Optimistically optimistic

Saturday, January 5, 2013 Permalink

In her book, The Happiness Code, Domonique Bertolucci lists the principle of ‘optimism’ as the fourth of ten keys to happiness.

We should wake each morning expecting the best she suggests.

“Your expectations determine your experience. Expect the best from life and you will usually get it.”

She suggests that worrying is a waste of time and recommends we spend that energy doing something about the things we have control over. As with the second of her principles, acceptance, she recommends we focus on the stuff we can influence and accept the rest. Again, she suggests that much of what could possibly go wrong is still not the worst thing that could possibly happen.

“See the world as being filled with positive potential. Focus your attention on your intention and make that potential a reality in your life.”

Bertolucci says that many of us focus on what COULD go wrong, rather than on what COULD go right.

I’ve written before about the fact that I struggle to adopt a Pollyanna approach to life. And – quite frankly – anyone too ‘glass half full’ and overly-positive makes me want to barf! I also can’t help but wonder if extreme optimists are living in some sort of dreamland or state of denial.

However Bertolucci contends that being an optimist doesn’t mean you don’t accept the reality of a situation or that you ignore consequences. She believes that optimists weigh up their choices; consider the consequences, including the worst-case scenario; but expect things to go right.

“It’s not about being falsely positive and smiling brightly when you feel like crying. It’s about being able to smile through the tears.”

I describe myself as a pessimist or cynic. In fact, when I’m doing so I’m not necessarily seeing it as a bad thing. “It’s a defence mechanism,” I explain, “stopping me from being overly hopeful and being disappointed when things don’t work out.”

But… am I really as cynical or pessimistic as I claim to be?

I might outwardly say, “I won’t get this job.” Or “She won’t like that report.” But… in reality it’s just crap. I suspect that deep down I do believe / hope I will get the job and I’m really just saving public face by demurring otherwise; pretending even I don’t think it likely. In fact, I’m as disappointed as anyone when it doesn’t work out.

Bertolucci also explains that her fourth key – expecting the best – does not mean we should have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Expecting OUR best does not equate to perfection, she says. As in previous chapters she suggests that we should be striving to be the best we can be. And that, she says, is good enough.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or ‘likes’ my Facebook page, will know I’ve been struggling to complete this post. It’s actually been almost-complete for a few days.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, writing about this stuff SERIOUSLY helps me process my thoughts. I believe it is pointless to ‘lie’ in this forum. Why bother writing an online ‘web log’ if it’s fiction. I might as well write a novel. As a result I try to ensure I’m being as honest as I can be (here) about my feelings and thoughts.

And what I’ve friggin’ finally realised is that – although I do struggle with the ‘my best is good enough, perfection isn’t necessary’ concept – I actually am fairly optimistic about much of my own behaviour and life, only being let down when it comes to my relationship with food and my body.

Sure, I don’t have sufficient self-belief to think I’ll publish some great novel or be paid to write a fabulous column, and I may remain single forever… but I do believe that it will be okay in the end.

So, what I’ve realised is that… it’s others I’m cynical about (It’s not me; it’s you. Okay, so not YOU you… but you-plural!). Of course I don’t believe that the world is conspiring against me or assume those around me are engaging in nefarious behaviour at my expense; but, instinctually I have to confess… I count on me. And only me. Bizarrely, I’ve realised I ‘trust’ me. I believe in me. And not much else.*

Are you an optimist? 
Do you think it’s possible to be selectively optimistic? 

 * This isn’t to say I don’t believe others don’t love me or want what’s best for me. I know (for example) that my mother would do almost anything for me and my happiness. 




  • Jess
    January 5, 2013

    I actually think I am an optimist. But not with unreal expectations (most of the time). I think it can definitely influence your success and enjoyment. It definitely changes the way you carry and present yourself, as in a job interview. But also socially. My husband can be a brutal social pessimist sometimes and I feel like it sets the stage for a bad night, although I’m always stoked when he has a better then expected time.

    • Debbish
      January 5, 2013

      I think I can fake optimism in job interviews and the like or at least I try not to let my pessimistic / cynical side show. It’s almost like that’s my ‘go-to’ position and I have to stop and realise I can actually respond / think in a different way!

  • jules
    January 5, 2013

    Yes i am optimistic most of the time and yes it is possible to be selective in your optimistic feelings. It’s part of that moving beyond black and white….you can be optimistic about one thing in life and pessimistic about another at the exact same time..it is always the perception that leads there

    • Debbish
      January 5, 2013

      I think that’s what I struggled with Jules. Even with my writing… I couldn’t work out how to say that I don’t think my life is going to fall in a heap if I’m not working full time; but at the same time I doubt that I’ll make a lot of money from writing or pursuing those passions. Perhaps I’m just being realistic?! Of course I’d love to write a great novel that made me a fortune and allowed me to not have to work again… but it’s unlikely.

  • Char
    January 5, 2013

    I think I’m an optimist most of the time. I know I am as far as my running’s concerned – maybe too optimistic at times. But in every day life I generally believe that it’s all going to turn out okay in the end, even if I don’t know when the end’s going to be.

    Your last paragraph struck a note with me. I’m a bit like that – trusting only myself because I know I won’t let me down. It makes it hard to let others in being like that. But I’m not sure how to change it after all this time.

    • Debbish
      January 5, 2013

      Char, I struggled to explain how I felt there so I’m glad you could relate. It was like… when it comes down to it, I DO think I can have an okay life and I can create opportunities (or fall into them!) but I try not to rely on others for anything (guess there’s some synergy with a Debbish post I just did about ‘asking for help’!!!). As I said, I know there are those who have my best interests at heart and want what’s best for me, but I don’t play a key role in ANY of their lives and am not a priority, so can’t expect anything from / of them. (I suspect it’s a bit different with my mother / if I had a partner!)

      PS. I still don’t think I explained that well, but basically I’m the only one who’s gonna put me first in a crisis….

  • Jo Tracey
    January 6, 2013

    Hand up here. I get knocked down, but in general expect the best from people. When I’m down I’ll tend to ask more “what ifs” than when I’m feeling on top of things, but yep, in general, I see no reason why the half full glass won’t be topped up.

    • Debbish
      January 6, 2013

      A great (and enviable) attitude Jo!

  • Julia
    January 12, 2013

    So many realizations in this post. 1) it is good that you trust yourself but 2) you don’t want to let yourself down so it seems you adopt a pessimistic attitude. You say you present yourself as pessimistic to save face, but since you already don’t trust others, could it be that you are trying to trick yourself into thinking you don’t care?

    • Debbish
      January 12, 2013

      I’m not sure Julia. I know I do try to tell myself I don’t care, but think I know myself well enough to know that I am competitive and a perfectionist so… failure / rejection or not being ‘good/the best’ does not make me happy!!!

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