Can We Make a Glass Look Half Full? What if our Life Depends on it?

There was an article in the New York Times earlier this week entitled “A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full.” It talks about the health benefits of optimism and lays out some suggestions for how we can all be more optimistic. It seems that these stories are ubiquitous lately.

I am always fascinated by these stories. Can a person really change their entire outlook from one of pessimism to one of optimism? And if not, how helpful is it for those of us who are not naturally optimistic to hear that this is bad for our health?

I have always believed that I am an optimistic person, but even I recognize things in this article that I could not live up to in the quest to be a true optimist. I am sure that friends from high school will painfully recall that I was always sure that I would fail every test after I took it – And I suppose that does mar my credentials as an optimist.

I find it hard to believe that a person can truly change something that seems to be so much a part of the fabric of who that person is. But I would love to hear from all of you and be proven wrong.

I do like the strategies suggested in the article and think they are worthy of note:

Regardless of the nature of your work, identify some aspect of it that is personally fulfilling. If your job is scrubbing floors, stand back and admire how shiny and clean they look.

Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people. But be aware that if you are chronically negative and always see only the dark side of things, the optimists in your life may eventually give up on you.

Focus on situations that you can control, and forget those you can’t. I would also suggest using voting power, money or communication skills to forward a goal that is beyond your personal control.

But I am not overly optimistic that these strategies will change the lens through which I see the world.

What do you think? Do you think a person can work to change their outlook from one of pessimism to one of optimism? And what about vice versa? Do you think that a person can become a pessimist based on their life experiences? Do you have any tips or strategies for people who are interested in changing their outlook to become more optimistic? Have you, or one of your family members or friends, successfully worked to change? So much of this seems rooted in negative self-talk – have you found ways to quiet that inner critic that you would be willing to share?

I would love to hear your thoughts. And thank you for reading!   

20 Comments

Filed under Education, Health, Parenting, Relationships, social pressures, Women

20 responses to “Can We Make a Glass Look Half Full? What if our Life Depends on it?

  1. I’m actually an optimist by nature (I’m told), but when it comes to forcing or faking optimism against how you’re feeling, I strongly disagree. Especially–and because–your life depends on it. Looking at the bright side and having a positive outlook is held in extremely high esteem in the world of surviving cancer (which I have), but what is rarely talked about, and should be, are the dangers of repression of emotion. Studies among smokers have shown that those who score high on repression measures develop cancer, while those who express what they feel don’t. Optimism is good, but only when it’s genuine. Integrity is even more vital.

    • That makes so much sense to me. I would think it would be more stressful and more work to have to try to pretend that you are feeling a certain way when you simply are not. I can see repression being a true health hazard as you say. Thanks sor validating my skepticism! 🙂 And for reading and taking the time to comment.

  2. It can be done. And the suggestions are a little flat, IMO. The only way, if your position is pessimistic, is to practice at being an optimist! Let’s take those crayons again… Maybe we’re not so good at coloring or drawing, but with practice, we become better!
    As a young woman, coming from a terrible childhood and tough young adulthood, I know what pessimism and cynicism is. At about 30 or so, I actually decided to “get happy.” It took dedication, but I knew that my brain, (all of our brains) really didn’t know the difference between what’s real (out here) and what we tell our brains as being real or within the forefront of our minds.
    So, I would catch myself, and make daily affirmations that I was going to be happy, I am happy, and at first, it was phony, but eventually, I believed me, and I became happy. I stayed happy. I laugh freely and feel so liberated! That’s not to say I don’t feel deeply about things, or live with my head in a cloud. Quite the opposite. I am who I am because I’ve lived on both sides of the fence, so to speak.

    • What a beautiful and inspiring response! Thanks so much for your comment. It is ecourging to learn that this can work. Do you have any other specific strategies that you would like to share with others who are trying to find a way to change their outlook? And was therapy what helped or was it more the result of inidividual effort? Thanks so much for sharing your experience. And keep smiling…unless you don’t feel like it today! 😉

      • Wow, thanks… I’ve never had therapy. I did go once, and the session lasted half an hour – I guess I already knew the answer…
        I laugh and smile every day, even on the worst of days, and I never, ever say that I’ve had a bad day or it’s a bad day. There’s days that are not so good… but I can’t recall a day when I haven’t laughed hard in years.
        Very inspiring. I wish to write about my life, but don’t wish to hurt anyone by revealing the truth of it all, so I may just do what you suggest, and “share with others” my strategy for change. Thank you for that – I’d not considered it as part of a whole!

        • It sounds like we could all learn a lot from your experience, so I hope you will continue to share it. Thanks again for your comment and congratulations on your success and hard work!

    • You’re totally right about the plasticity of our brains. But truly, if you go to the optimism prematurely and try to bypass the grief process and the reality of strong negative emotion, you do a lot of damage. I grew up in a “be happy” environment, and if we focus solely on that part at the expense of the negative side of the equation, it can definitely harm us both physically and psychologically .

      • Perhaps “prematurely” is the key word here. Maybe we have to feel our emotions and find a way to come out on the other side and start to make small changes that can lead to big changes. I would be very interested to hear a success story where that worked, so hopefully seapunk will be willing to share more – on her blog or here! Thanks so much for keeping the conversation going.

      • I haven’t been harmed either physically or psychologically by making up my mind to be happy. Exactly the opposite! I’m nearly 58 and I don’t see any reason to grieve, just to go through the process of grieving for what was or was not. I’ve had plenty of negative emotion, within myself and thrust upon me. I figured it was enough. I can still hurt, though, I just make the hurt much smaller than my happiness, and being a tough exterior, cream puff inside kind of gal, this works for me. 🙂

        • It may be that you went through the grieving process you needed and what you need now is to be happy and enjoy life. That is beautiful and I am glad that that is what has worked for you. I am sure every person is different in how we handle these things, but I think probably if you find something that works for you, stick with it! Thanks to you and Connie both for your honest comments and dialogue!

        • Good on you seapunk2, that you haven’t been harmed by “making up your mind” to be happy, and that you successfully make your hurt smaller than your happiness. I’m a big believer in chasing happiness and looking for the bright side in everything. But chasing happiness and positive thinking does have its limits, and denying this reality puts a big burden on those who try but fail to achieve happiness. Depression and anxiety are very real, and not always simply a matter of attitude. The science is pretty clear on the effects of repression of emotion too–deny your pain, repress your emotion, and you’re headed for health problems.

  3. I am, by nature, an optimist! Even when I miss out on something that I really wanted, I tell myself it is because something better is just around the corner. And you know what? Something better is always around the corner. 🙂

    • Lucky you! I am mostly an optimist too. I have even found a way in the darkest of times to think about the fact that I will probably learn something important from going through a hard time. But I do think it would be very hard to have to fake it if that was not your natural inclination. But the conversation here has been fascinating about whether that works or is a good thing to do or not. Keep up your optimism – sounds like it is good for your health! Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  4. It is absolutely possible. I did it. I had to change the tape that plays in my head. It takes a lot of practice and it’s not easy.

    This is how I did it: http://fitrecovery.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/the-greatest-lesson-ive-learned-in-recovery/

    • What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing. You all are making me think there is something to this. I especially liked how you related this to turning a bad morning into a bad day. I know I have done that. Thanks so much for the inspiration. By the way, I do sprint triathlons now and then, which is what originally attracted me to your blog – to get some inspiration. Howw nice to find even more inspiration. Another one of those fun surprises in the blogging world.

  5. I wonder if there is a correlation between “living in the moment” and being an optimistic person. From my own experience, I’ve noticed that pessimism is often rooted about worrying about the future, rather than taking action or observation to see the positive and control things you can control in the present moment.

    • Interesting question. I wonder what others here think. It makes sense to me that living in the moment could make it harder to catastrophize about future events. But what if your present is terribly painful for some reason? I know being more present would be helpful for me! Thanks for reading and for your comment! Thoughtful, as always!

  6. I know you can change your thoughts from negative to positive. I did it and I continue to do it. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but it so totally worth the effort. I am happy!

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