- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The American spirit is alive and well: A landmark study released yesterday from a New Jersey medical school finds that the majority of us are overwhelmingly optimistic about the future, even if catastrophe looms on the horizon.

A sampling: 82 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 feel optimistic about their futures; 82 percent of those ages 25 to 44 do so as well; and 75 percent of those ages 45 to 64 and 64 percent of those 65 or older agree. Only 15 percent to 22 percent of the respondents say they have grown more pessimistic over the past five years.

The public’s response flabbergasted the pollsters.

“What amazed us most was their determined optimism, even as they showed great concern about bad things happening in the world,” said Dr. Donald Louria of the Department of Preventive Medicine & Community Health at the New Jersey Medical School in Newark, which conducted the study.

The study of 2,000 adults in four distinct age groups was conducted for the school by McLaughlin & Associates throughout April.

Not all respondents were wearing rose-colored lenses, however: Between two-thirds and three-quarters of those in all the age groups fear the United States will suffer a biological or nuclear attack in the next 20 years.

Thirty percent to 40 percent feel the country can solve all or most of its problems, yet it doesn’t deter the hopeful feelings. Across the board, 75 percent still insist they are optimistic about their futures, despite the global threats.

Greenhouse gases and holes in the ozone layer don’t cause much concern. The survey reveals that roughly one-third consider global warming a major problem, though this number increases among the college-educated respondents.

“We found this relative lack of concern surprising, given the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is occurring now, and that if unchecked, could be disastrous,” said Dr. Cheryl Kennedy, a psychiatrist with the school.

Respondents who deem religious faith “very important to them were much more optimistic about their own and the world’s future compared to those who listed religion as unimportant,” the study states.

Good feelings don’t necessarily extend beyond America’s border, though. In the event of an attack, global warming or societal problems, just 36 percent to 40 percent of the respondents feel optimistic about “the future of the world.”

Dr. Louria, meanwhile, is urging politicians, public officials, teachers and others concerned with public morale to take the reassuring findings seriously. A drop in personal optimism could be “a harbinger” of all sorts of societal ills, from substance abuse to reckless driving, he said.

“Those in leadership positions in our society, as well as educators, should pay close attention,” Dr. Louria said, adding that all this public positivity should not be taken for granted.

“We believe this personal optimism is sort of a last barricade,” he said, and could prove “shaky.”

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