Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. – Shakespeare
The master told his disciples that we never see the world as it is, but only see what we want to see. A passer by heard the master and said ‘how absurd! Of course we see the word as it is.’ The master broke some sticks and placed them on the ground, and asked the passer-by to describe what he saw. ‘It’s the letter ‘T’’ he replied. ‘No,’ said the master, ‘It’s just two broken sticks.’
The word we inhabit is one of our own making. It is a world of symbolism and constructed meaning inside our own head. Of course, there is something real ‘out there,’ but none of us sees this reality in the same way. We all interpret situations and events differently, depending on the way we filter them through our thoughts which, in turn, depends on our experience and personality.
The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.
The world is what it is, and there are many ways of looking at it. We all cast a mental net over the world around us in order to navigate through it; but the map is not the territory. Optimists and pessimists use different maps and, just as different maps serve different purposes by emphasizing different aspects of the terrain, pessimists and optimists emphasize different things and interpret reality in a symbolically different way. For example, if an optimist gets a promotion, she will probably interpret it as being part of an upward trend, reflecting the general tendency of life to work out well; a pessimist might see such a promotion as a fluke, a blip in an otherwise negative trend.
Optimists also tend to feel more in control and are able to discern a greater sense of purpose in life. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian survivor of the holocaust, noticed that people in the concentration camps who felt a greater sense of control and purpose tended to survive longer than those who were not able to sustain any sense of hope.
To some extent, optimism and pessimism are tendencies we are born with, but the experiences we have as young children can also have a very great impact on our tendency to see the world in a positive, supportive way or just the opposite. As we get older, we tend to run our learned scripts – whether positive or negative – in an unthinking way and confuse this habitual pattern of interpretation with reality. But our interpretation of reality is not reality, and the good news is that the way we see things can be changed.
Becoming more optimistic will have an enormous effect on your happiness, health and success. It is not an exaggeration to say that optimists live in a totally different world. Negative thinking restricts your opportunities; positive thinking expands them. Optimism is not less realistic than pessimism – it is simply a different mental map, and one that will serve you better. Why not redraw your way of looking at the world?