Monday, January 24, 2011

Optimism, Pessimism or Realism: Do All Roads Lead to Joy?

I think if I had to categorize myself it would be a optimistic pessimist with realistic tendencies. Yes, I agree, a head spinning life philosophy – but also quite literal.

I meditate. I balance my chakras. I keep a gratitude journal next to my bed and I abide by the law of attraction. I’ve read the Power of Now three times…and then stopped counting. The only disc in my car CD player is “Affirmations for Life & Love.” I advocate the word “belief” as if it were the last one anyone will ever speak or hear, and yes, I think the manifestation of dreams is, mostly, a matter of the mind. I know it is. I’ve seen it happen.

But some days I’m a just a ticked-off crank-pot who can’t stand the sight of her own shadow.

Some days I draw the blinds and watch re-runs of Bill Maher until I am in total agreement with his less than positive, (yet brilliantly insightful) outlook – and think yes, the world is ridiculous and unjust. Some days I’m just a certified cynic from cynical city.

Is that so wrong? Let’s face it, Bill does have a point.

We have all witnessed decades of the positive thinking self-help manifestos…toting the message of life-changing affirmations, backed with bona fide miracles. Truthfully, who doesn’t appreciate a good miracle? But, what about pessimism? Is it so wrong to feel bad when the news is, in fact ….bad? Or, how about plain old realism…what if we choose to see the situation for what it really is – no preemptory slant at all - no wishing and hoping - just good ol’ kitchen table problem solving.

It seems I’m not alone in the recognition of new and unconventional items on the self-help menu. There’s a fresh crop of armies, fighting for all sides of the philosophical root of happiness. There’s the optimistic realists, defensive pessimists, learned optimists and even realistic normalists. All well-researched (albeit polarizing) positions penned by highly acclaimed authors, journalists, celebrities and medical professionals; an intriguing labyrinth of case-closing arguments – page after page of raw data, case studies, interviews, claims and credentialed quotes - all passionately delivered in the most enthusiastic packages possible.

Persuasive? Yes. Perplexing? Of course. [Optimist] Imagine you are on a tropical island... [Pessimist] But it’s hurricane season. [Realist] Why don’t we stop dreaming and book a flight.

Let’s examine. An optimist is categorically someone who will bet the entire farm on the bright side. You could probably tell them their flight has been cancelled, their dog got hit by a car, they’ve been fired and that leak in the ceiling led to a burst in the gas pipe. They’d say, hey it could be worse…while pointing out the constellations. Whereas a pessimist views life as a worst case-scenario. They don’t wait for the news, they give it: the engine on this jet will malfunction, my dog will probably get hit by a car while I’m away, I know I’m getting my pink slip today, and that leak is definitely going to cause a break in the gas line. And conversely, too, there is the realist who has checked the airline stats for flight safety, called three references for the dog walker, starting looking for a new job at the very first sniff of a downsize and has already gotten a few quotes from contractors to fix the leak.

I am beginning to think that not a single one of them has the right answer. But perhaps. They all do. And, perhaps, an Optipessirealist life philosophy may just be the best and most instinct-driven road to a more joyous day-to-day. Hm. What if we adopted the attitude of all three: Happy thoughts, caution and taking action.

This sounds like a concoction that may actually work! I say, let the mixing begin! Let’s be as intuitive and free thinking as possible. Why not adopt the philosophy that it’s OK to keep your eye on the ball and your feet on the ground, while reaching for the sky and grabbing as much happiness as you can; that sometimes imagining an island is an excellent recourse, yet other times it’s benefical to mind the hurricanes; and still yet, actually feeling the sand between your toes, may, at other times, be the best solution too. That quite possibly, a three-faced approach to self-help – Optipessirealism – may, not only stop the head spinning philosophizing, but may, collectively…

be helpful.


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