Find Meaning by Embracing Optimism
Do you see the donut or the hole?
Posted February 2, 2020 | Reviewed by Daniel Lyons M.A.
Do you see the donut or the hole? This simple question may give you insight into your mindset. If you see the donut, you may tend to embrace an optimistic perspective. Alternatively, if you see the hole, you may tend to embrace a pessimistic perspective.
“I always believe things are good.” “Who can be optimistic when there are so many problems in the world?” “It’s not my fault—I always have issues at work—it will never change.” These are examples of how different people express their optimism or pessimism.
Some people believe we are hardwired at birth to lean toward either an optimistic or pessimist mindset; others believe we are socialized or conditioned by caretakers and society at large. While we should consider sociological factors such as race, class, and gender that influence who we are and how we are treated by others in society, we must also take into consideration that optimism or pessimism affects people of all races, classes, and genders.
So we can conclude that there are other factors at play in determining optimism or pessimism—one of which is the freedom we all have to choose our attitude. We hold the power to respond either positively or negatively to any given situation.
Optimism is an attitude a person can choose to adopt. When reflecting on their past, a person can view their experience or at least part of their experience as being positive. When viewing present situations, they choose to see their experience as positive, including seeing any challenge they face as only temporary. When thinking of their future, optimists can choose to be hopeful.
Pessimism is also an attitude a person can choose to adopt. A person can choose to see the negative in past and present situations and project that their future experiences will also be negative. Pessimists may gravitate toward negative news such as the Doomsday Clock (a symbol of the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe happening). Of course, there are varying degrees of pessimism—from seeing the negative in a temporary situation all the way to total nihilism, that is, viewing life as meaningless with little or no hope for change or improvement.
Choosing to be more optimimistic is both mentally and physically beneficial. Here are three ways to help you shift toward an optimistic mindset:
Choose a positive attitude no matter what is happening around you.
No matter what is happening in the news, at your work, or in your personal life, there is always something positive to focus on. As many great thinkers have advised, you might not be able to choose the situation, but you always have the ultimate freedom to choose your attitude toward the situation.
Remember, if you continue to see a situation as negative and see yourself as a victim of circumstances, nothing will improve.
Choose to interpret situations on the positive side.
We see what we want to see. Perception does not always mirror reality; oftentimes, however, it becomes our “reality.” When we believe that there isn’t enough of this or that in our lives, or when we focus on the fear of losing something, we are effectively living our lives in a world of scarcity. When we focus on doors closing in life, we will see more closed doors and, more often than not, miss the doors that are unlocked or already open.
To be sure, things could always be worse. Others may be suffering more than we are. If our house has declined in value, someone else may not even have a place to live. If our feet hurt, someone else may have lost a foot. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have in your life, stop complaining and start being grateful for the positive in your life. Try the "10 Positive Things Exercise." Just before you go to sleep, focus on and list 10 Positive Things that happened to you today. Among other things, it will help you sleep!
Have hope — believe in a positive future.
Know that no situation is permanent. No boss or leader is 100% bad and no boss or leader will “never change." Know that all news doesn’t have to be negative and that there is hope for the future. Believe that today is good and tomorrow will be even better.
Every day, you and the people around you are changing. Every day represents a new opportunity to take a fresh attitude toward a particular person, project, situation or just life in general. It’s up to you whether you choose to carry the baggage, the same negative attitudes of yesterday into tomorrow or whether you start anew.
Being optimistic involves believing that your future and your specific goals are possible. Let your visions inspire you and pull you into the future. Practice visualizing a future where you achieve your goals, and where you see good things happening in the world.
Our capacity to find meaning is determined by our state of mind and how we perceive situations and opportunities. We can choose to look for the best or we can focus on the worst in a situation, potentially seeing everything as negative and getting stuck.
Life doesn’t just happen to us; we are responsible for creating the lives we want. Make today be the day you actively choose to see the donut, not the hole!
For more on this topic see our book: Pattakos, A. and Dundon, E. (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd.edition. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. USA.