Terry, over at Ramblings of a Glass Half Full writes about the book, Exuberance and poses a question: Are optimists born or made? The book makes the argument that they are born. Terry is not sure and wants to know what we think.
Well, here’s what I think. I don’t know if optimists are born or made, but do think they are fully baked by puberty. Perhaps it’s the combination of genetics and early childhood, but I think our basic style – including whether we are optimistic or pessimistic – comes together by middle school.
So does that mean that pessimistic adults cannot change? I think anyone can change. I doubt, however, that many pessimistic adults will be motivated to change. Our style is our style and we get pretty comfortable with it.
I have a very good friend who I will call Chris. Regardless of how successful his business is, in his mind, he is one mistake away from living under a highway bridge. The objective facts say otherwise. Overall, he’s a content fellow, but never full of joy.
I have another friend, Jack, who is the picture of optimism. He sees a future that is exciting and bounds with energy. He sees setbacks as learning experiences and after a day of being bummed out, picks himself up, dusts himself off, and starts all over again.
I don’t think I could change Chris or Jack with training or coaching. I can help Chris cope and adopt a more realistic response to minor setbacks. And if I wanted to, I could wear down Jack’s energy a bit, not that I would try.
I have met some members of their families and I can see where their "bent" comes from. We are so malleable when we are young and less so when middle aged.
Personally, I am ambidextrous. In some ways, I am very optimistic and I think anything is possible. On other occasions, I get small and full of doubt.
So, my vote is that genetics and childhood together determine our approach.