Are you an optimist?
March is Optimism month and a great time to look at this quality and mind/heartset.
It may surprise those who know me well, but my basic personality is pretty negative. I made the choice as an adult to value optimism and actively practice this approach to life. I even have a presentation I offer on retreats on the importance of optimism.
What is Optimism?
The dictionary defines optimism as a tendency to look on the favorable side of events and conditions. The belief that good ultimately predominates over evil.
The glass is half full mindset. It is believing that you are responsible for your own happiness and that more good things than bad will happen to you.
Some people – usually the pessimists – call us optimists Pollyanna’s, but I think most optimists do have more realistic views of life that given credit for.
The Practice of Optimism
Professor Martin Seligman conducted research on optimism and wrote a classic book on the topic, Learned Optimism. Of course I own a copy!
He writes, “The basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way, you think about causes.”
For example, people whose explanatory style is pessimistic will assume that when something goes wrong, then it will always go wrong. Those who have an optimistic explanatory style will simply tell themselves that it will go better next time, that it’s just a temporary setback.
When things go wrong for pessimists, they tend to catastrophize. They see their failures as all-encompassing and that they are total failures. Optimists don’t like failure either, but they see it as a specific setback rather than all the time.
Health benefits abound for optimists. Researchers see differences on MRI’s of the brains when people think positively vs negatively.
Optimists suffer less pain and recover quicker. They’re healthier, better-liked, have stronger marriages and more fun. Often they are the ones to follow through with treatments leading to better health than the ones who give up too soon with a lifestyle change or even things like finishing a medication regimen.
We “cockeyed optimists” move more quickly from identifying problems into problem solving. When faced with a difficulty situation or unclear path, I always ask myself – “What are my options?” Yes, I get tangled in the messes of anger, disappointment, and fear, but give myself a little time of self-pity, but then move on looking for the solution to that challenge.
Why People of Faith Live with Optimism
But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15: 13
We know Who is in charge and Who holds the world in His hands. That alone gives us hope. We love and follow the God of hope.
I think not only can we as people of faith, have hope, we are to model hope for others. To give light instead of fueling the environment with dark, suspecting anger. To build bridges and plant trees. To turn hearts to the God of Hope, instead of fear and misinformation.
With God, we follow his optimistic vision for a more peaceful world. We see possibilities that can heal, comfort, and unite.
With God’s strength, we speak up to minimize the negative and remind others tomorrow is a new day.
One of my favorite sayings is “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if I don’t feel hopeful at the present moment, I look to God and trust him while I forge through my doubts. I act like I am hopeful and I begin to live in hope.
God helps me gather my experiences and memories, sift them through his heart, and see his presence, promise, and prints in every moment.
Being optimistic brings opportunities for gratitude that I may have missed if I only dwelled in the dark.
Favorite Quotes about Optimism
An optimist is someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.
No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
William Arthur Ward
The difference between an optimist and a pessimist? An optimist laughs to forget, but a pessimist forgets to laugh.
To celebrate March being Optimism month, let’s live as people of hope and spread the good news to others.
Are you an optimist? What helps you live a more hopeful life?