Optimism an agent for positive change

Optimism is probably one of the most precious, mercurial human characteristics.

Some people are lucky to enjoy it naturally, others struggle to believe that such a subjective belief in nothing more tangible than possibility is more often than not a self-seeding, a self-fulfilling force for positive change.

Whether you’re a glass half full or glass half empty person it is undeniably easier to embrace optimism and the energy that decision usually brings when the sun is shining magnificently — as it is now.

The Mediterranean weather of recent days might, in the context of five difficult years of consolidation and cuts, help lift the national mood, even help make it more optimistic. Of course this might be a tad too close to considering the innards of dead fowl to define economic policy but a few, though not too many, real world criteria made public in recent days suggest that there may be a gap in the storm clouds, a shaft of light breaking through the dismal grey.

On the international front many markets logged positive returns last week, consolidating earlier 2013 advances. Japan was particularly strong, where the Nikkei closed at its highest level for five weeks. In May, world equities (in euro terms) rose by 1.7% giving a total return of exactly 12% for the first five months of 2013. That impressive figure bears repeating — a return of 12% in just five months.

In an Irish context that great bogeyman of our recent past, the private ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, has raised its outlook on Ireland’s sovereign rating, saying the Government may exceed its targets for debt reduction as the economy recovers.

Though that sentence pivots on “mays” and “ifs” it is still a considerable advance on briefings from the agency in recent years, the ones that pushed Government bonds close to junk bond status. By itself it may be insignificant but in a broader assessment the positive reassessment is not to be sniffed at. Conversely, if we give as much weight to the positive rating as we gave to negative ones then we can hardly but be more optimistic.

The decision by US pharmaceutical giant drug giant Pfizer to invest $130 million upgrading two of its Irish plants can be seen in the same light. Though this figure is pretty insignificant in the context of Pfizer’s international revenues — a tad under €60bn last year — it is nevertheless a positive decision in favour of this country and its workforce. It could after all have easily gone elsewhere.

Though exports fell by €314m or 4%, to €7.1bn in May from April, and were 6% below May 2012 figures, business satisfaction with Government, according to IBEC, has improved though that organisation still expresses unhappiness with how the banks are doing business.

To highlight the positive is not to deny the hard, cold reality surrounding us. As the past week has shown, for every argument there is a counter argument, for nearly every positive there is a shadowing negative. But is up to us which one we embrace, which one we allow to influence our mood and nurture optimism or pessimism. Samuel Beckett told us that the sun rose because it had no alternative but in this instance we do. And one option, the sunny one, is likely to have a far better outcome than the other.

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