How to Invest in Optimism.
Keeping up optimism is hard, in a world where there are more than enough reasons to be pessimistic. Politics is drifting right, climate is out of control, global imbalance is peaking and the number of diseases with a psychosomatic origin has never been higher.
War is going on, even though it’s a subtle one that is fought on the shoulders of the ones that can’t fight back - be it nature, the more defenseless members of society or entire ecosystem.
The war for resources, ground, power and civil rights seems to bring all areas of life to the brink of collapse.
On the other hand, times like these are also the reason to build and strengthen optimism. Every crisis brings up new dynamics and every collapse is a moment where change is inevitable. We can already recognize this by the vast amount of countermovements, social innovations and especially by the shifting values amongst younger generations.
But earth is still there and sun is still up (even though scientists are debating about how long that’s gonna be) - which means there’s still hope.
And what is life worth anyway, if we don’t believe in a positive future?
About nothing, that’s right.
The good news is, that we all inherit optimism even though it might not always be visible or directly accessible. So the question is, to what extent we’re born with it and whether we can strengthen it.
First of all: What is optimism?
In my opinion, the proverbial half full or half empty glasses sum it up pretty well: Optimism is nothing but a phenomenon, an irrational perception of something that is highly subjective. Two people look at the same thing and yet interpret it in opposite ways.
But the one, whose mind chooses the glass half full, will always be better off. Because one who has no optimism, will never even start to fight.
Why is that?
The only reason why we can do things, is actually because we think we can do them.
We need optimism because we need to move on. We need to strive for a better tomorrow, and to provide the energy required, we need hope. It’s hope that feeds optimism. Without hope, we’d slowly wither away until there’s no reason to get out of bed anymore. Optimism is the fuel of motivation and luckily it’s contagious by nature.
How does it work?
First of all, everybody sees the world through their specific lens. This lens is shaped in our early childhood and ground to size by the following years and experience.
If we have suffered through difficult childhood, went through a painful adolescence and had to deal with many strokes of fate to this day, it’s quite likely that we end up having a more pessimistic worldview than somebody who got up in a family where money never was an issue and whose life went straight into perfect (Of course it’s not that simple because this somebody might have other issues…but for this story this is the important point to be made).
Our attitude is never static but always a reflection of our upbringing and our current surroundings. The people we spend time with, influence our attitude the same way as the systems in which we operate, such as job, relationships and society.
In my opinion, this also suggest that we can ‘learn’ optimism in the same way as we learn new languages or get used to new habits. If we can alter our surroundings and our overall constitution, we can also alter our worldview. I am not suggesting, however, that this is easy.
If it would be easy, I’d argue that we we wouldn’t be so stuck in jam with so many situations. (Also, you’d only see people filled with hope and joy all around you — which doesn’t quite reflect what I typically see on the streets.)
Then how to alter it?
Learning optimism requires a strong will and a real desire to change behavior.
But the stake is high, I promise, and the motivation can be nothing less than a more fulfilled life. Optimism will inevitably lead to success and success will lead to optimism again. And so on and so forth.
We all have heard about the power of belief and most even learned in kindergarten, that nothing is impossible. I still remember my mom telling me that if only I believed in something, it would become true. She used to often refer to the famous but simple German saying “Der Glaube versetzt Berge.” (literally translated: the power of belief can move mountains). And to date I’m aiming to live by this, even though I can tell that growing (up) isn’t all that bright.
Carrying a pessimistic worldview, on the other hand, means to have a narrow perspective. And it is usually accompanied by the tendency to avoid risks because it is driven by fear and distrust. There’s also a high likelihood for pessimistic people to be close-minded and get stuck, because they are not as open to new opportunities and experiences.
I do believe, that some people are born more optimistic than others, but then they evolve with what life has to offer.
Every moment in life something terrible can happen, crisis can hit us and we might lose everything, including our hope. But it goes the opposite way, too. The key is, if we believe in the rainbow after the storm, or not.
We must understand, that not only success but also our health largely depends on it. In the meantime it is becoming more common sense that many diseases have their origin in stress and it’s for a reason that psychologists tend to explain back pain, for example, as an implied burden on our shoulders. The burden of a tough life that is hard to carry, i.e. a pessimistic worldview.
So here’s a couple of things that I figured might help us gain more optimism.
Change of attitude = tough practice The world is a system mostly detached from our individual needs, people are not all nice and life isn’t always fair. This is not to say that one who doesn’t expect, doesn’t lose, but it is to say there isn’t only one worldview and it’s worth to get a realistic one.
On the other hand, most of the time life actually is in our hands. It is our choice to stay or leave, our choice to surrender or start to fight, our choice to get up motivated or stay back paralyzed. So it is also our own choice to define our worldview and work on our attitude.
Understand: This is one of the toughest battles - but if we are not willing to fight life, life will fight us.
Be aware of your own attitude first. Before we can alter it, we have to know our attitude towards life.
Attitude is not only our perception of life’ qualities, but also how we view and interact with others. It usually can be split between open and closed, positive and negative, limited and expansive. It’s all connected: If you are a positive person, you are less likely to be fearful or distrustful and more curious to learn new ways. A couple of hints: Are you having trouble to get back on track when things didn’t go well. If you are uncertain about an outcome, are you rather positive or do you tend to expect the worst? Are you judging people rather early or are you open-minded and willing to learn about their character and motives?
If something goes wrong, are you saying to yourself “Of course that happened, how could I possibly think this would work? I probably deserved this…” or are you rather thinking “Too bad, this didn’t work out, but I also know that it was worth the effort. Next time I’ll give it another try…”?
Deeply thinking about questions like those, will give us a better idea of the worldview we embody. The next step is then to confront it and start working with life’s circumstances instead of against them.
Surround yourself with positive people. - and I mean positive from the inside (not just superficially).
Because we are a tribal species, we largely depend on the interaction with others. We learn by observation, grow through feedback and we evolve as our environment evolves. If we find ourselves in supportive circles that are aiming upwards, we will slowly incorporate their positivity into our own character.
You can recognize positive people not only by talking to them. Usually they are surrounded by a powerful attitude which is not only visible in their appearance but which is also noticeable subconsciously. This is the people who lighten up a room as they enter, and the people who leave behind a positive feeling after we were spending quality time with them.
And we have to watch out for the dark side, which is equally tempting. It feels comforting to share our moaning, so we might end up surrounding ourselves with negative folks.
But what starts with easy comfort, might become a destructive habit.
Why we are doing it anyway? Because it’s the easy way. Although it sounds strange when you start to think about it, most people prefer suffering over real change. This is because taking true responsibility is more effort than self-pitying.
If we compare ourselves to people who are doing worse, we’re automatically better off. Compared to somebody who works 60 hours a week, our 50 seem ok. But we should be careful to not mistake the easy way for the right one.
Be positive but not naive. Every extreme is dangerous, and so is seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. If we only assume happiness and satisfaction, we will eventually be disappointed. And disappointment can be tough, as it carries many other negative emotions that can easily take over.
Not being naive also means to take the above mentioned responsibility. Good things usually don’t just happen, we have to be after them and heavily invest ourselves - and we have to accept failure and downsides for it as well.
The best way is to stay realistic and appreciate life with all it’s ups and downs. Without negative, there is no positive. Once you fall, you can always get back up again.
Don’t live in the past - neither too much in the future. Know that the world moves on and there’s new tomorrows every day. Only if we understand that every day is a new opportunity, we can make the best of it.
Living in the past means occupying the valuable space in our mind with things we cannot change any more. Living too far in the future, means being busy with things we cannot control yet. It’s great to have long term plans but it’s even greater to approach every day with the feeling that we’re adding another piece to those plans.
If there’s moments where you can’t believe in yourself, find others that do.
We are great, lovable and special - and there’s people out there who know this. People who see and appreciate us. Sometimes, unfortunately, we feel so depressed that we don’t have the power or the ability to bring ourselves up again. Instead of hiding or not talking about how we really feel, it’s a way better idea to be open about our feelings are share them with those people. This can be a spouse, family or close friends we trust in. They will not be biased by negative emotions and they’ll be able to convince us the opposite. And all we then have to do, is to believe them.