Being optimistic is generally regarded as a highly desirable outlook on life. Books are written about it, “optimistic people” are sort-after for their life quotes, and we are told to strive for it as a means of achieving our goals.
You can even subscribe to a multitude of quote services which will deliver optimism to your Inbox, Twitter feed or Facebook stream every day, hour or minute.
What could go wrong? Is there a case for scepticism about optimism?
Yes. I believe that there is.
Forcing optimism can lead to disillusionment. People believe that by being optimistic good things will happen. When good things don’t happen — repeatedly — they lose hope and their optimism.
Others seek optimism. But like seeking happiness, their quest is doomed to fail them, and thus delivers continuing pessimism.
Why your daily emotional challenges of existence will not be solved by finding happiness
I clicked into an article in The New Yorker about reading making you happier. I thought that it may be a potential…
That’s because they define optimism as a product of reaching certain goals or outcomes, e.g. a new job, business success, or finding the perfect partner.
Optimism is not an outcome; it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Optimism and pessimism are misconstrued
Optimism and pessimism are misconstrued terms that box people into being believers that either good or bad will happen to them in their lives.
This misconstruction leads people to get hung up on how their life is running. Especially it means that those people who are vested in optimism become unhappy when things don’t work out.
The story of the Two Wolves — said to be a Cherokee legend. It describes how each of us carries inside us an ongoing battle between two wolves. One denotes all things good and optimistic, and the other those things evil and pessimistic.
Which is to say that no person carries only optimism or pessimism in inside them; and no person is always positive or negative towards life.
The solution to life is greater than a binary choice between optimism and pessimism.
Let’s go surfing — you go surfing
Think of yourself as a surfer riding your board in a big sea swell. A monster wave appears out of nowhere. You hesitate for a second, and then you realise that it is already too close for you to be able to paddle over.
You’re stuck in no-mans land. Adrenaline hits you as the sea hollows out and drags you towards the base of the towering peak of the wave. You flip under your board just as the wave breaks and thunders down on top of you.
You’ve been hit like this many times, but the force of this brute wave is wrenching you in all directions.
Right now, you are not optimistic nor pessimistic. But you are totally determined. You are focused on getting through; focused on reaching the surface and breathing again.
At this extreme time life is happening for you. It is providing you with a lesson.
You are absolutely in the present, hanging on for all you are worth to your surfboard while being battered and swirled about underwater.
Confidence comes from living in the experience not avoiding it
This is where you need dogged determination. What is happening is neither good, not bad, it is just happening.
When the swirling currents pass over and you surface, you feel not only relieved but also more confident. It was not your optimism that pulled you through but your determination.
You also feel more optimistic.
The next time you encounter fear consider yourself one of the lucky ones
Do you run from fear? Do you sense it coming and back off? No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. No…
Optimism is important but less so than determination
Optimism is important. It allows you to see the bad that happens as learning experiences to create the good to come.
However, it was not the choice between optimism and pessimism that most helped you survive the wave. It was your determination in the circumstances.
This is why the case for optimism is less important than the case for determination.
- Acknowledge your ongoing duality of optimism and pessimism.
- Build your determination by allowing life to happen for you, and battling your way to the surface like you as the surfer.
- Acknowledge that the bad in your life are the things that need to happen for you to prove your determination, build your confidence and feed the optimistic wolf inside you.
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