Hopeful beginning

American optimism apparently knows no bounds.

It probably comes as no surprise that 2009 and in fact the entire last decade are getting some pretty low marks across America.

And yet, as Americans often do, many remain optimistic about what the new year will bring.

There were plenty of reasons not to think highly of the 2000s. In a survey conducted last month, the Pew Research Center found that roughly twice as many people (50 percent) had a negative impression of the last decade than had a positive impression (27 percent). The attacks of 9/11 and the more recent economic downturn ranked high on respondents’ list of the decade’s most important events. It’s pretty tough to feel good about any decade that included those two events.

Survey rankings on some specific technological and social trends of the last decade offered an interesting sociological snapshot. Cell phones, green products, e-mail and the Internet had many fans, with 65 to 69 percent of respondents ranking them as a change for the better. Ironically, social networking sites (35 percent) and Internet blogs (29 percent) were significantly lower on the same list.

At the bottom of the “better list” were reality TV shows (8 percent) and more people with tattoos (7 percent). It’s not clear why the survey asked about tattoos, but perhaps college and professional athletes should listen up.

Nonetheless, hope springs eternal with 59 percent of respondents thinking the next decade will be better for the country as a whole.

That optimism also is apparent among those polled last month by the Associated Press and GfK Roper Public Affairs. Although nearly three-fourths of those surveyed thought 2009 was a bad year for America, an almost equal percentage said they are optimistic about 2010. Three in five Americans said their families had a good year in 2009, and four in five were hopeful about what the new year would bring for their families. They expressed that optimism despite the fact that nearly two-thirds thought their families’ finances would worsen or stay about the same in 2010.

Maybe 2009 was so bad that most people simply think 2010 can’t be any worse, but it’s heartening to see so many people enter the new year with hope and especially hope that isn’t necessarily based on financial success. Those clichés about “the best things in life are free” and “money can’t buy you love” are alive and well.

One of the best things about entering a new year is the opportunity to clear the slate mentally, take a deep breath and start anew. While we hope 2009 has been a good year for you, we hope that 2010 will be even better.

Happy New Year!