Optimism… Does it really work?

GlassWhen I started “Turning Things Around” one of my goals was about making things right with my life, I wanted to focus and avoid in the future self-defeating thoughts and actions and this included my attempt at being a bit more optimistic. As long as I can remember I’ve looked at the negative side of life always taking a pessimistic view. I remember one of my favorite quotes coming from the old 1960’s/1970’s Bewitched show when either Aunt Clara the maid Esmeralda zapped up Benjamin Franklin from the past). I’m paraphrasing because while I still recall the jist of his statement I don’t really remember how exactly it was said. The character was a bit more pessimistic than history would have us believe and Samantha telling him from what she knew about him in history she always assumed he would be a more optimistic person; he responded optimists are always looking for good things to happen so they are frequently disappointed and pessimists are expecting the worst so when the worst happens the pessimist is getting pretty much what they expected and therefore are not disappointed. I remember as a kid thinking ‘what a great philosophy’. I don’t know if it was at that point I made a conscious decision to live life looking at the negative side of everything but that seems to be the way my personality and general outlook have evolved.

So as part of “Turning Things Around” I was hoping to start being more upbeat and optimistic. I was recently on a job interview (well a phone interview) and the recruiter that arranged it sent me an article on how to perform for the person doing the interview. One thing I read that stuck out was to be upbeat and happy… it said that no one wants to be around a person that is always down and negative… and this is so true. So much of my life I have lived looking at the glass half empty and that is exactly the way I portray myself to everyone I meet and in every social situation I find myself. Being optimistic is a difficult road for me because I’ve lived waiting for the other shoe to drop so long I think I will find it will be so easy to slip back into the “OMG.. What if (this/that) happens” constant worry mode…thoughts like keeping my job, I am forever worried that I will lose my job. Thoughts of financial implosion; thoughts of health issues; thoughts of how friends will betray, backstab, and talk about me. I don’t know why I think these things, my job for instance I really don’t have any reason to think that my job is jeopardy other than my general insecurities about my performance (which is always very good) and how others at work perceive me, but its in the back of my mind and not a day goes by where I don’t consider how difficult life would be if I had to start over, searching for a new job with all the obstacles I face, my age, my race, etc… these thought may have something to do with my “Mid-Life Crisis” … I don’t feel like I have any value as a 50 year old man.  A 20 year old college something can do the same job I do at half the pay and that is part of the reason losing my job is always in the back of my mind. Then there are all the other things I worry about now too…. my health, my partner’s health, and my dogs health and happiness among so many other things… I could go on and on…

Over the last week or so I have been trying to take a “Yes I can” approach to things and the mindset seems to be working. This weekend alone there were a number of obstacles ordinarily would have driven me crazy with worry but I went into them thinking… this is going to workout, even though all the while the back of my mind was screaming… NO THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY BE GOOD! LISTEN TO ME… I chose to ignore it and not only did things go the way I wanted them to go but I had a really good time too. Even those things that did not go 100% the way I expected were not as traumatic to me as I think I would have considered them if I had spent a lot of time fretting about what could go wrong so maybe there is something to this optimism stuff. (I’m not completely sold yet)

One of my favorite sitcoms is The Golden Girls and there was this episode where Rose took the girls to a group of optimists where everyone was smiling like a group of idiots. Dorothy, resistant at first, gave in and decided to change her point of view and after she did she said she felt like everything was going her way… the butcher having given her a great slice of meat convinced her that she had been wrong about pessimism being the optimal mode to live by, she became so optimistic that when Rose (or someone I can’t remember anymore) commented on it being a beautiful day Dorothy responded… “You’re welcome” giving credit for the sunshine to her positive thinking.

I guess that I have been a downer for so long that I just haven’t noticed that other people have picked up on Dorothy’s discovery that optimism can effect a person positively. The perception people seem to have of me could explain why I have such difficulty maintaining friendships, people don’t want to be friends with or hang with a constant downer.  There is a person whom I will describe fondly as my BFF; the other day this BFF read one of my postings and where I inferred that I was going to begin looking at the bright side of things he responded “YOU… LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE… RIGHT”… or something to that effect. I always find that whenever people describe me they think of me as a worrier, unsocial, and recently someone said I seem perpetually unhappy. I know I am in a constant state of worry but I guess that its such a normal way of functioning to me that I’m not even aware of it anymore despite everyone I ever meet picking up on it almost immediately. People tell me to stop worrying even when I did not realize that I was worrying or stop being negative when I was oblivious to the fact that I was giving that impression. I’m hoping that by my trying to be more optimistic my state of constant worry as well as emitting an aura of negativity to everyone will go away.

My worrying feeds my pessimistic attitude and in return my pessimism feeds my worry. So instead of taking the Bewitched Benjamin Franklin character’s point of view to live a life being aware that bad is more likely to happen than good I want to try and take an approach that something good will happen. This past weekend every time I started to let some thought of doom and gloom creep in I forced myself to either think or say that it would turn out positive and not be the end of the world. You know what’s funny is that I found my partner reacting in a more positive way in response to me when I would utter a positive statement. He actually seemed to become happier which makes me think over the last 32 years all my negativity has influenced his thinking… have I brought him down to my level of pessimism?

So that’s where I am now.  I hope that I can maintain this new point of view as I believe this new attitude will be healthier not only for me but for those with whom I interact as well.

UPDATE: 3 years later and I have NOT maintained the upbeat attitude I attempted during the time of this posting. If anything I have become even more negative so much so that I really don’t like myself anymore.

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