Have you ever noticed how “un-cool” it is to be overly enthusiastic? There’s something about a shamelessly positive attitude that just seems to annoy a lot of people. Why is that? As someone who’s often ‘over-the-top’ optimistic, I’ve been asking myself that for decades. I’ve come up with a couple of answers. As always, I’m optimistically curious what your take is. So please don’t hesitate to share your experiences and opinions, one way or the other.
There’s definitely something about being positive that seems superficial. I think this because in the times when I’m feeling ‘down’, sad or in mourning for something, the people who are enthusiastic just don’t seem to grasp something deeply important about living. This impression disappears as soon as I’m back in flow again. Also, of course, when I’m on top of the world and not putting the brakes on its expression, there seem to always be a couple of people who make a face like I’ve just belched, or as if a slightly too loud child came into the room. Some actually come right out and request that I tone down my optimism. What lies behind such a request?
There are some very old habits and instincts in our brains that dictate that it’s much safer to be vigilant. This wariness has kept our lineage alive until now. It often requires great effort to abandon it and approach the world with joy and high expectations. In other words, an important part of our nervous system is wired to stay on the safe side and scan the environment for the negative. The thing is, once you establish these hard-wired instincts from the brain-stem as a personal habit, they tend to color and filter your consciousness. That results in a kind of negatively-biased selective attention, a feed-forward sense filter which colors the way you perceive your world.
Another crucial factor in the un-coolness of optimism is family. Kids, left to their own devices, are pretty enthusiastic about life. If you have parents, however, who have large chunks of unlived aspirations or more frustration than success with life goals, it’s not uncommon for such parents to take on a hard-wired, chronic life-attitude of cynicism. Children of such parents, in order to uphold the all-important needs of belonging and loyalty, put on something of a ‘not-self’ mask of cynicism. It goes without saying that when such children meet other children who are enthusiastic and high-spirited, their reaction is going to be one of scorn. Even when such individuals, as adults, recognize that having more positive expectations and attitudes have profound, positive health consequences, they still find it a tremendous effort to change the patterning of their perception habits. Even when confronted with clear feedback from loved ones that negative attitudes are detrimental to their social and business interactions, there will still be a forceful resistance to trying more positive outlooks on for size.
Our nervous system seems to have limits to the rapidity with which we can optimize our inner habits. Even when we have optimized these thinking habits, often our posture or our breathing, as a kind of muscle memory, drags us back into old versions of our thought programs. The good news is; if the intention is strong enough, we can tweak these thought habits over time, which alters both breath and posture.
It goes without saying that if healthy, normal optimism seems to be difficult, then ecstasy, rapture, euphoria and elation are going to be that much more un-cool. Still, those rare individuals who are wired into the ecstasy of existence on a daily basis all report enormous positive benefits. My own experiments with ecstasy have shown me clearly that these advantages are contextual. In other words, when and where we allow ourselves to even slightly feel ecstasy, has to do with where we are and who’s around. Probably just because of this un-coolness, we tend to hesitate not only its expression, but also its sensation. That old cliché “take time to smell the roses” doesn’t go anywhere far enough. It’s not enough to merely sort the environment for things to enjoy; an important part of any ecstasy experiment is finding joy in the inner life as well! Unfortunately this smacks of “ego” to many of the same people who make slightly annoyed faces at high-energy enthusiasm.
To be sure, there is a expression of ecstasy that is synonymous with stillness. There is also an expression of ecstasy, as any opera singer can tell you, that is synonymous with great volumes of overtones, drama, love and harmony. Singing well IS ecstasy! You don’t have to be a singer to experience it, but you do have to touch the muse of music with your heart.
The moon starts singing
When everyone is asleep
And the planets throw a bright robe
Around their shoulders and whirl up
Close to her side.
Once I asked the moon,
Why do you and your sweet friends
Not perform so romantically like that
To a larger crowd?
And the whole sky chorus resounded,
“The admission price to hear
The lofty minstrels
Speak of love
Is affordable only to those
Who have not exhausted themselves
Dividing God all day
And thus need rest.“
Evan Bortnick Musa Vocalis Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden