Optimism was invented by Palaeolithic Man, who allowed himself to dream. Maybe his own life was a little monotonous, but who’s to say that one day someone won’t invent fire, finally enabling him to inject some variety into his mealtimes? (Palaeolithic waiter: “How’d you like your steak today, sir?” Palaeolithic diner: “Has anyone invented fire yet?” Waiter: “Not yet.” Diner: “Then I guess I’ll just have it very rare. Again.” Waiter: “How about I cut the steak into tiny portions for you to share with friends so you’ll go home penniless but also still hungry? The chef calls it ‘tapas’.”)
Pessimists scorn optimists. The former consider the latter to be a people so naive that they must possess a prefrontal cortex the size of a lentil.
Traditionally, it has never been difficult to identify an optimist: the rule of thumb was that if you saw your whisky glass as half full, you were an optimist. If you saw your whisky glass as half empty, you were Dean Martin.
But now there is a new way to identify a true optimist. Just ask them: are you an academic? Because this week a bunch of academics from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge dramatically extended the boundaries of optimism by finding a reason to be cheery in the most unlikely place. They claim that strikes on the public transport system are actually good for us.
The academics (professional motto: “Really? You’re going to give us a grant for this?”) studied the effect on commuters of various transport strikes, notably the 48-hour strike by the RMT union on London Underground last year which led to the closure of more than half the stations. Their conclusion? In the words of Shaun Larcom, of Cambridge University’s Land Economy department: “For the small fraction of commuters who found a better route, when multiplied over a longer period of time, the benefit to them actually outweighs the inconvenience suffered by many more. The net gains come from the disruption itself.”
Be honest: don’t you now feel a little ashamed for whining so much about having had to walk six miles in the rain to get home after work? You just weren’t looking on the bright side.
Uplifting news: in pictures
Uplifting news: in pictures
1/6 RIP Sidney
Hundreds of strangers turned out for the funeral of a war veteran, after funeral directors made an impassioned appeal for mourners as it was thought that Marshall would have hardly anyone at his service. The request went viral, and when former RAF gunner Sidney Marshall, 90, was laid to rest, the service was attended by more than 200 people. Read more: http://ind.pn/1t8P3gC
2/6 Generous Bedford
Residents of Bedford are the most generous people in the UK when it comes to giving money to charitable causes, according to donations platform JustGiving. Read more: http://ind.pn/1txCNm2
3/6 A long awaited reunion
When four-year-old Raudhatul Jannah was swept from her parents’ grasp by the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, they believed she was lost to them forever. Ten years on, a chance sighting has led to them being reunited with their daughter. Read more: http://ind.pn/1lHmjD9
4/6 Sharing good fortune
A homeless man has won £1.7 million after buying a lottery ticket on his way to a meeting for recovering alcoholics, and says he now plans to use the money to help other addicts. Read more: http://ind.pn/1m0awBg
5/6 A precious photo returned
In October 2001, a friend of Elizabeth Stringer Keefe visited Ground Zero in New York, where she found a wedding photo amid the rubble. She tweeted "Every year on #911 I post this photo hoping 2 return 2 owner. Found at #groundzero #WTC in 2001. Pls RT" and after 60,000 retweets, the picture was returned - and all in the photo are alive and well. Read more: http://bit.ly/1vprI7n
6/6 An extraordinary talent
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings. She has garnered praise across Europe, Asia and America for her astonishing artwork. Read more: http://ind.pn/1CzV4UU
Arabella Carter-Johnson/Iris Grace
These academics are working hard to make you feel optimistic about many other of life’s “setbacks”. It might look as if life is giving you a slap across the face, but it’s actually giving you a helpful pat on the back, if only you had the academic insight to recognise it. Here are just a few of the research projects under way:
You’re on the phone for ages, on hold to customer service. Old, pessimistic way of thinking: I’ve missed my daughter’s entire university career, from freshers’ week to graduation, just sitting here waiting for someone to explain why my broadband speed is so slow that it takes longer for me to load a web page than it would take a mollusc to translate the New Testament into Portuguese. New optimistic way of thinking: unable to reach the fridge for three years, I’ve lost four stone, meaning that I might land a £500,000 book deal for my The Call-Holding Diet.
Your new shoes are far too tight. Old way of thinking: It’s agony. Agony. A hundred quid wasted! Optimistic new way of thinking: the tight shoes have completely taken my mind off my splitting headache. A result, no?
Donald Trump becomes US president. Old way of thinking: really? A man who spends more on hairspray each year than the GDP of Sweden? New way of thinking: really? A man who spends more on hairspray each year than the GDP of Sweden?
Nobody said the academic theory was perfect just yet.