Two old friends met at a local social gathering and one was struck with how sad and depressed the other was. "You look like your world is about to end," said Jack. With a sad face, Joe replied, "You don't know the half of it. Three weeks ago, an aunt of mine died and left me $100,000."

"That's terrific!" Jack said.

Scarcely pausing, Joe added, "Two weeks ago, this cousin I never heard of died, and I was his closest relative, so the lawyer said I'd inherited $95,000, all tax free."

"So why is that bad?"

"Then, last week, a grandfather I haven't spoken to in 10 years passed away, and he left me almost half a million dollars!"

"So what's your problem?"

"This week: Nothing!"

The moral of the above anecdote is that you just can't please everyone.

I'm an eternal optimist. Where there is an optimist, there is a way. Success requires irrepressible optimism.

Just ask corporate giant Michael Eisner, former Walt Disney Company CEO, how he became so successful, and in a heartbeat, he'll say optimism. In his book, "Work in Progress," Eisner says he has been upbeat for as far back as he can remember. As a kid, he went to New York Giants football games with a firm belief that his team would win. In those days the squad was mediocre at best, and by the fourth quarter the Giants would usually be down by four or five touchdowns. When his friends would want to leave early to beat the crowds, Eisner insisted on staying, sure that the team could mount a last-minute comeback. Even though the Giants invariably lost, Eisner would attend every game certain the Giants would win. It was this kind of irrepressible optimism that propelled him into the highest ranks of some of the most successful companies in the world.

M.J. Ryan, life coach and author of "The Happiness Makeover," says that it's possible for just about anyone to revamp their thinking. "Training your brain is like training a puppy," she said. "It wanders everywhere, but you need to keep bringing it back to the upside."

But being too optimistic has its problems, say researchers at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. The study, originally published in the Journal of Financial Economics, discovered that people who are generally optimistic usually display prudent financial behaviors, but people with too much optimism tend to have short planning horizons and often do things that are considered unwise.

The researchers asked survey participants how long they expected to live. Anyone who reported expecting to live longer than the statistical life expectancies was categorized as an optimist. Those who thought they would live 20 years longer than statistical life expectancies were considered extreme ­optimists.

The study found that optimists work longer hours, save more money, are more likely to pay their credit card balances on time, believe their income will grow over the next five years and plan to retire later (or not at all). But extreme optimists work significantly fewer hours, save less money and are less likely to pay off their credit card balances on a regular basis.

You have the power to control your outlook. Just remember these three things:

• Tell yourself you can change. Consider how you've changed throughout your life emotionally. Don't assume you can't evolve further.

• Use positive language. Banish words and phrases like "impossible" and "I can't" from your vocabulary. Replace them with words that emphasize strength and success: "challenging" and "I must."

• Let go of mistakes. You're bound to fail at some things; don't obsess over them. Learn what you can and move on.

Mackay's Moral: Optimists are people who make the best of it when they get the worst of it.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail