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“Just look on the brite side”.

I was recently watching a self-proclaimed “optimist” teach about all the benefits of optimism. His second most jarring statement was something like, “You must be an optimist to succeed.” I will “circle back” to number one.

Merriam-Webster tells me the root word optimum means the amount or degree to which something is most favorable to some end. Ism is the noun suffix that creates a noun of action, practice, process, or behavior.

Essentially, optimism is the belief that everything will always work out in your favor. It’s the idea that your future, whether it’s the next month, week, day, or even minute, will always be better than your current situation. It’s the conviction that only positive outcomes are possible, and that negative events like life-altering diseases, accidents, job loss, or relationship breakdowns are simply not part of the equation.

I must confess, the ‘optimistic guru’ with his plastic smile and unwavering positivity was a bit grating to me. I couldn’t help but wonder, is this level of optimism really sustainable or even realistic?

I don’t know about you, but there has to be some sort of incongruency with someone who confidently claims everyone is destined for greatness regardless of circumstances. Furthermore, there is no such thing as evil. I have lived long enough to know that bad things happen to good people.

That said, I can’t help but counter with……a little bit of “vigilance” can go a long way. Truth be told, I lean toward “realism”…….Plan for the worst, and hope for the best. And not vice versa.

Last week, I was in a popular shopping district in Miami when a gentleman stepped out of a storefront to offer me a “free” facial. I am not proud of the look on my face, which clearly communicated that he was entering unsafe territory. The movie playing out in my head was at best solicitation and at worst a scene from “Taken”. In either case…… yeah, vigilance.

I am quite content with my lean toward “realism”. However, there are times when “realism” gets a little too cozy with cynicism. Yeah, a scene from Taken was probably a bridge to far, but I digress…..

The point is, I don’t hate the idea of leaning slightly away from “look on the bright side”.

That is, until this past week, when said “optimist guru” made the statement that takes home the gold for most jarring…. “Cynics will not succeed”. Not in business, not in relationships, not in finances, not in life.

Cambridge tells me that cynicism is the belief that people are only interested in themselves and not sincere.

Cynicism is also a philosophy. Cynics reject all conventional desires for wealth, power, glory, social recognition, conformity, and worldly possessions. In other words, people who act, practice, behave, or maintain a state of being that aligns with a cynic reject the potential of financial freedom, running a company, gaining power over one’s health status, developing social connections, feeling a sense of accomplishment (glory), and/or attaining any worldly possessions. Ugh.

The reason I was in Miami was to attend a conference where all the speakers were the “1%’ers” in business. I left that conference super inspired but not really feeling like I gained any “practical” knowledge on how to operate a business. My actual thoughts during the 12 hour conference were something along the lines of “my circumstances are different”.

A study published in 2019 reported that people with a more positive outlook lived 11-15% longer adjusting for the presence of other health conditions at baseline (ie: including high cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer). In other words, optimists had the same increase in lifespan regardless of the presence of above-stated health conditions.

As for all the “glass half empty” folks, they also adjusted for depression. So, even a leaning toward “hopelessness” with a sprinkling of optimism… there is hope. You might need to read that last sentence again.

But before you start “manifesting” your way to a better version of yourself, there is a little rub in the formula. Specific optimism and general optimism are not the same thing.

Dispositional optimism is a “trait-like nature” that seems to be the “type” of optimism that has a greater positive correlation with life span. People who exhibit this trait “expect good outcomes throughout the life span.” (source: Dispositional Optimism and Physical Health: A Long Look Back, A Quick Look Forward).

Dispositional optimism suggests a “level of stability across time”. In other words, it is not a type of optimism that looks at every individual moment that wins the day, but the “optimist” who broadly speaking believes that life as a whole will have the best possible outcome.

My “hyper vigilance” is a good thing if the sweet “facial guy” turns out to be a kidnapper. But the reality is he probably isn’t. There is a chance he was kind and wanted to give me a free facial. You see, I can’t count on both hands the number of times (across my life) the right opportunities seem to show up at just the right time to meet my needs for that specific moment. Also true, the millions of thoughts worrying about things that might occur, never actually happened.

So, I have to ask why do I (and so many others) do the thing that might be taking years off our lives and not do the thing that has the potential to have the greatest positive impact on any given circumstance?

Defense. Prevent the “world” from “scoring”. Avoid the disappointment, failure, heart-break, grief, sadness, rejection from the tribe, (insert uncomfortable emotion/experience).

The “trait” of dispositional optimism indicates some potential genetic underpinning. However, as a concept, I believe anyone can develop a slight lean toward optimism when the wind blows. For starters, zoom out. Take your eyes off the problem and zoom out.

How does this season/”problem” fit into the broader life-span?

Will this argument matter 10 years from now?

How can you and I grow by giving up the “right to be right”?

How does this health condition fit in the bigger picture? Along those lines, what could your children and grandchildren learn by watching you overcome this challenge?

What would you learn about yourself by overcoming this challenge?

How much pride would you have for yourself by overcoming this obstacle?

Here is the newer reality I am currently pondering…. we get 0% benefit from the 1% potential opportunities we refuse to entertain.

What opportunities/solutions have you (or are you) ignoring due to a slight leaning toward “realism”?

How can you foster your mind to zoom out and see a life that WILL have a beautiful, fulfilling, impactful, ending?