There are two definitions for the term “optimist”: One who believes the future is good and one who sees the good in any given situation.
I am as little an optimist by the first definition as I am a big optimist according to the second. In the world (as opposed to my own life), I rarely think things will turn out well because they rarely do. Evil often triumphs; and even when defeated, the amount of human suffering it causes does not mean that the optimists were right. Hitler was vanquished, Stalin’s regime fell, and Mao finally died. But to the hundreds of millions of innocent people who were slaughtered, tortured, and enslaved those happy endings were irrelevant.
As regards the second definition of optimism (please see an extended discussion of this in my book “Happiness Is a Serious Problem”), count me in. It is imperative to find, or even manufacture, bright spots in a dark situation.
So here are some silver linings in our dark economic circumstances:
-- Most people are complaining less. They are more grateful for whatever they have than they were before. For example, just about everyone who still has a job is grateful for having it; nearly all of us now realize how fragile employment is. Therefore, there is an increase in the most important human quality -- gratitude. It is the root of both goodness and happiness. Grateful people are better people and they are happier people. They make the world better while the ungrateful make it worse. So the increase in gratitude may make our society better.
-- The adulation of extremely wealthy Wall Street “wizards” has ended. Most of those people produced nothing of worth and believed in economic nonsense. A large number of people making millions of dollars a year were proficient at only one thing -- making millions of dollars a year.
-- Given how many of these people were highly educated Ivy League graduates, more and more Americans may come to realize that Harvard and Yale turn out at least as many fools (perhaps more given their high incidence of arrogance) than San Diego State University or Long Island University. For years I have been urging listeners to my radio show to send their children to less expensive colleges with reputations for quality (of which this country has many) rather than mortgage their homes or raid their retirement funds to pay for high-priced colleges that offer equal or inferior instruction but more “prestige.” I was right. American parents have wasted vast sums of money purchasing cachet rather than a superior education.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”