I’m just gonna say it: we have an optimism problem.
Living with an optimistic approach to life is, undoubtedly, a strength and a personal asset. It’s forward-motion and seeing what could be, and finding the beauty in the possibility instead of the darkness in the seemingly inevitable. No, optimism (lower-case-o, neutral tone) by itself isn’t bad at all.
However, just like anything, there’s a necessary balance needed to make optimism actually work. If you pay very close attention, you’ll feel the disconnect when it happens. You’ll lose your words. You’ll realize that there is such a thing as being “too” optimistic: shutting out the realities of life as a means of avoidance and calling it “looking on the sunny side of life” or “glass-half-full” mentality.
I call it Blind Optimism.
How does this happen? How can something so inherently good betray us and bar us in? Blind Optimism is what results when we rely on our positive outlook to ignore, shut out, fabricate and gloss over our lives. It can minimize experiences and eat us alive – just like Casual Negativity, cynicism, auto-pilot pessimism, and projection. It can gnaw away at our spirit, our relationships, and roll a haze of oblivion over our existence.
Blind optimism makes me dizzy – like carousels. Ah…the carousel. My amusement park ride of choice as a highly sensitive kid. I could get on and, for three whole minutes (or more) escape from everyone and everything around me (or more). And, of course, they were pretty. Anyone who has ever visited an amusement park or fairground knows: carousels are very, very pretty. With their porcelain hollow horses and spherical moulding on loop. And they make us smile (I mean, unless you have some sort of childhood phobia which has stuck with you through adulthood, but I’m going to discount that slight possibility for the sake of this metaphor). Most carousels cost mere quarters to ride, so it’s easy to just stay on and go around in circles ad nauseam.
But when the ride ends, we’re faced with the world beyond the beautiful lights and porcelain fairytale creatures. And if we’ve stayed on too long, there’s a good chance we’ll stumble off a bit more than wobbly.
Blind Optimism turns us away from facts and reality in favor of the carousel around the corner, going in circles and circles and circles and circles until we get dizzy and lose our bearings.
When we find ourselves caught in these nonstop-carousel-ride moments, one of two things starts to happen after a while:
a) The carousel stops being fun and eventually breaks down. There is only so much we can give. There is always a breaking point when it comes to extremes. Always.
b) The carousel becomes bothersome, saccharine, and dismissive; something other people tire of don’t want to go near. It’s cheesy and trite at best, ignorant and entitled at worst. We become a part of that fairy tale world playing on loop. And we find ourselves alone on a ride going nowhere.
People always comment on my optimistic life outlook, and when we’re all stuck in the collective doldrums together, ask how I stay so optimistic. The funny thing is – I don’t necessarily view myself as a glass-half-full Optimist. Pollyanna was admirable but always bugged me for some reason (which made me feel guilty, of course – sorry Hayley Mills). I always loved the brilliantly crafted songs and rad penguin dance parties in Mary Poppins, but the Practically Perfect nanny was never someone with whom I identified.
When asked for my “secret,” I chuckle a little and reveal that I’m not really a bona fide Optimist (capital O, chipper voice). I’m Practically Perfect’s alter-ego: Pragmatic. Proactive. Positive.
Look at the glass not as half empty or half full, but as a glass that's being sipped from every moment. Click To Tweet
Life’s ups and downs are inevitable, and some moments will seem more hope-filled than others. So what can we do about it? We can see the facts in front of us and the projected outcomes ahead of us. And we can root for the positive while still recognizing the negative. Not myopically blinding ourselves to the possibility that things aren’t perfectly in place or might go awry…but taking in the world as is, seeing all the good and all the bad, and choosing to build upon what is good and right. It’s like true love: we love fully and deeply when we love others FOR their strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences – not in spite of them.
To break away from Blind Optimism into Pragmatic, Proactive Positivity, our love of life and self MUST transcend those pitfalls and darkness. It starts by moving forward through things instead of around them. It starts with granting yourself permission for your self-like ebb and flow– because it’s normal, and because you’re human – and viewing self-love as the kind of unconditional unbreakable love that no high high or low low can affect.
It starts with letting go of searching for how good things can be in the future (or not), and instead sitting with how good things are right now (or not). It starts with looking at the glass not half empty or half full, but as a glass that’s being sipped from every moment. Easy but nuanced. Simple yet scary. It’s not easy work, but it’s right work. And it’s the work that’ll lead us to finding our genuine smiles, without the help of the ceramic ponies and the carousel leading nowhere.