We have known both anecdotally and from experience that people who are hopeful and optimistic generally do better in life. The science of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI or mind/body/spirit medicine) has provided scientific corroboration to that historical data.
Thirty years ago the distinguished sociologist Lionel Tiger wrote in his book, that optimistic people, those who believe they will be successful, actually are more likely to achieve their dreams (Optimism: The Biology of Hope, Kodansha, 1979). Hope, he said, is an evolutionary tendency that promotes survival.
Now Harvard Psychology Professor Daniel Gilbert Ph.D., an influential researcher in what makes people happy, tells us optimism promotes one’s psychological immune system. In his new book, Stumbling on Happiness (Knopf, 2006), he says even when what we’re thinking is a fantasy, it’s still good for the spirit. As a matter of fact, Gilbert tells us, just the right amount of delusion is mentally healthy.
Mentally healthy people are convinced they can influence the outcome of their lives, even when they suffer from serious traumas and illnesses. He cites Christopher Reeves with his severe spinal cord injury, and Lance Armstrong with metastatic testicular cancer, both of whom believed they could do something to determine their destiny and they did.
Depressed people don’t make those kinds of cognitive errors. Depressives recognize the limitations and the illusions for what they are. Gilbert says they foster ways of keeping their thermostat at a steady state of pessimism and hopelessness.
Last week I deluded myself into feeling happy, in spite of my despair about the current political scene. Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, who impressed me when he addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2004, was in Phoenix last week to sell his new book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown, 2006). For $35 you could listen to Obama speak and get a copy of his book. By the time I called, the event was sold out and ticket scalpers were getting $150 apiece.
Into the heartland of conservative Republicanism comes Barack Obama, an articulate, bright, visionary who likes to laugh, and for whom Washington has not yet diluted his enthusiasm. Barack believes his dream for America is that we can still generate hope for the world. 1000 people waited in line for hours to get his signature and I’m thinking maybe I need to be putting more effort into nourishing that dream. No more tears, fears, powerlessness and rage. I’m going to put a different energy out there as we approach Election Day. I want to believe that some day Obama could run for President.
Am I deluding myself into happiness?