“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities – always see them, they are always there.” — Norman Vincent Peale
When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my dad asked me to make a choice. Are you a pessimist or an optimist? It seemed easy enough at the time, once I learned the basic definition of those words. But throughout life, everything became less binary and focused on the “facts.”
The last year brought back this memory and this question again. I’ve been doing some reading and some more thinking. How would I answer now? What’s the real difference between a pessimist and an optimist? One of the recent books I read, The Art of Uncertainty, lays it out really well:
While it may be very dated, the half-empty or half-full glass metaphor accurately depicts the filter through which many of us see life. For a great number of people, the past few years have been fraught with uncertainties, disappointments, and fears beyond their wildest imagination. In times like these it’s quite easy to allow ourselves to go unconscious and fall prey to the purveyors of gloom and doom or are peddling their latest version of how empty the glass is. The pessimist usually buys what they are selling because it validates his view and gives him permission to continue to stare at what’s wrong with life. On the other hand, the optimist isn’t even in the market because his attention is gratefully on what is right with life.The Art of Uncertainty: How to live in the mystery and love it, by Dennis Jones
The ultimate difference between the pessimist and the optimist is that the pessimist chooses to focus on what happens TO them – but the optimist chooses to focus on what can happen FOR them. She is, as the quote at the beginning of the article by Norman Vincent Peale suggests, a “possibilitarian.”
In The Future we Choose, the authors say that it is always easier to cling to certainty than to something that is right and good, regardless of whether it stands a decent chance of success. The book paints two contrasting worlds ahead of us through the lens of climate change – one where the earth will be destroyed by 2100, and one where we choose to take action and hold countries and companies to their environmental promises. In it, there is a quote from Vaclav Havel, describing optimism as a “state of mind, not the state of the world.”
What future do you choose? Even if you are not thinking about it, you are always choosing. So I say it’s time for optimism to make a comeback.
The glass half empty is the easy way out
Yes, we are still in a global pandemic. And if things keep going the way that they are in the deteriorating state of the earth, we could be plagued by disease from the destruction of forests and wildlife that could make COVID look like a head cold.
Everyone can predict a bleak future based on the bleakness of the current state of play. The difference between the pessimist and the optimist is that the pessimist predicts the future based on what’s happening now, and the optimist chooses her future, even if that choice is taking small actions. The optimist has faith that all of these small actions will add up to transformations that have the power to change the world. The state of mind, which is the faith, trumps the fear of facing what a pessimist would view as a future that is out of their control. Take a look at some major accomplishments in your own life, I bet you that there have been times where almost unknowingly you made those small, positive changes only to build towards something vastly wonderful!
Believing that the glass is half full means that somewhere you also believe that something is going to fill that glass. And it’s hard to believe when you can’t see it. And when you just focus on the ‘endgame’ and not the present moment and it’s going to take being stubborn to keep at it! And dealing with people thinking you are delusional. Optimism is often equated with weakness, or a lack of intelligence; even the Disney characters painted as imbecilic have the common trait of exaggerated optimism. Here’s the bottom line: It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Optimists win in the end. Even if you are going against your better common sense, there are good health-related reasons for brightening your mind.
- Optimists live longer: Researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11-15% longer lifespan, and had far greater odds of reaching 85 years old, compared to the least optimistic group.
- Optimists are healthier: Optimists also have healthier relationships and overall well-being. According to a cardiologist in the linked article, optimists tend to have better metabolic function and less likely to have insulin resistance, less likely to have inflammation.
- Optimists are more successful: According to the Harvard Business Review, Optimists do better over the course of their careers as well. They make more money and are more likely to be promoted. Concretely, a University of Pennsylvania study found that optimistic sales professionals outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%.
Can you “learn optimism”?
You can. In fact there is a great book on it, which I highly recommend. To give you a preview, it’s two simple steps – flushing out the negative, and filling the glass back up to at least half full. Here’s where to start.
Detoxing your pessimism
The main challenge is unlearning our pessimism and cutting off its reservoir of resources around us. This is like a diet or sugar detox, except it’s cleansing your mind of all of the addictive need for drama.
Pessimism detox plan:
- Cut off your toxic relationships. For significant others, I have a great post about that. This includes friendships, too. If someone is constantly putting you down, dumping their negativity on you, they don’t need to be in your life. In this day and age, ghosting is definitely an easier route, but I have learned that being more direct can even be easier because usually that person can’t stand to own up to their own shortcomings and will end up cutting you out to retaliate. One less thing to worry about! Your time is your greatest currency, when you know in your heart that there may be individuals whom you have given unconditional kindness and been met with a draining negativity in return, you do not need to keep on giving. Wish one well and reclaim some of your life back.
- Detox your social media: The dissonance between social media and real life can lead to depression, suicide, and just generally missing out on real life, which exists outside of your smartphone and disappears in clocks that actually go tick-tock. This article has some great tips to mitigate these effects. Quitting personal SM can really be life-changing (and I can attest), but start with something simple and delete the apps from your phone for a while – you can always reinstall them. I always notice people scrolling through FB or insta during idle times- waiting in line at the store, for example. Find new things to do while you wait, like pulling a magazine off the rack and browsing through it. Marie Kondo your followers/followees, too. If that person or institution doesn’t bring you joy, unfollow or unfriend. By focusing more on what’s in front of you, you can live more mindfully and free of the anxiety that often occurs when you feel out of the loop.
- Detox your eyes and ears: Having CNN running the background 24/7 may seem harmless, but most of the 24-hour news outlets feed on fear and hyperbole. You are basically feeding your subconscious with a constant stream of negativity and paranoia.You may think that checking the news or reading the paper first thing is good to be “in the know,” but your brain is at a very critical inflection point every morning as you are waking up. Your subconscious is still processing your dreams and it is a chance to renew and reset. By flooding your brain with emails, news sites, and yacking talking heads you are basically taking a shi&* on your serenity. Start the day with a great workout or meditation, and prepare for the day in silence. You will be pleasantly surprised by how much more receptive you will be to the events of the day when they have not been frontloaded by negative messages.
Flooding your head with optimism
Optimistic thinking does not come out of nowhere – it’s all about what your recorder is saying. Even if you cannot consciously hear it, there is a recording being played in our minds all the time, whether we are awake or asleep.
In order to create the path to this mindset, you have to clear the weeds that have been growing for years blocking the path. So here’s a “pessimism detox plan” to start that clearing.
What we listen to can brainwash us into both negativity and positivity. Don’t you notice that when you listen to a happy song, you feel more upbeat? On the other hand, there’s garbage in, garbage out of social media, negative news, and constant complaining.
Good news websites
Did you know that good news happens everyday? And that there are good people who do good things? The more you explore these sites, the more you will see that it’s all about the filter, and the filter that most big-news conglomerates use capitalizes on sensation, fear, and conflict.
Not All News Is Bad is a one man mission to strive and bring joy to your day. Leo A. Notenboom is the founder of the site and he sources a daily news story upon which one reads his site or has a daily email subscription, both of which are free. He has reputable sources through the gamut of positive news, from seemingly miniscule small acts of kindness between humans that are truly beautiful to major breakthroughs about the nature of Alzheimer’s disease. He refers to his site as “The Daily Antidote to Everything Else.” That is truly what it is, being that breather moment. Leo notes that he is currently testing advertising on the site but overall the site has a very clear interface and is incredibly easy to navigate.
The Good News Network. The Good News Network is an organization that has a great approach of letting there be a collective change towards positive outlooks by sharing beautiful good news stories from all over the world. It is free to join and easy to navigate. One may also read inspiring stories, decide to share, or help to promote a meaningful cause. It is positive and uplifting and there beautiful stories from baby girls who were mixed up at the hospital at birth and all of the families then realized and live together happily under one roof to redefining what your usage capital and how it can actually mean so much more than money to even providing a 24 hour deejay show to how standing more may help prevent type II Diabetes (heyyy!!!). It is also great how it is on such a global perspective because it forces one out of their shell and shows just how connected we are- no matter the distance.
Daily Good is another good go-to for a great natural (potentially contagious!) pick-me-up. The site is a great example of how one’s small approach can multiply and the world and beyond; one college student started the site in 1998, simply sending out uplifting quotes to half a dozen of his college friends and today, ‘the same sort of premise’ goes where an email is sent out daily with an uplifting affirmation and maybe a que about sending out something more positive throughout day- to its 100,000+ subscribers. To its posts remembering Nelson Mandela to posts about practical, dynamic ways to build more courage into your day. The latter post particularly resonated with me because I have encountering similar methods about living a courageous life: accessing the body with focused with breathing, listening to my thoughts without attaching to them, reframing self-limiting beliefs, and creating community through which I do my best to ponder through all of the noise to spread what is REAL. Subscribers may also submit their uplifting stories upon the all volunteer led editors then publish.
Positive.News is a truly revolutionary site in how it is working to show what is working within the world. CEO Sean Wood’s TedX talk elaborates on the movement of ‘constructive journalism’ where serious approaches to investigative journalism are met with science backed positive psychology techniques. This then promotes more dynamic approaches and solutions to the issues that we face. Positive.News is for someone really looking into what is working and how it can spread. Mr. Wood stresses that this does not mitigate or minimize some of the world’s crises that may be out of control and that serious steps need to be taken and that positive or negative- the truth (no spins)- must be told. Many other large organizations, such as Huffington Post, USA Today, and CNN have listened closely and incorporated segments of what is working. Research has shown that people do gravitate towards the spread of news and that news consumption is more influential to society’s behavior than religion.Thus, that is why it is imperative that the balance be shown so people can adopt positive, actual solutions. From something like reducing emissions and carbon gasses during large stadium games to helping Afghan refugees currently arriving in the UK. Positive.News is a little more meaty than some of the other sites but a great vehicle to show what is right. Think ‘Front Line’ — only positive.
Sunny Skyz Good News
Sunny Skyz is another site that started less than ten years ago to promote kindness, love, and laughter from all over the world. It has a very clear, scrolling style interface and has a little something for everyone depending on your mood. It is enticing scroll style in that, something new may easily pique your curiosity and change the way that you feel. From news about goats to life saving puppies to 3 tweets from the Late Norm McNonald that are not funny but beautiful and heartfelt. Sometimes a look through some of these stories may inspire you to take a positive turn and lead into something much greater- or at least learn a cute “dad joke” in between. This site is particularly great if you are looking for a quick squeeze of some positive happenings!
Squirrel News is a non-profit organization that works to promote solutions based journalism. Based in Berlin working to counter the constant stream of negativity and profit based click-bait, Squirrel News works much like a squirrel who hand picks the most nourishing nuts to fuel it through- takes a similar approach. Amongst it’s very cutesy name, you can find articles that have some serious gravitas behind them about what is working in the world from book clubs in prisons are promoting more constructive re-entry into society to how an adoption society for preloved toys is redirecting the toys from landfills to children in need; reducing waste and creating lived-again memories. These stories are uplifting and inspiring in how one can possibly see what is going on to these “unsolvable” problems being solved and how you can see if you can take some of the nuggets working and apply it to your own life.
Global Positive News
Global Positive News works to clean and perk up your Instagram for the better! It shares many links to positive happening around the work from a woman who saves $22,000 traveling the globe- catsitting (!!!!) to how a waste collection agency returns $25,000 of cash that a family accidentally threw away. This is such a heartwarming addition to your Instagram feed and definitely bring a smile to your scroll.
The Optimist Daily
The Optimist Daily is as if Washington Post meets WebMd, only positive and solutions based oriented. Even amongst the Health Section of the Optimist Daily, there is no association with the shame and demonizing we see throughout the internet- for example running mistakes to avoid when getting started running vs the usual “Get Running…. Or Else!” Within that article focusing on how rest is always superior and that you should not feel ascribed to the latest new nor should you wear your shoes into the ground but works the best for you. You can find articles offering different perspectives on solutions that may have been previously overlooked; engaging readers to help mobilize issues that they feel need to make better. The Optimist Daily is reader funded and is very rich in content towards providing constructive solutions towards a better world.
I hope that all of these sites offer insight, positivity, solutions, and a smile to your day! There is something for everyone within these sites and I can guarantee you that they will at least bring a smile to your day.
I leave you with the poem “All the Hemispheres” by Hafez that really embodies a lot of these principles….
All the Hemispheres
Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.
Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
Upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of