3. Do I always have to be optimistic: Happiness Series
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
January 24th 2018
I used to think that I always needed an optimistic attitude. I think it's wonderful to be optimistic however, there can be a point where it turns into something harmful. In today's video, I explore the pressure to always be optimistic, and also look at pessimism and realism.
This is the third video in the happiness series that I’m doing. It’s a four-part video series. This is video number three and today we’re talking about optimism. Do I always have to be optimistic? So in the previous videos we talked about the science of happiness formula. The second video was all about how to shift our problem set-point to opportunity set-point. And now we’re talking about opportunity set-point. Does it mean we always have to be optimistic and always look on the bright side of things?
It’s an interesting question because I know for me I realised that I always… I was very much optimistic, always optimistic, bordering idealistic. And I thought it was a good thing. I thought it was a positive thing. And so it’s been an interesting journey to just learn the value of the other ways of thinking, especially when a lot of the messaging that we get is to remain optimistic. It’s not a bad thing obviously. Being optimistic is a wonderful thing. You’re always looking for the silver lining. You’re always having a positive outlook.
But when you look at kind of the generally accepted definition of optimism or being optimistic, it’s seeing things better than they are, which I thought was always a good thing, seeing things better than they are. Pessimism is all about seeing things worse than they are. So to follow on from the previous video pessimism belongs in the problem set-point and optimism you would think belongs in the opportunity set-point. But I think the opportunity set-point is shared also with a realistic outlook.
Optimism allows your mind to be set on the positive, which is wonderful. So you’ll go into that shopping centre and you’ll see all the things that are positive in there and working for you. But sometimes it’s good also to just see what is there, to see everything that is there. You get a more full understanding of other people’s life experiences and a real empathy comes from that understanding.
And so, optimism is great, like if you’ve been in a pessimistic place for too long my belief is optimism has the ability to pull you out of that just by shifting and pivoting fully from like a negative place to a positive place, just shift fully. But I think there’s great benefit obviously in being realistic, in seeing what is there, like to see everything that is there that’s presented to you and then choose where you want to go. Because optimism will often delete the negativity that’s there and it’s very easy to think that there is no negativity there, there is nothing negative to see, which isn’t the truth. An optimistic outlook is a wonderful thing when there’s been too much negativity in your life.
But I think for great transformation, really deep inner transformation, it’s good to see the negative and to choose not to go down those spirals, but just to know that they’re there, just to be aware of it but don’t feed that into your life. So the benefit is when you have the whole smorgasbord in front of you, you have a greater understanding of where other people are and where they’re coming from and why they choose certain things.
For example, like there was a while ago when I was going to a memorial service for a wonderful leader in our community, very loving, very generous spiritual teacher. And I was visibly… like I was crying. I was so upset. I was sad. Just passed away…. And really hurt… and just grief, right? Just grief. And I walked into the memorial service and there was a girl there that’s always optimistic and it’s a beautiful energy to be near. But at this time, I didn’t want to hear what she said which was just smile, just be happy, there’s no room for tears, we don’t have to be sad, it’s a good thing, we celebrate his life.
And I totally understand that and I empathise with that and I get it and it’s a beautiful outlook on life. But it also just dismissed the fact that this is a sad occasion. It is what it is. It’s a sad occasion. Someone’s just passed away. And I think someone who’s going through sadness the last thing they want to hear is just smile, just focus on the positive, he lived a long life, he was ninety years old. And all of that is true. It’s all true. And they’re focusing on the positive truth that’s in the situation. But I think what happens sometimes with that optimism is that empathy can sometimes be lacking and that could just be person to person but I’ve noticed that in myself as well where I’ve done the same thing to someone else and it didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel right.
And so I was thinking wow, okay maybe this optimism thing isn’t the only available option. What else is there? And so with the help of my inner voice I was able to discover these other ways of thinking and being. Because I thought there were only two points. I thought there was just really positive or really negative. I didn’t realise there was a whole spectrum, funny enough. And so when you see things as they are and the more you meditate the more you can actually just observe what is, you can then choose what you want to feel or you can choose how you want to react to the situation, based on what you’re feeling.
And so, I remember saying to her no, I’m really sad today and I think it’s okay to cry. And it was fine, like I was allowing myself to cry and grieve. And it’s okay that she said that to me. It’s just I can see how that can sometimes be a bit insensitive, lacking empathy into what someone else is experiencing. On a sad day when you’re celebrating someone’s death that’s not… like there’s other ways to be than just only optimistic. There’s optimistic moments and there’s optimistic thoughts during the day and when you smile and remember something that they did or something that they said and it brings back that beautiful memory and you think like I’m really grateful that I knew this person.
There’s this gratitude that comes out of those kind of optimistic moments when you’re focusing on the positive. But then there’s also the realness of the situation and allowing yourself to just be sad and to be angry even that you didn’t see it coming, or whatever it is, whatever the situation is you just see it for the realistic situation that it is. And it’s a powerful thing I think to see things as it is.
So, I would say no, it’s not necessary to always be optimistic. That’s what I’ve learnt. That’s what works for me. I think there are times when this realism will sometimes look like pessimism where you’re looking for the things that could go wrong but it’s a clever tactic in that moment. Say for example you were just thinking about starting a business. It’s good to think about the weaknesses, what could go wrong here, what might not work out the way we want it to and have a realistic interpretation of the data of what’s coming at you and have like contingency plans for those if in the event they do take place, but not to dwell on just everything that could go wrong, be realistic, see the whole smorgasbord of what’s available to you, and choose the path that’s uplifting and do everything in your power to make things work if you want them to work in a certain way.
That optimism of ‘I can do it’, ‘I will figure out how to do it’, seeing perhaps yourself better than what you are is a good thing when you’re trying to learn a new skill where right now if I see it as it is I don’t have the skill to do it. And so it’s a realistic… it’s a realistic… what’s the word… like calculation of the situation. But then you want to go down the line of ‘but I will get better the more I practise’ as opposed to the pessimistic view which is ‘I’m never going to get better so why bother practising’. And so I don’t think optimism is the only and best way to be all the time. I think it’s a lovely place to be a lot of the time but with a healthy dose of realism it stops your optimism being too idealistic.
When I was thinking about this video, this third video in the series of happiness, I remember this picture that I shared on Facebook and it was this cartoon of a little turtle that was stuck on its back. And it was looking at this beautiful blue sky and it’s saying to itself oh my gosh, I’m flying. And I remember sharing it going this has been my life, optimistic, slightly delusional. So you’re seeing things better than they are, you think you’re flying, in actual fact you’re on your back and you can’t move. You should probably see it as it is and try to get back on your feet.
But you could be in this happy place of I’m flying. You’re totally not flying. It’s a completely delusional attitude but you’re really happy and so why not stay there for a little while. But eventually you need to just address the situation at hand, be really realistic, and put actions into place to help you move further along.
I shared that with like a huge smile on my face because I’ve learnt that lesson of optimism can lead to delusional-ism if that’s a word, but a healthy dose of optimism has a real good foundation of realism in it, so you can see things as they are and remain happy and remain optimistic but not at the expense of reality, not at the expense of like other people’s feelings and addressing the most appropriate response in any given situation which is not always like optimistic bright side of life. Sometimes it’s just being there with a person like I talked about before who’s grieving and just saying look, this sucks.
The best thing someone told me when I broke up with a boyfriend many many years ago..... and I was getting a lot of optimistic things like look, maybe it’s for the best, it just wasn’t working out, you guys probably just weren’t a right fit, and these things were all true, they were all good, but you know, my heart was broken and I was… I’d never experienced any kind of pain like that before. I was just so emotionally broken. I was so so sad and so upset.
....And my flatmate turned to me and she was older and wiser than me, a few years older and so much more wiser than me, like lifetimes wiser than me, still is. And she just said oh yeah, it’s really shit. She’s like it hurts right there and she like pointed to my heart. She’s like that’s exactly where it feels like it’s broken. And I didn’t have a full understanding of heart chakra at that time and that’s exactly where it feels like it’s broken because all your energy depletes from your heart… chakra feels shattered, it’s broken. She’s like that’s exactly where it hurts and she described what it felt like because she’d obviously been through it and she was hitting it. It was like yes, yes, yes, that’s where it hurts, that’s what I’m feeling. She’s like you’ll notice every breath, days seems so long. I’m like yes. And she’s like it’s really crap. I’m like yes, it is, it’s horrible.
And it was so kind of her to say that to me because in that time I didn’t want to hear this is for the best, this is great, this is wonderful, because it was not what I was feeling. Like those things were all true but they weren’t helpful. What was helpful was just hitting it with a realistic viewpoint of this is crap, this might take a while to get over, and it was just the best thing that anyone had said to me in that first few days after I broke up with my then boyfriend. And so you know, the optimistic road is not always the best road. It is a wonderful road to be on but you need a healthy dose of realism to keep you grounded and not floating and delusional.
I hope that was helpful. That’s been my experience certainly. What do you think about it? Should you always be optimistic or is there room for a little bit of pessimism, of seeing things worse than they are, looking at like what could go wrong, coming up with contingency plans or should you just keep your vibration high and on how you want things to be? It’s a good debate and there’s no right or wrong in it.