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"Another of my favorite correspondents is Per Holmlöv, a Swedish man who started taking karate lessons when he was sixty-nine years old."
Professor K Anders Ericsson in Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
Per Holmlöv is the author of the book Jäklar anamma - true stories about motivation and perseverance. He has also written seven other books. In addition, he is an adventurer, mentor, practices karate and tai chi, rides western, and runs the Lidingöloppet race. When he turned 80, he took on his latest challenge: learning to paint.
Is it a saber-toothed tiger sleeping over there in the grass, or is it an antelope resting? These were the living conditions of our ancestors, and we have inherited this worry, which has helped our kind survive.
Our mass media exploits this anxiety to get clicks and thus advertising revenue. A bit sarcastically, one can say that sex, accidents, and illness sell.
In the '60s, we worried about world hunger; the Club of Rome predicted that food would not be enough for the world's population. However, food turned out to be sufficient through the green technological revolution. World hunger is now at its lowest historical level.
In the '80s and '90s, the climate threat came, but then the ice sheet was supposed to return, and we would freeze to death.
At the turn of the century, we were preoccupied with computers running amok and all systems crashing.
Our survival depends on the timely identification of dangers and not being naive. Given the current situation in Ukraine, the former Swedish prime minister's speech on the military, calling it a 'special interest' and the decision to close down the military base on Gotland was naive.
Was the past better?
The world and the situation in Sweden have looked brighter; things were better in the past. Or were they?
A Churchill quote:
"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
The ancient Greek Epictetus already said:
"Some things we can decide, others not."
Epictetus and Emperor Marcus Aurelius are also attributed to the expression amor fati, meaning that we should love fate and accept the situation. They belonged to the stoic group that believed a higher reason governed the world. Stoics sought apatheia, or tranquility, not apathy.
The Serenity Prayer is read at 12-step program meetings worldwide:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
When psychologist Marty Feldman became president of the American Psychological Association at the turn of the last century, he concluded that it was time to focus on the healthy part of the population and founded positive psychology. He believed that optimism and pessimism were largely innate attitudes and retrained himself to become an optimist.
Research shows that optimists live longer, are healthier, and happier.
Positive psychology is now widely accepted.
This too shall pass
Are stoicism, optimism, and serenity compatible? Perhaps I make life easy for myself when I leave world events to world leaders and opinions to editorial writers and focus on the small things in life.
The Persian Sufi poet Attar tells of a king who gave his wisest men the task of summarizing his life wisdom in a few words inscribed in a ring that the king could look at when he was sad. After long deliberations, they returned to the king with a ring inscribed: This too shall pass.
My eighty years of experience confirm the statement.
I have spoken with about thirty optimists from all stages and ages of life. They have the following characteristics in common:
- they are all curious
- they find life meaningful
- they stay in touch with family and friends
- they have created a positive living environment
- they have an inner drive called sisu in Finnish, grit in English, and jäklar anamma in Swedish.
- they do not give up
Churchill is once again correct:
"I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else."
Per Holmlöv is the author of the book Jäklar anamma - true stories about motivation and perseverance.