We all know the age old question “Is the glass half full or half empty.” So, I will ask it one more time, which are you? In other words: are you a half full (optimists) or half empty (pessimists) kind of person? Being a sociologist, this question has always fascinated me because the way we perceive things dictates our behavior, emotions and relationships.
If we look at this concept of optimism and pessimism, many sociologists and psychologist would argue our way of thinking is either dictated by some psychological phenomena that occurred or by our environment. The prominent line of thinking was that we were either driven by some internal force or some external factor or event. It wasn’t until the 1960s that professionals began to consider that individuals actually had the power to decide their own way of thinking (Seligman, 1998).
Martin Seligman wrote in his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, that optimism and pessimism have an overall effect on one’s health equal to physical elements. Meaning our perspective or view on life can either help keep us healthy or make us ill. The crux of whether you are an optimist or pessimist comes in how you view failure or bad events. Seligman states that we all have a level of learned helplessness, meaning how we view the event that has happened.
An optimist will not be helpless by viewing the bad thing as a singular, temporary event or something to overcome. A pessimist, however, will be helpless by viewing the event as permanent or something that can’t be changed.
I, for one, am an optimist. However, I am married to a pessimist.
You know what they say, opposites attract. I have always tried to find the positive or something good in every situation. This does not mean that I ignore the negative or avoid it. Quite the opposite, I actually face things head on when need to. I just choose to try and see good rather than bad.
I believe that what we put out is what we get back and so I try to see positive in all events. I try to explain what good may have come out of the bad or what good we can do to fix the bad.
My husband, however, has had a career in which he is tasked is to find mistakes before they cost the company money. He, therefore, is conditioned to see what is wrong in every situation.
These two perspectives have created some frustrating and heated moments within our marriage. I often get tired of hearing the negative while he gets tired of my “happy ever after” view of things. I can say that my optimist perspective has ended sometimes with a kick in the teeth because I chose to see the positive in someone or something even though my husband warned me by pointing out the negative.
If I am honest, I must say that my husband is usually right 99% of the time which can be incredible frustrating. Here is a true event that happened one time with my husband which shows the different views:
We were sitting at a stop light and directly across from us sat a man in a car with the front bumper barely hanging on. Watching this man turn in front of us, my husband made a negative comment similar to stupidity of driving a car with the bumper hanging off. I, on the other hand, said something such as maybe the bumper just fell off while he was driving and he is on his way to get it fix. To this my husband laughingly responded, and I quote, “sometimes your positivity just pisses me off!!”
The bottom line is my husband got frustrated at the situation (even with it having nothing to do with him) and experienced a rise in stress, anger, blood pressure. He experienced negative just from his viewpoint of the situation. I, on the other hand, did not get upset, frustrated nor even the slightest bit bothered by the situation. You see- our perspective influences our experiences, and our state of being.
Being an optimist or a pessimist has a direct correlation to how we experience life and to our health. Research shows that optimists live longer than pessimists. Below are some ways in which seeing the positive or the negative may influence our health…
Our perspective on life determines our health and mental state. Ask yourself: “Which lens do I use to see things?”
As the wonderful George Bernard Shaw once stated, “The optimist invents the aeroplane; the pessimist, the parachute.”
So I leave you with this question: Do you expect the plane to function correctly or do you expect something to go wrong (negative)? Are you a plane or parachute? Only you have the power of choice, which you can ultimately exercise to make a change, and live your best life.
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