Wednesday, January 20, 2010

up or down?

I am stuck between a kind of cheerful mentalism and a grasp of despondent materialism.  Part of me urges upbeat thinking, believing that an upbeat attitude makes everything better, sweeter, more fun, happier.  But, another part says to face facts: taxes are due, there is winter and global warming and a recession on. 

Should I grin rigorously while bearing life in order to throw my emotional weight on the up side?  Or is that unrealistic and (horrors) childish?  Should I be rigorously grim and feel superior to all the false merriment around me, knowing in my heart that we all slide downhill from birth to reside forever in a cold grave?  Or is that wasting moments of gold for the  sake of tin?

Some friends sent me a link to an article about the Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer.  I have read her books "Mindfulness" and "The Power of Mindful Learning" and was impressed enough to give copies of the book to my colleagues in a multi-professor class we all taught together.  The link here goes to a rather long Chronicle of Higher Education article.  Langer believes in the power of the mindset and I understand that attitude matters.  I also understand that I can influence my attitude.  So when I find myself grim and snarly, I have a habit of focusing on relaxing, realizing my many blessings and remembering that the pot-holes of life almost invariably bring positives along with the unpleasant jolts.

As I read the comments on the Langer article, I was struck by the two main groups: "yes, let's all smile our way through life" and "humbug! don't be mislead by sunlight".  I have read before that people who are cheerful may be less accurate at assessing their chances at scoring big wins in life.  So, do I want to be accurate or happy?  I would be quick at deciding for happiness but as usual, there are other important things to consider.  Clear, even critical, thinking has given birth to science, increased understanding, good engineering, new discoveries of great value and insight.  Merely giggling at everything is as blind as scoffing at everything.  Guess I will continue alternating.

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