Reality Check: Does Optimism Make a Difference?

Does optimism make a difference? That is, a positive difference? Or is optimism only for the naive and easily-led, those folks who aren’t wise enough to understand how really bad and awful and disastrous everything is?
If you’ve been reading these columns for a while, you already know my opinion, don’t you? I think that optimism does make a positive difference in our lives.
If you look back over your life, I suspect that you have spent some time in optimistic states, but also some time with pessimism. How are they different?
Let’s start with pessimism. When you are pessimistic, what do you see? How do you feel? What do you do? What words describe pessimism?
I’ll suggest a few words that I believe correspond to a pessimistic state; you can tell me whether I’m on target or off base. My list would include, “tired, helpless, down, bad, sad, distrust, doubt, gloomy, suspicious, no.” Overall, the declaration is, “I can’t.”
How about optimism? A few words are, “Yes, in-control, better, onward and upward, energy, spark, creative, joy, cheer, confident, bright.” And, of course, the declaration, “I can.”
During pessimistic spells, do challenges seem overwhelming? It’s easier to avoid them and not engage with people. It’s difficult even to ask for help. We just want to withdraw, or maybe complain a little.
The unfortunate consequence of a pessimistic state like this is that when we have a genuine problem that needs attention, it’s hard to get revved up to deal with it. Therefore, the problem doesn’t go away. If anything, some problems get worse with neglect. If that doesn’t contribute to pessimism, what would?
However, when you’re feeling optimistic, do you find that you feel ready to meet the challenge? You have a little more self-confidence; a “Yes I can” attitude. When we believe we have the possibility of succeeding, we are more likely to take action, give it a try! If nothing else, we’ll learn something and maybe even make progress.
Looking at your current state, would you say it is largely optimistic? Or pessimistic? What controls whether you are optimistic or pessimistic?
We could declare, “I choose optimism!” (or “I choose pessimism” if that’s what you want.) However, I’m thinking that simply declaring your preferred state isn’t going to make it happen.
Maybe you already know what influences your optimistic/pessimistic states, but what if you don’t? What if it seems that your optimism/pessimism is beyond your control, that it’s completely random?
Doing an experiment is a great way to learn, even to learn about ourselves. If you want to get a handle on what could be contributing to whether you feel optimistic or pessimistic, try this.
Each day, preferably several times if you can manage it, notice whether you are feeling particularly optimistic, pessimistic, or neutral. Write down what has been happening. Don’t change what you are doing; just observe and record.
After a while, you may start to see a pattern. Maybe there’s a connection with who you talk to, where you go, what you do. If you can find a pattern, then you have a good start toward gaining some control.
For some people, optimism comes easily. They seem to be naturally cheery, able to look at even difficult situations with an attitude of celebration and positivity. The rest of us, however, may need to do some work if we’d like to become more optimistic.
Are you naturally optimistic? Pessimistic? Do you have control over it?

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