The Power of Optimism

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but my mother gave me something priceless - the incredible gift of optimism.

It may also be that this gene is hereditary as it seems I’ve passed it on in a particularly large dose to our youngest son.

Like many others his age he’s struggled with the confusion of overwhelming career choices slammed up against the reality of too few opportunities. Recently he’s cobbled together three part time jobs and even then often struggles to pay the rent.

Several months ago sensing his growing frustration, I had a lengthy talk with him to help him focus his energies. I asked him to remove all potential barriers and think about his ideal job. If he could do anything, what would he want to do? What does he love to do so much he would do it for free?

He thought about it overnight and as we continued the conversation the next day, he shared that he was passionate about pursuing a career in the music industry.

My heart sank because while I want all of our kids to pursue their dreams, even I just couldn’t see that one happening….until yesterday.

Yesterday I met a woman at a meeting who just happened to mention that she was having a tough time finding someone to fill an intern position with an entertainment management company. Funded in part by a federal program intended to help young people get on-the-ground experience, it was a twelve week program providing support and, if all went well, a job at the end of the placement. 

After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I immediately called my son with the information.

While I’m not yet sure how the story ends, the point is that it reinforced for me the power and importance of remaining optimistic, hopeful, and believing that good things will happen.

So optimism isn’t necessarily a denial of reality but rather more about viewing life as a glass half full rather than half empty.

While people may poke fun at my Pollyanna-ish approach to life, recent research shows that there are benefits. In fact, optimists live longer and healthier lives.

According to recent research at the University of Pittsburg, the women in the study who expected good rather than bad things to happen were 14 per cent less likely to die from heart disease, and less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, or smoke cigarettes. A group of women they referred to as “cynically hostile” were 23 per cent more likely to die from cancer compared to the women who were the least cynically hostile.

But what if you’re not as optimistic as my son in believing that good things will happen, is it possible to become more optimistic?

The experts suggest it’s possible but it needs to begin with letting go of the idea that you’ve been singled out to be unlucky or miserable. It is an erroneous assumption that really has no basis in reason or in science.

There’s no law that says you have to be a victim or a product of your circumstances. If you’re not happy with your life the way it is now, set a new direction and goals – just as my son did, and move on. Quite honestly, I think half the battle is knowing what you want and putting it out to the universe.

It’s also about being grateful for what you have. Things may be tough but everyone has and should make a list of the good things that have happened to them. Every time you start to feel pessimistic, pull out that list and read it through.

It’s also important to accept that just because you’ve experienced disappointment in your life doesn’t mean you always will. The past doesn’t equal the future. While there may have been things in the past that you couldn’t control, you can control many aspects of your life – the most important of which is your attitude.

That positive attitude and sense of optimism is the most powerful tool we have for meeting and surpassing the challenges we face today…you gotta believe. 

Posted on 03-07-09

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