WASHINGTON - The news from Iraq and other national headlines may be grim, but in Greenville, N.C., John Given has a new baby and his first home, and life is good.
So, too, for Sandra Trowbridge in tiny Magnet Cove, Ark. The situation in Iraq makes her feel pessimistic about the state of the nation, but at home, at least, all is well. Even if nothing special has happened to her family, she says, "we still love each other," and that's enough.
And so it goes for most Americans. An AP-AOL News Poll finds that while most Americans said 2006 was a bad year for the country, three-fourths thought it had been a good one for them and their families.
"In a time of war, so little has been asked of us as citizens," said Given, who teaches ancient Greek at East Carolina University. "We haven't had to sacrifice anything. We've been allowed to live our lives very, very well."
Looking ahead, optimism reigns.
Seventy-two percent of Americans feel good about what 2007 will bring for the country, and an even larger 89 percent are optimistic about the new year for themselves and their families, according to the poll.
That fits with a long-term trend suggesting that Americans are generally an optimistic lot. Polling over recent decades is replete with optimism, and with a tendency for people to feel more positively about their own situations than that of the country overall.
Self-proclaimed optimists and pessimists think they understand why.
Krista Grueninger, communications director for Optimists International, a volunteer service organization based in St. Louis, Mo., says it's easier for people to be optimistic about their situation "because they feel they have more control over their own lives. It kind of goes along with the American dream; if you really want something you can go out and get it."
Iowan Jack Duvall, who organized a tongue-in-cheek countervailing group called the Iowa City Benevolent & Loyal Order of Pessimists, says that when people look at the country, "it's easy to say, `No, I'm not optimistic."' But on a micro level, he says, "We insist on seeing our lives as having hope."
Pessimists aren't unhappy, he said, "they're just not disappointed as often as optimistic people are."
The current optimistic outlook among Americans does not extend to their assessments of the war in Iraq. Forty percent of those polled expect the situation there to get worse in 2007, and 31 percent see no change on the horizon. Just 27 percent expect the situation there to get better.
Eric Wolley, of Upper Marlboro, Md., paused to look ahead and back last week as he and his 8-year-old daughter, Iyana, took pictures outside the White House.
"For me, personally, financially, it was great," Wolley, a real estate agent, said of 2006. "Family and everybody's healthy, so everything's been going pretty good." But as for Iraq, he said, "I wish we could go in and get that figured out."
Given, the professor from North Carolina, sees Iraq as "the greatest crisis that's faced the country in at least a generation," with no clear solution in sight.
Among the one-quarter of Americans who felt pessimistic about what 2007 will bring for the country, Iraq was a recurrent theme, along with concern about poor political leadership.
"I don't really like the person running the show," said one poll respondent. "Look at the service men that are dying over there," said another. "I don't think our leaders are capable of fixing the problems," said a third.
Democrats were more likely than Republicans to have a negative view of the past year, and were less likely to feel optimistic looking forward.