Year Longitudinal Study”, J Person Soc Psych 55 (1988): 23-7, by C. Peterson, M. Seligman, and G. Vaillant, three main findings were established: 1. Optimists live longer than pessimists; 2. Optimists suffer from fewer and less severe diseases; 3. Optimists are much healthier than pessimists.

Some of the benefits of being an optimist according to research are that we know that we will receive greater health benefits, higher quality of life–manifested by greater success, greater happiness and greater love. So, this holiday season take the time to revisit your own priorities for life. Hold on to your dreams. Never give up on thinking what was and what is and what can be. Yes we can all be winners in good times and survivors during the hard times.

If we want to relieve the tremendous stress on friends and family structures, we must make a positive commitment this holiday season to help others, as well as ourselves. We must all become promoters for hope. We need to work together to prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety from dominating our community this holiday season. We need a positive environment to help our children enjoy this most sacred season, and we all have a role to play to make sure those around us remain emotionally stable and use effective coping skills.

This holiday season take an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. When churches, synagogues, mosques, businesses, and governments collaborate, impressive things can happen to cause productive change in communities and among individuals. The impact could be of a global magnitude.

Like many I have learned what the power of faith can accomplish in an individual life. In addition, faith has traditionally played a crucial role in shaping both American institutions and civil society, and America has thrived as a model of democracy and equality precisely because of this pervasive religiosity and the traditions it helped establish. The abundance of faith based voices in the public square does not mean that the issues of the day will suddenly vanish. But the inclusion of faith based organization’s views and voices does allow communities to explore areas of consensus that are often overlooked. It provides the faith based community the opportunity to do what it does best, serving others and expanding its role in serving society.

Remember to make this a holiday season to remember. To somebody you may be just the gift they need. Merry Christmas and Happy 2018, and stay positive!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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