“The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.” – Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s quip about doughnuts and holes is just one of many relating to optimism and pessimism. Seeing a glass half full or half empty is another, and Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” So, which are you – and does it matter?
The Problem with Pessimism
Does it matter? The short answer is yes, it does. A pessimistic outlook on life is one of doom and gloom and expecting the worst. Negative thoughts generate negative emotions, and those emotions influence behaviour. In other words, if you’re always thinking about everything going wrong, chances are everything will go wrong. But, here’s the thing, it’s not necessarily because things never go right for you, it’s simply the way you perceive things to be. The problem with pessimism is that if you’re always looking for problems, you’ll always find them. The solutions to those problems may be right in front of you, but in a pessimistic frame of mind, you just don’t see them.
The Problem with Optimism
You might imagine there isn’t a problem with optimism, but it’s all a matter of degrees. You see, blind optimism about every aspect of life is effectively wearing rose-tinted glasses. Positive thoughts generate positive emotions that positively influence your behaviour, and this is a good thing, but if you’re unable to see the potential for things not always going the way you planned, are you in danger of putting yourself at risk – and what happens when things don’t go to plan?
A Dose of Realism
An optimistic outlook on life needs to be tempered with a dose of realism to keep you on track to living your best life. Being optimistic and expecting good things to happen is a great way to be, but it takes a degree of pessimism to be able to accept that life doesn’t always go to plan. With a dose of realism, you learn to see the positives in every situation, and the opportunity in every difficulty.
A Matter of Perspective
Here’s a thought: if you apply for six jobs and only get an interview for two of them, are you a success or a failure? It all depends on your point of view, doesn’t it? In a pessimistic frame of mind, you’re a failure – you didn’t achieve an interview for four of those jobs – but in an optimistic frame of mind, you’re a success – you got to the interview stage for two of those jobs. Of course, getting an interview doesn’t mean you’ve got the job, so this is where the balance between optimism and pessimism can help.
If negative thoughts rule your mind, your failure to get interviews could negatively impact your performance in the interviews you did get. If positive thoughts rule your mind, you’re more likely to put in a positive performance in the interviews, but if you’re blindly optimistic, is there a danger that your expectation of success will lull you in to a false sense of security and perhaps even a lack of preparation?
Research has revealed that successful people are optimists, but their optimism is grounded with a strong awareness of reality. In other words, successful people are positive thinkers, but they’re not wearing rose-tinted glasses. They use their positive thinking to find ways through the obstacles and setbacks life inevitably throws at them, and they find another way to get the outcome they want.
The Bottom Line
In reality, a glass is both half full and half empty. Life will throw difficulties your way, but a realistic optimist will use positive thinking to find another way rather than giving up. So, to live the life you want, aim to see the doughnut and the hole.
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