Posts Tagged ‘American standard of living’

Service of Optimism

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Optimism

Americans are encouraged—even expected–to be happy and optimistic. Corporate, popular and sports cultures promote a “you can do it, anything’s possible” approach: it’s the Declaration of Independence’s “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in action.

"Making the Bed," Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

“Making the Bed,” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

New York Times best-selling authors such as Gretchen Rubin study happiness and travel the world sharing tips encouraging small changes to achieve it. Making your bed daily is one antidote to consider if you can’t correct big things such as a miserable job. Rubin recently addressed The American Society of Journalists & Authors as a result of which David Levine interviewed her for a blog post “Gretchen Rubin: serious about happiness: The bestselling author of The Happiness Project talks about the discipline of happiness – and what you should avoid doing.”

I thought of our culture and of Rubin in reading Walter Russell Mead’s opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal: “For the U.S., a Disappointing World: The chaos in Iraq is just the latest evidence that history doesn’t follow America’s optimistic script.”

The foreign affairs and humanities professor at Bard College pointed out the similarities between Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush in their approach to foreign affairs: “While it is true that both presidents got some important things wrong, it is what unites them rather than what divides them that is the root cause of our troubles. Both Messrs. Bush and Obama, like many of their fellow citizens, radically underestimate the dangers and difficulties in the path of historical progress.

Rosy the Riveter“Americans tend to believe that history is easy and that things usually work out for the best. When the French Revolution began, many Americans followed Thomas Jefferson’s lead in thinking that the overthrow of Louis XVI would lead rapidly to democracy in Europe. Before World War I, most Americans believed that another great European war was unthinkable; when that war ended, President Woodrow Wilson was sure that a global democratic peace was on the way.”

He pointed out that the American standard of living has always been higher than others– starting after the Revolution—and that it affects our rosy attitude. He wrote: “This happy history shapes our thinking about the world more than most of us know. Whether conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, Americans tend to think that history doesn’t matter much, that win-win solutions are easily found and that world history is moving inexorably toward a better and more peaceful place.”

Additional excerpts from his thoughtful piece: “The holiday from history came to an end on 9/11, but the Bush administration’s subsequent approach to Iraq and the Middle East dramatically underestimated the difficulty of building stable democracies in a troubled region.”

isolationMead also observed: “Today we see a very different world. We are being forced to remember something we’d rather forget: that history is hard, that the choices it forces on us are sometimes harsh and that not everything ends in win-win.”

Isolation isn’t the answer, he concluded. “What we need instead is realistic goals and historical modesty—perhaps, at last, a foreign policy that is more about preventing catastrophes than constructing utopias.”

Do you think that too much optimism can be problematic and that our eternal search for happiness and peace for all is unrealistic? Does this approach steer our leaders into making inappropriate decisions?

road ahead

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