I come across a lot of things online that portray optimism like it’s absolute delusion. You know the stereotype: that constantly smiling, cheerful person who’s always in a good mood no matter how many parking tickets they get or the frequency with which the dog pees in their house. People who function like that are referred to as Pollyannas, and I absolutely can’t stand that optimists and Pollyannas get lumped into the same category.
I’m a pessimist turned optimist and I’m not here to live in a purely positive bubble, devoid of all things unpleasant and negative. You can’t have light without the dark. Balance in life is necessary and a life with absolutely no negativity would frankly feel weird. I like to remind myself that even the Dalai Lama has admitted to getting mad on occasion, because he’s *gasp* human.
Optimism is defined as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something.” In his book Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman outlines how optimists are fundamentally different from pessimists:
Pessimists see situations as permanent, personal, and pervasive, while optimists see situations as temporary, situational, and specific.
Optimism is not a dreamlike delusion- it’s a way of framing what happens to you that keeps it from being unbearable, inescapable, and crushing. I’ve been a full fledged pessimist, and I adopted optimism when I was 23. I can tell you first hand that pessimism will not help you grow, change, or connect to your full potential.
There are a lot of studies that detail the effects of employing learned optimism or a more positive way of thinking (here, here, or here for starters) and the results are striking: better health, less stress, a stronger immune system, more gratitude, and these people would say they are happy. They may even live longer.
So, as they say in Monty Python, “Always look on the bright side of life.” The bright side. Yes, there is and always will be a dark side of life (cue Darth Vader breathing). You can and will look in on the dark stuff occasionally, but if you can remember that there’s always an unlimited amount of hope and that you can keep it in your heart, you’ll be okay.
Life is full of ups and downs, good and bad, tragic and inspiring, amazing and devastating- but you get to decide were your mind goes, and you can choose your mood.
Life’s too short to spend in the dark.
If you’re interested in learning more about optimism and pessimism, I INSIST that you get your mits on a copy of Learned Optimism ASAP.