Logic, reason, and scientific method are useful means by which we can reliably make our way through the world. But despite what many nihilists purport, I am proof that those tools can exist simultaneously with the conscious choice to be optimistic. Healthy skepticism doesn’t need to be cynical or negative. In fact, there is no better skepticism than optimistic skepticism. And optimism’s superiority is entirely logical.
Let’s say you’re working as a researcher for the Center for Disease Control. Clearly you’re better off being optimistic. If you’re looking for a solution and you believe that trying won’t be worth it, then you won’t even begin any more experiments because you have essentially said that you don’t believe the patient has a chance.
If you’re interminably optimistic you will still recognize the same challenges, but you also know that there is only one way to achieve a long-shot victory: the person who finds the rare victory is the one that continues trying past the point of reasonable or apparently logical limits. They continue to search for solutions no matter how long they go without finding one.
The optimist works under the general premise that their time will not be wasted. And that’s just another way of saying that they perpetually believe they can save the patient. And if the patient does die, then the optimist can know that at least their efforts did lead to more knowledge, which in turn might save future patients. In this way the optimist lives in a perpetual state of a kid before Christmas—you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re confident something awesome is going to happen eventually.
If you consciously choose to live in an enthusiastically optimistic state of mind, you will view everything as though it is pregnant with potential goodness and enjoyment. When your team’s behind with only a little time left, then the situation is perfect for an exciting come-from-behind win. If you don’t get this job, you’re free for the next one—which might be much better. Or maybe you failed a course, but when you re-took it you met the person you fell in love with. Simply put, if you look for reasons to be grateful—if you assume that the world is constantly offering you amazing gifts—then those gifts will suddenly become visible to you. Assume they’re not there are they won’t be.
There are some very heavy days in life when happiness and a light view are not suitable. But for the vast majority of our days, if we simply watch for our good fortune we will see that it is perpetually present. If we stop expecting specific things, we can start focusing on the many fortunate things that already exist in our lives.
Even if days are tough, just keep going forward with a mind wide open to your potential good fortune. Do not look down the narrow, dark tube of expectation. Its limited vision almost guarantees your disappointment. But if you anticipate rather than expect, then you can find things to like in almost any direction you could look.
Now go notice the greatness in your day. I love you.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.