Optimism

How Full is Your Cup?

Is your cup half full? Half empty? Full? Empty? Overflowing? It’s all in how you see it. Your cup is as full as you perceive it to be.

Where does optimism come from? Why are some people just naturally positive and optimistic, while others seem to be chronically pessimistic? Optimism, like any other personal characteristic, comes from genetics, environment, and experience. Optimism comes from somewhere deep within the individual. Fortunately, even if you weren’t born with an enthusiastic, positive, optimistic personality you can learn these traits.

Some people are content being unhappy and negative, constantly complaining and looking for the negative (or worst case scenario) in every situation. If you or someone you know is content being this way, just know that it is completely your/their choice. If someone chooses to be pessimistic, there is very little that can be done about it. Just like an addiction, one may need to “hit bottom” before they find the motivation to change their behavior.

Optimism usually does not spring up automatically. Often, you must use self discipline rather than depend on intrinsic (internal) optimism. Extrinsic (external) motivation can be internalized, and with the passage of time and practice intrinsic optimism will develop. Let’s assume for the sake of this article, that you do want to become more optimistic. This is the first step -- to WANT to be optimistic!

---The happiest people seem to be those who have no particular reason for being happy except that they are so. --W.R. Inge

Optimism vs. Pessimism – Why the Big Deal?

Pessimists get caught up in the idea of perfection. They worry about doing things perfectly and never seem to be able to make a move. They are often idealists -- thinking life should be “perfect,” or at least the way they “think it should be.” They tend to over-analyze things, causing “analysis-paralysis.” They “awfulize” -- continually using their imagination to visualize worst case scenarios, and then conclude that those scenarios are so probable and the effects are so hopeless that there is no cause for action.

On the other hand, some people are overly-optimistic, positive to the degree that they see life through “rose colored glasses.” Being overly optimistic can be just as unhealthy as being pessimistic, because one may make decisions based on a false sense of reality. On a continuum between overly optimistic and overly pessimistic, there is a healthy medium. Healthy people will challenge their own thoughts. They will look at both sides of the coin and debate them until they feel they have a realistic idea of how to proceed. If this course of action does not achieve the desired results they will alter or modify it until they find one that does. Perhaps the term “positive realist” is the best way to describe this healthy medium.

Why the big deal? Because the most important aspect of happiness is your ability to remain positive and optimistic! Besides that you’ll live longer! Recent studies show that those who rate themselves mostly optimistic on questionnaires coped with stress better and lived longer than those who rate themselves mostly pessimistic. It’s not always possible to be optimistic but it’s a great trait to strive for.

--Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground. --Theodore Roosevelt

“When—Then” Syndrome – How to Live NOW

In western society, people often attach their happiness or well being to external objects, or an “it” (boyfriend, car, house, money, winning team, spouse, child, ideal weight, etc.). The problem with attaching ourselves to “its” is that once we get “it,” we may be happier for a while, but then we must find a new “it” because we don’t know how to just “be.”

Striving toward our dreams is a good thing. Having hope for a better life is a good thing. But it becomes unhealthy when we are overly attached to these things. Once they do come into our lives, they don’t “fill us up” the way we thought they would because we cannot be “filled up” (or fulfilled) wit external things. We can only truly be “filled up” (or fulfilled) with ourselves. Being grateful for what you have now is the key to being fulfilled. Ask yourself often, “What’s right now?”

--Some of the biggest problems arise when we begin to believe that we should be perfect, or that the world should be perfect. --Leo Buscaglia

It’s All About Your Perceptions

There are ways of mentally changing your thoughts to put things into a new perspective. Psychologists call this “cognitive restructuring.” Our words are our most powerful tools. The words and statements we make aloud or to ourselves have a huge impact on us as well as others around us. Changing our thoughts is actually quite simple. It starts with changing our words. When you notice yourself making a negative statement or thinking a negative thought, simply change it to a positive one. A great technique is the “stop-think” method. As soon as a negative thought comes into your head, say “stop!” to yourself, then change it to a positive thought. This may take lots of practice, but the results are well worth your effort!

A word that could be deleted from your vocabulary is “failure.” Try substituting the phrase “learning experience” for “failure.” Another rephrasing technique is to look at “failure” as a particular event in which you did not achieve your desired outcome. Often the danger of believing in failure is that people tend to generalize: “I failed, therefore I’m a failure.” If you put the failure into perspective as a single event, rather than a life sentence, you will not sabotage your future attempts to reach the goal. Likewise, the purpose of using the phrase “learning experience” is to realize that what seems like a failure is not an end to everything, but part of a larger growth process.

--When you change the way you look at something, that something will change the way it looks. --Wayne Dyer

Good vs. Bad

In a competitive society we can be brainwashed into thinking that everything is either a win or a loss. Right or wrong. One up or one down. Good or bad. Psychologists call this “splitting.” One way to refrain from this type of good-bad “splitting” is to perceive everything as for the eventual good. We’ve all had experiences we first viewed as very negative (bad) but found out over time it was one of the best (good) things that ever happened to us. Every cloud has a silver lining, although we may not be able to see it in the now. This is why time is your best friend.

It’s true that some things that happen in life are bad. It’s okay to feel bad for a while. You may need to grieve sometimes. The important thing is to focus on what you can do to make it better. If there’s nothing you can do, let it go (or “let go and let God”). If there is something you can do, however small it may be, make a plan and do it. Just make sure what you are doing is positive and not destructive, or you may be perpetuating more negative events.

--In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. --Albert Einstein

Act “As If”

One way to develop optimism is to first act “as if.” When you start acting and behaving like an optimistic person, the feelings will follow. Acting “as if” causes you to create new habits, and soon you will find they are natural to you. You may soon find other people commenting on your new positive thinking. You know it took lots of practice, of acting “as if” for you to develop that trait, but they will see it as natural for you.

--Spock had a huge effect on me. Playing the character so often, actually made me more rational and logical. --Leonard Nemoy

10 Ways to Learned Optimism

Here are some ways to see your cup as full, and even possibly overflowing!

  1. Have an attitude of gratitude. Keep a gratefulness journal. Each day, before going to sleep write down 3 – 5 things which you are grateful for that day. When you wake up each day write down 3 – 5 things you are grateful for in advance.
  2. Practice random anonymous acts of kindness.
  3. Make each day magnificent rather than mediocre. Go the extra step. Acknowledge your amazing potential and strive to maximize it every day.
  4. Meditate. Pray. Breathe. Intend on being peaceful, relaxed and calm.
  5. Ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” Then ask “what are the chances of that happening?” If the chances are minimal, let it go.
  6. Recite the serenity prayer.
  7. See the positive in all things, wherever possible.
  8. Use positive visualizations.
  9. Use positive affirmations.
  10. Act “as if.”

--The master key to riches, is thought by thought, replace old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts. --Napoleon Hill

Hope is a Thing With Feathers

Hope means that anything is possible. Hope is what will keep you moving, working, completing daunting tasks, and trying new things. It is what keeps you stepping forward. Hope is positive expectation. Hope is positive visualization. Hope is faith. Hold on to hope. May your cup overflow!

---Hope is the thing with feathers…That perches on the soul…And sings the tune without the words…And never stops---at all. Emily Dickinson

Resources

Brown, Les. (1992) Live your dreams. New York: Avon Books.

Canfield, Jack and Victor Hanson, Mark. (1995) The aladdin factor. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Publications.

Dyer, Wayne. (1980) The sky’s the limit. New York: Pocket Books.

Hill, Napolean, (1960) Think and grow rich. New York: Doubleday.

Kelley, Lyn. (2008) How to motivate people! Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Rath, Tom and Clifton, Donald. (2004) How full is your bucket? New York: Gallup Press.

Seligman, Martin. (1990) Learned optimism. New York: A. A. Knopf.

Sheehy, Gail. (2000) Passages. New York: Bantam.

Thomas, Marlo, et al. (2002) The right words at the right time. New York: Atria Books.

Viorst, Judith. (1998) Imperfect control. New York: Simon and Shuster.