Glass Half Empty? Glass Half Full?

Emptyful by Bill Pechet

I think I’m a glass half full kind of gal most of the time, but not always and not in all areas of my life. A recent CBC Ideas program about optimism had me thinking about what makes some of us decide to wear rose-colored glasses while others tend to be pessimistic.  We all know people who look first for what could go wrong rather than what could go right but according to a book by Tali Sharot called The Optimist Bias most of us are born optimists. The human species needs to be optimistic in order to survive.  

Most people are actually more optimistic about positive outcomes than reality dictates they should be. Reality sucks. 40% of us will get cancer. 50% of us will get divorced. 100% of us will get old and die. Being  unrealistically optimistic can be good for our mental health and make us less stressed. A positive orientation is also good for our cardiovascular health. 

I wonder if we inherit optimism?  I know families where both parents are very optimistic people but their children exhibit varying degrees of  optimism. I suspect that while biology and nurture can influence how optimistic we are, life events and experiences can also change a naturally optimistic person to a pessimistic one and vice versa. 

Charles Carver of the University of Miami suggests it is best to have a balance of realism, optimism and pessimism if we want to have safe and happy lives. A measure of optimism can keep us plugging hopefully along even when things aren’t going well. You need to have a certain amount of optimism in order to get married or have kids or pursue a career especially in certain fields.  

A little pessimism can be helpful if it inspires us to try to fill the half empty glass by taking actions that will improve our lives or the life of society. 

During a panel discussion on the CBC Ideas program one of the participants suggested that it is a mistake to think of optimism as an individual endeavor. We live in families and communities and networks so we need to help each other cultivate optimism. Parents who encourage their children and affirm them in their endeavors and pursuits make their offspring more optimistic about their chances of achieving certain outcomes.  If their parents continue to provide unconditional support, even when children fail, kids will be optimistic enough to try again. Schools play an important role as well in helping young people become optimistic individuals.

Cultivating a optomistic next generation is essential to the preservation of society and culture.


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