Sometimes I am pessimistic for no good reason. It is a sense of impending doom, or that feeling that’s the opposite of well-being. On other days, I am optimistic for no good reason—meaning that today is no different from yesterday and yesterday I was depressed and pessimistic, and today I’m optimistic, so, being that no significant change of circumstance has taken place, I really have no reason to be optimistic, at least no more so than the reasons for which I was pessimistic yesterday.
The tragedies we’ve walked through taught us that bad things actually do happen to good people. We seek to understand, we want to attach some meaning to the dark valleys we’ve walked through. If we can just understand the reasons for or the purposes of the dark valley, it comforts us. It doesn’t change anything, but it comforts us to know that tragedy is not random, rather, it serves good and noble purposes.
[shareable]It comforts us to know that tragedy is not random, that it serves good and noble purposes, but sometimes we don’t feel that assurance.[/shareable]
Pessimism sneaks in when we cannot attach a reasonable purpose to the hard things in life. If the difficulties we’ve experienced are random, tomorrow is a crap shoot. It might be good and it might be bad, but it isn’t predictable. Optimism seems easier when we categorize the preponderance of our lives as positive or blessed.
Some days, during my morning quiet time, I feel pessimistic. Particularly after a few hard and unfulfilling days. Pessimism is tied to depression. Sometimes we are pessimistic for no good reason. On other days I wake up with a zippity-do-da feeling. I see the sky start to lighten from the rising sun and I believe good things will happen. I believe the days, months, and years ahead are full of promise. Everything is going to be okay. God is with me. I am gifted, talented, and intelligent and my future is bright.
If on some days I’m optimistic, for no tangible reason, and on some days I’m pessimistic for no particular reason, then optimism and pessimism are wrapped up in the way we think. It’s the way we choose to see the world. It is wrapped up in the way we tell our stories, particularly the way we tell them to ourselves.
[shareable]If on some days I’m optimistic, for no tangible reason, and on some days I’m pessimistic for no particular reason, then optimism and pessimism are wrapped up in the way we think.[/shareable]
Maybe it’s a chemical thing, maybe it has to do with the state of our relationships. I know when Donna, my wife, is depressed it causes me to be depressed. I feel I am somehow failing at my basic responsibility and purpose when she is struggling. We pick up an optimistic or pessimistic tone from the people we are around the most.
So, if I’m given the choice between optimism and pessimism… ummmm… I choose optimism.
[shareable]So, if I’m given the choice between optimism and pessimism… ummmm… I choose optimism.[/shareable]
What things determine if I feel optimistic or pessimistic… if I believe I can or I believe I can’t… if I feel the joy I’ve committed to or I’m grinding forward in its reality without feeling it?
Our Perspectives Determine Our Outlook
My friend, Mickey, lost his wife in a tragic accident in January of 2007, almost 6 years before my first wife unexpectedly passed away. A few months after his wife died I was going through some little situation and I called Mickey to get some perspective. When he answered his phone he told me he was visiting his wife’s grave. That was about all of the perspective I needed. The little tiff of a problem I had completely faded in the light of what Mickey was walking through.
When I go up on the roof of my house I see my neighborhood from a different and fresh perspective. It’s the same neighborhood, but I see things from the roof that I see differently when I’m on the ground. After a while I would acclimate to either perspective, but just seeing things from a different vantage point is sometimes enough to bring a new and more hopeful perspective.
Sometimes our situation doesn’t need to change at all for us to make a move from pessimism to optimism, sometimes all we need is a different perspective. It may not even have anything to do with positivity or negativity, it may simply be our vantage point.
CALIBRATION TOOL: Look at the situation from another perspective. Get input from a trusted advisor. Change your surroundings and see if that makes you feel differently about the situation. Do something that you love and enjoy to lift your spirits and afterward, reconsider the situation.
Our Stories Determine Our Outlook
Stories are powerful. Narratives paint pictures for us that carry us into a dimension beyond fact. Stories need not mitigate or dismiss facts, but they do augment the facts with a reality that can’t be known without some windows. The story I tell myself. About my past. About my present. About my future. The narration I write to explain the story of my life events.
CALIBRATION TOOL: Listen to the story you are telling yourself. When you play “what if” you are telling yourself a story. “What if” this turns out badly? “What if” something takes a wrong turn? Reframe your story and ask “what if” it turns out good? “What if” I really can accomplish the things in my heart. When your story says that you cannot, realistically reframe your story in such a way as to explore the positive side.
Our Interpretation of Reality Determines Our Outlook
My grasp of reality. Some things are real and some things are not real. When my optimism is rooted in fantasy, sooner or later the fantasy is exposed and I’m disappointed and perhaps crushed. When my optimism is rooted in reality, things within the realm of possibility, things connected to a plan, then my optimism can live because, while there will be set backs, overall my plan is a good and solid plan rooted in reality and possibility and I am optimistic that I can pull it off because I CAN SEE THE PATH. I can SEE THE BRIDGE (at least in my mind and spirit) that will actually take me from where I am to where I want to go.
CALIBRATION TOOL: Much of what holds us back and turns us toward the negative are paper tigers or straw men. What is the truth in the situation? Not speculation, not what your negativity tells you–what is the truth? Do not negatively expand the truth into an alternate reality. Deal in the facts and deal in the truth.
Our Vision Determines Our Outlook
My vision. This is connected to the previous point. A vision is something that we see, something that MUST be, something within the realm of possibility, something that is a bit bigger than I am and will require my trust in God. When my vision is a fantasy, and that becomes exposed, then optimism evaporates. When our vision is calibrated by realistic and divinely inspired goals, it fosters a hope and a courage within us for the things to come.
CALIBRATION TOOL: What are you looking forward to? Do your present actions lead you to your desired destination? When we have a vision or a dream and we are taking zero action on the vision over a long period of time it causes us to lose hope that our vision or dream will ever be reality. This causes a pessimistic outlook. Do ONE thing today and at least ONE thing every day, no matter how small, that will push you closer to the fulfillment of the things in your heart. Any forward movement fosters optimism.
Why am I optimistic today? Because I have a sense that it is well with my soul. My outlook is positive. What I believe about my future causes a healthy optimism. A feeling that allows me to believe I can.
It is a sense that it is well with my soul, because I live a life rooted in reality. Reality is a good thing. It is much kinder than we sometimes give it credit for. It is important to live a life rooted in reality. When we make ourselves optimistic with lies we tell ourselves, we plunge into despair and depression when the false hope is no longer sustainable. I’ve got to accept the reality that I’m not going to be or feel optimistic all of the time.
Why do I feel hopeful today? Why do I feel happy today? Because I think I can. Because my trust in God is high today.
The story we tell ourselves has to be the truth. The truth is we have much for which to be thankful, a Heavenly Father who loves us intensely and has a very specific plan and path for our lives, and a lot of good things going for us.
Just because yesterday was bad… doesn’t mean today will be. Choose optimism.