Prayers, betting parlors, doctor’s appointments, monuments, diets, holidays, college degrees, lottery tickets, Valentine’s Day cards, wedding rings: what do these things have in common? Each offers hope. The Statue of Liberty is a beacon of hope. Los Vegas sells hope. Immigrants risk their lives and leave their homelands because they hope. Gaming people hope. At Christmas, Passover and Ramadan, we hope. At the lift-off of a spacecraft, we hope. With breakthroughs in science, we hope. We pay exorbitant college tuitions because we hope. We buy homes, support charities, and give gifts because we hope. The world is littered with ceremonies, festivals, shrines, ideas, customs, religions, community projects, friendships and jobs that offer hope.
Why are we such optimists; why do we hope? What would we do without the ability to overlook the negative and accentuate the positive? Life through rose-colored glasses can keep us healthy, energized and focused on reaching our special goals. With hope, our ancestors struggled forward; with hope, they achieved; with hope, they survived—and passed along to you and me the neural circuits for optimism. I wish we knew more about the neural circuits of optimism, but we certainly know that it can be good to positive.
Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, divides happiness into three basic forms: Those who seek a “Pleasant Life” focus on increasing the duration and intensity of their positive emotions. Those who wish to have an “Engaged Life” find their greatest strengths and refocus their energy to use these aptitudes as much as possible in love, work, parenting and play. And those seeking a “Meaningful life” find and use their greatest talents to serve a higher purpose, something greater than themselves. Optimism, Seligman maintains, is essential for the “Meaningful Life.” Only with hope can we pursue goals that are larger than ourselves.
We are built to hope. And scientists, priests, poets and philosophers all tell us how to amplify our optimism. So go forth. And shoot for the stars: a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life. If it involves romance and another person, that’s great; but having a partner and family isn’t for everyone. Living alone is great, too. Maybe you’d rather live alone. The pleasant, engaged and meaningful life is everywhere. by Helen Fisher and Lucy BrownNEXT