“Is your glass half empty or half full?" asked the mole. "I think I'm grateful to have a glass," said the boy.”
The past few weeks I’ve been reminded repeatedly of how important it is to maintain my optimism because it is a bedrock of my life foundation and a direct supplier of my emotional wellness. More and more I notice of how many things seem to challenge my ability to look at the bright side, and I have a growing awareness that in many cases, this is unfortunately intentional. Let me explain…
Since around the age of twelve I’ve always been a news junkie as my father taught me that it was important to stay aware of what’s happening in the world around us. Growing up in Philadelphia, I would see my father read both the morning and evening edition of the city newspapers. He would watch the evening news, and a few times a year he would read books about current or historical events. It was only natural then, I suppose, that I would develop a similar interest. For many years thereafter it seemed the news was mainly about reporting on factual happenings in the world around us.
Somewhere in the past twenty years though the news has become increasingly a source of not as much news, but more a source of entertainment. News media organizations are now very much aware of the values and opinions of their readers and viewers, and the media companies pander to the beliefs of their viewers to drive up ratings which in turn provide advertising income. If the news media can make us upset or angry about something, there is a much higher probability that we will stay connected to consume more of that negative information which affirms our preexisting beliefs.
I’ve grown increasingly aware of just how much media companies want me to be angry or upset or in fear just so I’ll keep listening or watching. In turn I’ve started to carefully filter what I allow myself to read or listen to, and that starts with the opening lines or the headline of a news story. Things marked “opinion” rarely get my attention for instance, because they always make me think of a crude saying my father had to describe opinions. My dad used to say that opinions were like (a body orifice I won’t mention) which everyone has, and, well you might know the rest of that saying. Anyway, I don’t find opinions worth my time which is why it’s so disappointed that more and more of what used to be real news is now just polarizing and inflammatory opinion
If a headline or story starts out talking about “the left” or “the right,” or “liberals” or “right wing,” I immediately tune out and stop listening or reading. I find those terms concerning because they divide us, and they dehumanize us. I was raised to believe that I was fortunate and blessed to be an American and that never included who I should distrust or despise or be in fear of. So labeling certain groups of as this or that is divisive and it devalues us into categories or identifiers which are often used to be degrading, hurtful, or offensive.
Labeling groups as red or blue, or left or right, is concerning to me because it devalues groups of people and makes us think of other people as different and apart or sometimes as less than we are. Labels can be dangerous in that way, and I have a test I employ to prove that to myself. When I hear or read a story with labels like that, I will simply substitute any other group identifier like obese, gay, Black, woman, or disabled for instance, to see if that same story will then sound offensive.
Typically those stories are of course offensive when another label is substituted, so then that leads me to question why is it seemingly acceptable to malign one group and not another? The answer is it’s never acceptable and we need to raise our awareness to the intentional bias we are exposed to which seeks to divide and inflame us. When you raise your awareness to just how much this has permeated our daily discourse, you’ll begin to understand how our world, nation, communities, and even our churches and families have become so divided and oppositional.
If you’re not careful and discerning about what you read or listen to, it would be very easy and understandable if you developed a negative or pessimistic worldview – as if the world was going to end soon or we are losing our country for instance. It’s unfortunate that people are just not as passionate about good news stories so that’s not the sort of thing the media world has evolved to cover. People are far less likely to stop and look at an act of kindness taking place than they are to gawk at a traffic accident or spectate at someone’s house on fire.
I’ve been told by some people that being an optimist is not healthy because it’s better to be not an optimist or a pessimist but a realist. What I always find ironic though is that anytime someone tells me they are a realist, the very next thing they say is always something negative. I’ve concluded therefore that realism is just a subversive form of pessimism. You won’t ever hear someone say “I’m not an optimist or a pessimist, I’m a realist..” and then follow that up with something positive like: “… and I believe things are going to turn out just fine.”
So how does all this relate to my optimism? Well, as I have taken steps to carefully curate my media consumption and filter out the negative, divisive, and fear-inducing headlines, I have found that my optimism has soared. I don't mean to suggest that I bury my head in the sand and ignore the challenges our world faces. On the contrary, I strive to remain well informed and stay abreast of current affairs. But, by removing the toxicity and sensationalism, I am more open to the possibilities of positive change, creative solutions, and the potential for all of us to come together in harmony.
Optimism, or the general expectation that good things will happen, is more than just a positive outlook on what’s happening in the news. It is a psychological attribute that can significantly impact an individual's mental health, influencing how one perceives and reacts to life's challenges.
The relationship between optimism and mental health is profound. Optimistic individuals tend to demonstrate more resilience in the face of adversity, showing a greater capacity to bounce back from stressful or traumatic experiences. optimism is associated with a lower risk of developing mental health disorders.
Research has indicated that people with an optimistic disposition are less likely to suffer from conditions such as depression and anxiety. This is because optimists tend to use more effective coping strategies, like problem-focused coping and seeking social support, instead of resorting to avoidance or self-blame, which are more common among pessimists.
If you’re convinced that optimism is worthwhile and you want to start generating more optimism personally, than you must start focusing on what is good. This might seem like an overly simplistic concept, but it is remarkably effective. There are countless wonderful, uplifting stories out there, but they are often hidden away or overshadowed by the more dramatic, negative news. By actively seeking out these positive stories and surrounding myself with them, I've found my optimism growing stronger each day. Optimism can even start on a simple and personal level by just thinking of the things in our own lives that we’re grateful for. A daily gratitude list can be a great start towards a life of optimism.
I believe that optimism is more than just an attitude. It's a mindset, a choice, and, most importantly, it's a practice. Like any other skill or habit, it requires effort and perseverance to cultivate. It's about consciously choosing to see the good in the world, despite the apparent bad. It's about finding hope, even when things seem hopeless. It's about believing in the inherent goodness of humanity, even when our flaws are on full display.
In just the same way that being exposed to pessimism can make someone more negative, optimism also has a contagious quality. When we carry an optimistic outlook, it doesn't just influence our own mood and outlook, but also that of those around us. By fostering an environment of positivity, we can help inspire others to do the same. It’s my hope that through my own optimism, I can help to shift the narrative, to show that even in a world seemingly dominated by negativity, there is still so much good to be found, so much hope to be had.
I realize that maintaining optimism in today's world may seem like a daunting task given the incessant pummeling with negativity and division we get daily in the media. But if we can be discerning with our consumption, seek out positive stories, avoid categorizing ourselves with labels, and foster a mindset of hope, we can start to build a foundation of optimism that not only benefits us individually, but also our communities and our world at large.
After all, optimism isn’t just about seeing the proverbial glass as half full versus half empty, it’s about lighting a torch in the darkness, guiding us toward a brighter and more hopeful future that we all deserve, we all are worth, and we can all celebrate together.