Skepticism is a very useful tool for a human being but a lot of people mistake cynicism for skepticism. There are obvious benefits to using your knowledge to test if something is true in your experience. But likewise, cynicism and pessimism have obvious downsides.
Pessimists will claim that optimists aren’t realistic—that they look at the world through rose-coloured glasses and they fail to see what’s really going on. But the same argument could be made for the pessimists. Certainly optimists may chase down some dead ends, but when everyone else has given up all hope, it is the most optimistic person that will continue looking for—and keeping their mind open to—a solution.
If you were working on a movie, who would generate more quality work? The Cinematographer who’s in his trailer worrying about the fact that they can’t shoot because of the clouds, or the Cinematographer who’s outside his trailer calmly waiting and keeping an eye on the weather in anticipation (not expectation) of something useful coming? And because he or she is outside looking for an answer that can advance their objective, they have the opportunity to notice things the pessimistic Cinematographer wouldn’t even get the chance to see. Like maybe a clever, new, innovative way to shoot with the cloud cover. Because necessity very often is the mother of invention.
Like the previous post that mentioned the woman pining after her ex-husband, if we’re only looking for a specific thing to happen that we have defined as good, then we have a much lower chance of having our expectation met. But if we are instead focused on what we want to accomplish but we remain unattached to our potential solutions then our mind is free to bend and flex toward whatever surprise solution might present itself. Expectations not being met leads the pessimist back into his trailer. Anticipation that there is the potential for a solution is what keeps the optimist looking. And even if they fail, all they have done is delay the experience that the pessimist already had.
I remember years ago reading about a big turn-of-the-century US industrialist like a Carnegie, a Vanderbilt, or a Mellon—someone like that—who was said to have an affliction of always assuming the world was conspiring in his favour. Imagine that. Going through life literally feeling like the universe is secretly cooperating with you. (This deal fell through? Well then I must need the money to invest in something even better!) What I’m suggesting is that this “crazy industrialist” was in fact on to something very real. Imagine the disappointment you avoid in life simply because when something “goes wrong” your reaction is to gleefully assume that it’s failed because something better is coming! And because you believe that you actually watch for it. And because you’re watching for it you see things no one else was even aware enough to notice.
Be like a child. They find tons of happiness every day in the simplest of things. Most of us would open an empty box and complain that it was empty. Give that to a small enough kid and they’ll enjoy tearing the wrapping paper off and then they’ll happily play with the empty box. A pessimist can judgmentally call the child unsophisticated and point out that it’s “just a cardboard box,” but the optimist could just as honestly describe the child as being open-minded, and that their choice of playing with just the box is “an experience of true happiness” just as much as any other the pessimist was hoping for. Life isn’t about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you get.
Do not hope for hope is the opposite side of the coin from disappointment. Believe instead. Know that the universe is huge and made of many things, so if you keep your eyes genuinely open you won’t be hoping to find something good, you’ll be doing all you need to do to actually find it.
Enjoy your day by looking for what’s good in it. Make that a habit and you will have built yourself a very enjoyable life. And that is the ultimate success.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.