I recently read "A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full" by New York Times writer Jane E. Brody.
In the piece, Brody went through the scientific reasons why being an optimist can help one in life, from attacking problems head-on to persistence when faced with difficult task.
She is speaking to the choir.
(Actually she is writing, and I'm not a choir – more like a tambourine player in a shoddy ska band, but you get point.)
I've always tried to live my life thinking the best of people and situations even when given very little reason to.
For me, it is a choice between happiness and unhappiness. Thinking positively about a situation makes me happy. Thinking negatively about a situation makes me unhappy. Thus, I choose to think positively about a situation. It's a very kindergartenish or – to use a far worse metaphor – "Rose is Rose" way of thinking, but it has worked for me the past 30 years. (Yes, even as a baby I was an optimist. That dresser-drawer crib was the best dresser-drawer crib EVER.)
One paragraph of the story in particular spoke to me:
In college, I would approach every exam, even those I had barely studied for, with the thought that I was going to do well. Time after time, this turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Good grief. It's like she was sitting in my dorm room with me. (She wasn't. I think.) That was me with every test. I'd cram at the last second and just believe the answers would come to me when needed. And for the most part, they did. I've approach most things in my life that way. I go into a job interview expecting to be offered the job the next day. I take on a project expecting to succeed at it. In high school and college, I asked out girls expecting them to say yes.
If you expect things to go well, they often do.
But it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes, I didn't get the job. Sometimes, the project fell short. Always, I didn't get the girl. (Happily, my wife asked me out.) But the largest part of being an optimist is continuing to put yourself out there and believing in yourself even when things turn south.
While I'm one of the lucky ones that is naturally optimistic, it also requires work. There certainly have been times when I've found it hard to believe in myself after a few things go the wrong way. And there just as certainly have been moments when I've gone into a situation believing I didn't have much of a chance to succeed despite my optimism. (Again, see asking girls out during high school and college.)
What's important, though, is going through the situation anyway, even when the doubts creep up and wrap themselves around your soul and brain. Because, as an optimist would say, you just never know. Perhaps the glass is half full after all.
Filed under: Columns