“…everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances — to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, author of the classic, Man’s Search for Meaning: Experiences in the Concentration Camp, and 25 other books on existentialism, psychology, and meaning
An optimist expects the best possible outcome and dwells on the most hopeful aspects of a situation. He or she believes that this is the best of all possible worlds, the universe is improving, and good will ultimately triumph over evil. An optimist believes no one ever ruined their eyesight by looking at the bright side of life. Research on Emotional Intelligence, Attribution Theory (see Martin Seligman’s outstanding book Learned Optimism), and related fields show that optimists not only go farther in life, they also have a much better time on the trip. Optimists are generally healthier, happier, and leaders in their fields.
Pessimists stress the negative and take the gloomiest possible view. He believes that this is the worst of all possible worlds, things naturally tend toward evil, and evil ultimately overshadows good. Pessimists feel that gravity is a myth; the world sucks. She thinks everybody is as nasty as her and hates them for it. When a pessimist feels good, he feels bad because he’s afraid of feeling worse when he feels better. Highly devoted pessimists take joy from proving there is no real or lasting joy. If life were a bed of roses, many pessimists wouldn’t be happy until they developed an allergy. Pessimists not only expect the worst, they make the most of it when it happens.
Which view is reality? Since we see the world as we are, either view becomes our reality. We choose our outlook. We choose to be an optimist or a pessimist. Here’s how former American Secretary of Education and author William Bennett puts it, “It is a matter of choice. That is perhaps the greatest insight that the ancient Roman Stoics championed for humanity. There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes. And our attitudes are up to us.” We may have been given a tendency toward optimism or pessimism at birth, from our upbringing, or through the environment we’re now in. But we decide what we want to become from today forward.