An Unusual Way to Become More Optimistic

Watch the evening news a few weeks in a row and you’re likely to feel less optimistic about the future of humankind. The majority of the stories are about tragedies and mistakes and cruel deeds. For the most part, they aren’t making these up. Tragedies and mistakes and cruel deeds happen every day all over the world.

But that’s not all that happens. Many other kinds of events happen every day and if you got as much exposure to those, you would naturally become more optimistic.

But how can you get news about the millions of smart people all over the world successfully solving important problems? How can you find out about the universities and governments and wealthy private donors pouring their money into ending poverty, curing diseases, and making important discoveries? If you had a source of news like that, it would be fairly easy to become more optimistic.

I’ve got good news for you: There is such a source: Scientific American Magazine. No, they didn’t pay me to write this. They don’t mean to be optimistic, and they cover important problems of the world, but always in the context of what is being accomplished and what is being discovered.

And because it is a peer-reviewed scientific journal (which means their fellow scientists are scrutinizing and double-checking their discoveries to see if they’re really true), you will find almost no thought-mistakes. This almost guarantees optimism. Thought-mistakes are the root source of pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism. Read more about that here.

If you get your news from the radio, television, newspapers, or online sources, your chances are very high you’re getting your news from a source that is competing with other news sources to capture your attention. They rely on advertising for their income, and to make money, they need an audience. They must capture and hold your attention. And what captures and holds attention best is tragedy, mistakes, and cruel deeds. That’s just how our brains are wired up, for survival reasons. News sources exploit this natural way our brains function.

They look at the events of the world and try to find events they can cover that will capture and hold your attention, and then they try to present it in the most compelling possible way. And what captures and holds and compels best is whatever makes you feel endangered, worried, or angry.

Keep exposing yourself to news like this, and your point of view about the world becomes skewed. It gives you a generally pessimistic, defeatist, cynical outlook. This outlook is becoming “normal.”

But even if you watch the news, you can balance it out with Scientific American. They are trying to do something entirely different. Yes, they also make money with advertisements, but their audience is made up of scientists and people interested in scientific development. Because of this focus, the requirements to capture and hold the audience are quite different. Scientists are not necessarily more optimistic, but the unintended side-effect of covering stories about the scientific endeavor is its readers will naturally and spontaneously become more optimistic.

I’ve got a few issues here in front of me. Besides covering things like astronomers’ recent discoveries and new discoveries in medicine, there are stories like these:

The Next 20 Years in Microchips: Designers are pushing all the boundaries to make integrated circuits smaller, faster and cheaper.

Boundaries for a Healthy Planet: Scientists have begun to quantify red-alert levels for environmental problems.

Regaining Balance with Bionic Ears: Electronic implants in the inner ear may one day help patients suffering from disabling unsteadiness.

The Rise of Instant Wireless Networks: Wireless networks that form on the fly bring communications to the most foreboding environments.

A Plan to Defeat Neglected Tropical Diseases: A new global initiative may break the cycle of poverty leading to sickness and more poverty.

These are major, important news items you’re not likely to find in normal news sources. They’re just not scary enough. Or tragic enough. Or upsetting enough.

So let’s say you accept the idea that you could become more optimistic if you read science magazines. There are several major scientific magazines, so why do I recommend Scientific American, specifically? Because some scientific magazines are not written for laymen and are difficult to read. Some are sensationalized and focused on future possibilities. Scientific American is the one you want.

I’ve subscribed to Scientific American for about 26 years now, and what I’ve come to appreciate is the reliability of its content. They don’t play around. They don’t get lost in wild speculation. They don’t cover things that are not important. They don’t cover urban legends as if they were real stories. It’s solid. You can count on it.

When you’re trying to cure yourself of pessimism and cynicism, one way is to try to convince yourself of positive thoughts. This doesn’t work very well. If you don’t believe something, it has no impact on your level of optimism. And trying to make yourself believe something is an exercise in futility because the very effort of “making yourself” says to yourself very directly, “I don’t believe this is true.”

A better way to become more optimistic is to disabuse yourself of false negative notions. Read more about that here. Why is it better? Because you’re standing on solid ground. You’re committed to truth and reality. You’re not trying to live in the clouds or stick your head in the sand. You’re not trying to avoid any facts.

Regularly reading Scientific American can do this for you. But don’t take my word for it. Conduct your own scientific experiment. Take an optimism test (by following this link) and then subscribe for a year. Read something from every issue. And at the end of the year, take the optimism test again. I think you’ll see a tremendous improvement.

Your general outlook on life has an impact on your health, on your relationships, on your ability to be effective in the world, and on your day-to-day mood. Of all the ways of changing your outlook and becoming more optimistic, reading Scientific American is the easiest and most interesting.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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