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I'm an optimist. My first instinct is to see the upside of things.

I not only see the glass as half full, I'm thankful to have a glass. I don't have to look for a silver lining in clouds; I actually prefer overcast days.

This is not to sound self-congratulatory. It's just my nature. With gratefulness as my crutch, I can usually walk the path of optimism.

I worry a good bit, but there's always a little voice in my head telling me everything will probably be OK. So I fluff the pillow, turn myself over and go back to sleep.

I'm sure my relentless optimism wears on people around me. But all things considered, I'd rather be a sometimes-wrong optimist than a pessimist.

Here are some examples of how my brain works to lift me up.

> I'm bummed about the downward trajectory of my lifelong favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I write, they are 1-2 on the young season, last in their division, and it looks like it could be a very long year.

On the bright side, it's been 17 years since they last had a losing record. The year after their last losing campaign, they went 15-1. I'm optimistic the cycle will repeat.

 

> I'm a little worried about my health, having developed several chronic — but so far manageable — conditions.

On the upside, I walk several miles a day and weigh less than I did in high school. I have good health insurance, and the added exercise has improved my mental health. I consider myself blessed.

 

> Smart people I know think the United States is in a down cycle and lament that things are going very badly. Even terribly, some think.

But if you turn off the news and social media, things probably feel pretty good. Most people have jobs, food and opportunity. Only 100 years ago, many Americans didn't have electricity or indoor toilets. I wasted an hour the other day trying to decide what movie to watch, an embarrassing, First World problem.

 

> We are still deep into a pandemic that has taken millions of lives worldwide. The last few months have been disheartening, to say the least.

Still, there are hopeful signs. When I checked the Hamilton County Health Department website last week, new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were down — in fact they have been on this hopeful path for awhile.

If you look at the COVID case charts, they resemble a roller coaster. The big hill was last winter, and then came a smaller peak in early September. Now, hopes are high that we might, at last, be heading for level track and pulling into the station.

I got a COVID vaccine booster last week, which raised my spirits even more.

 

> I'm optimistic about silly things. I keep old clothes because I am optimistic that they will come back in style someday. Only a few years ago, my collection of white sneakers and white crew socks marked me as an old man. Nowadays, go on any college campus and the cool kids have on all-white sneakers and crew socks. Just saying.

The key to optimism is to cultivate gratefulness. And the key to cultivating gratefulness is to focus on people who are worse off, not better off, than yourself.

Sometimes I feel guilty about praying for help with a problem because mine seem so minuscule. Someone I love once told me I've led a soft life, and I can't dispute that I have been richly blessed.

But I am optimistic that God is infinite and can consider my prayer just as attentively as the old men who used to whittle hickory sticks on my hometown square.

Come to think of it, I may have entered the whittling zone myself, where life's worries are real enough but I've got them on the run.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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