In Praise of Good

09/10/2016 06:31 pm ET

The young man in front of me at the checkout lane at my local grocery store methodically placed his items on the moving belt. Every time he did, the large tattoo that covered the inside of his entire forearm flashed in my direction: “Evil Will Always Win Because Good Is Dumb.”

As he collected his purchases and made his way out to the parking lot, it was all I could do to restrain myself from running after him and crying out, “Do you have any idea what you’re doing to yourself?!” For I know all too well, from my research and experience as a psychologist, that what you think has impact on your well-being, be that mental, physical or emotional. And the constant repetition of such a profoundly pessimistic view of life is literally killing him.

I am not exaggerating. This is not some woo-woo proclamation of the power of Pollyanna. On the contrary, study after study shows that optimists thrive. Pessimists do not.

For example, Dr. Martin Seligman’s extensive review of the research on optimists shows that optimists not only do better at work, school and sports, they recover from setbacks more quickly, and are less likely to become depressed. Optimists are happier, calmer and generally at peace with themselves and life. In addition to which, the research shows that optimists tend to be healthier, live longer, and age well.

A Mayo Clinic study that followed more than 800 people for 30 years, also showed that optimists live longer than pessimists. Even after factoring age and sex into the results, the researchers found that the optimistic group’s actual survival rate was significantly better than what their expected survival was. In contrast, those in the pessimistic group had a 19% increase in risk of death.

Optimism doesn’t mean shoving your head in the sand, ignoring whatever reality is present. Optimism means making the best of what is. Optimism is an expansive perspective, an opening towards possibilities and opportunity. Optimism means choosing deliberately to see how things could work out, what might be a better way, what resources or help might be available.

I am certain that the young man wants to succeed in life, but he casts Evil as the “winner.” His approach dooms him to failure. To believe that Good is “dumb” is to deny the inherent value of Good, and how it plays out in every arena of life, from world leaders striving for peace among nations, to AA meetings where people help each other strive for better lives, to caring for injured people and animals. Good is everywhere and helps everyone.

The other day, I was in a bit of a hurry getting back to my car, thinking about an upcoming project, not paying sufficient attention to where I was walking. I tripped and fell, landing “full frontal,” fortunately catching myself with my hands before my face was smashed. From across the parking lot, I heard a voice yell, “Are you all right?” “I’m fine,” I replied as I got myself up, checking to make sure nothing was broken. “Are you sure? You went flying through the air!” the voice said, now revealing itself as a woman rushing to my side. “I’m OK,” I said, “But my water bottle rolled under that car.” Why I said that, I have no idea, just that I was very shook up. “Well, you shouldn’t have to lose your water bottle,” she said, and with that, the woman dropped to her knees and retrieved my water bottle. She then looked me over carefully, making sure I really was OK, and gave me a hug before she left.

I was blown away. A stranger went out of her way to make sure a fellow human was all right, even down to rescuing my water bottle and giving me a reassuring hug! I doubt she thought twice about it. She just did it. She was the essence of Good.

Good is neither dumb nor smart. Good simply is. Good happens all the time, in every corner of the world. The more we recognize and appreciate the good in all of our lives, the happier we get, the longer we live, and the weller we are.

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