American Optimism

27 Feb

If I had to name one thing I miss most about the U.S., in terms of the general climate and attitude, it’s the sense of optimism that permeates the air.

It’s not that other countries aren’t optimistic, though some are certainly more than others (and might have more reason to be). But Americans, in general, are exteremely optimistic in comparison to many others. Where you might get a frown for trying something that seems impossible in another country, or a warning that what you are trying seems impossible, most Americans would probably say: “Well, give it the good old college try! With enough hard work, it just might happen. And you never know until you try… so what are you waiting for?”

In other countries, saying something like this would seem like giving someone false encouragement, or might seem just plain old dumb. Granted, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t try. What it would mean is that if you were successful, it would be viewed as a fluke or a miracle, nothing short of amazing.

“Wow!” a non-American might say. “I can’t believe you did that! Nice work!”

The American, in contrast, might say: “See? What did I tell you? With hard work and dedication, anything is possible. What impossible task will you tackle next, and why have you not started?”

Which reaction is better? I’ll leave you to decide. They both have their pros and cons. On the one hand, constant encouragement is often inspiring and might lead to unexpected results. On the other hand, it might also lead to delusions of grandeur and disappointment.

Optimism. Enthusiasm. General good cheer. They exist everywhere, in every country, in varying amounts, and certainly there are Americans who lack them. But nowhere have I experienced a nation full of so  many cheerful, friendly, and optimistic people  as in America.

Back when I first m0ved to Slovenia in the fall, I wondered which parts of my personality were uniquely mine–which traits would have been present no matter where I was born and raised. I wondered which parts of my personality were influenced by my being American–which parts were brought out specifically because I was born and raised in America, which might not have been otherwise.

After thinking about optimism for a while, I’m going to call it a draw, but I’m going to go ahead and claim it, regardless of origin. It’s a piece of my personality that I hope never fades.

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