Wednesday, June 19, 2013


A while ago, I wrote a blogpost announcing that I’m an Introvert, and now I’ll add another insight about my character. As I’ve long known I was an Introvert in a land of more Extroverts, I also realized long ago that I’m an Optimist instead of a Pessimist.

Part of my optimism comes from my upbringing. Although my family was poor, we children were raised with smiles and encouragement. I didn’t let our status bother me. I knew I would be all right in the future, if I just did the right thing and worked hard.

And so it proved. I’m not a millionaire, but I own my own home, have savings in the bank and traveled to some foreign places. I have enough, and someone once said that “happiness is knowing when what you have is enough.” Recently an article reminded me of another good reason to be an Optimist.

The 2002 book Bringing Down the House told the true story of how six MIT math geniuses mastered Blackjack card counting and took Las Vegas for millions. The math pros didn’t win many hands and the casino edge over players is slight, but the MIT crew used a system that gave them a two percent edge. It was enough, provided they played awhile. The lesson is, even with the odds only slightly in your favor, over time you will win.

What does that have to do with Optimism? A chart with the article showed that from 1850 to 2010 the economy, and, especially the U.S. real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, rose upward in an almost unbroken straight line. Adjusted for inflation, it went from about $3000 to over $60,000 in those 160 years. What happened during that time?

1. We fought nine major wars.
2. Four U.S. presidents were assassinated.
3. 675,000 people died in the flu epidemic.
4. Ten natural disasters killed at least 400 people each.
5. 33 recessions lasted an accumulated 48 years.
6. The stock market fell at least ten percent 97 times.
7. Annual inflation exceeded 7% in 20 separate years.
8. The words “economic pessimism” were used in newspapers 29,000 times (according to Google).

And yet, our standard of living increased 20-fold.

Yes, bad things will happen, and like the MIT students, I may lose a lot of times, but the long-term odds are in my favor.

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