Essentially, an optimist is someone who considers their problems to be connected to a specific situation, temporary and insurmountable. They are more likely to say something like, “I can figure it out, things usually work out anyway”.
The pessimist thinks their problems will last, that they will start to impact other parts of their life and that things are out of their control. They are more likely to say something like “Whatever I do, it turns out the same”.
So here is something I found interesting. In 1960, a study of more than 900 people admitted to a hospital were given a psychological questionnaire to evaluate their degree of optimism and a whole lot of other psychological traits. Forty year later, as it would happen, the optimist was demonstrating a longer life span of 19% over the pessimist. This was working out to about an average of an extended life span of 16 years per person.[i]
It’s a leap, but one might conclude that those are 16 years of good quality living.
I found that interesting. I supposed the struggle here is how does someone make that change. It takes work. With practice, guidance. coaching, therapy, self-motivation – we can shift our interpretation of the world and that is because our brains our flexible. We can retrain them from thinking: I WON’T to I WILL; from I CAN’T to I CAN and from I am JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH to I AM GOOD ENOUGH.
Hope has been defined by psychologists as the conviction that one can find the means to attain one’s goals and develop the motivation to do so.
That really resonated with me. I’ve been struggling with lethargy which also feels a lot like lack of motivation. When I feel that way, I notice that things aren’t getting done and then my mind starts to act a certain way. I continue to not get things done and I start to feel overwhelmed, like I am falling behind, like it’s easier to not try than to try because it just doesn’t feel that I am moving forward or that I am reaching any goals. When I lose hope, I start to think of how failure will play out. Without hope, it feels to me like someone changed the rules of the game.
When I am the optimist I know that the only goal is to be happy and that I have achieved it. Hope is a radio station that I am just trying to dial precisely into, so the static goes away. With hope I can always find a different solution, be happy as things are, find a way to do better, to limit the damage and to be OK with it.
Instead of being paralyzed by indecision or immobilized by fear or resigned to failure – I think the best way to achieve hope and to sustain it is to use those moments of when you are looking for something to believe in and then to take that moment and direct it to self-love and self-compassion. I can BELIEVE IN ME.
If I can change my brain so that it doesn’t give up quickly, if I can recall, revisit and enjoy the memories of past successes, then I can create the culture for the renewal of hope.
As humans, we have the capability for great resolve. There are people on this planet living lives where the extreme disparity of their situation (lack of resources, human rights violations, lack of power and individuality) and the reality of hope are extreme. Yet, under oppression and in poverty, humans can be bold enough to face the disparity and to discover joy in the little things that live in little moments. I don’t know how some people do it, but as humans we are very capable of adaptability.
When difficulties seem insurmountable, an optimist reacts in a constructive and creative way. They are realistic to the point that they identify the positivity of an adverse situation. They know that lessons will be learned, alternative solutions can be explored and something adverse can be turned into an exciting new project.
The challenge for the pessimist is to find a better way to diminish barriers and face problems. Speaking for my self, sleep, isolation, lethargy, self-medication become the tools that distract me from the problem. In fact, all of those things become other problems.
I have learned that I am better off if I explore harmony with adversity because ignoring things doesn’t make them go away, nor does worrying change the outcomes – things just mutate instead.
Whatever it is we are doing or speaking of, it doesn’t have to be endless, it’s more about change. I can change from I need to do this on my own to it’s more fun if I ASK FOR HELP. Support and inner-strength are not mutually exclusive.
An optimist may not always succeed but having tested possible avenues, explored and learned from the unforeseen then there is the feeling of freedom – free of regret and guilty feelings. This is how we are able to maintain serenity.
[i] T. Maruta et al., “Optimist vs. Pessimists; Survival Rate Among Medical Patients over a 30-Year Period.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 75 (2000). 140-143.