Seeing the Glass as Half-full

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2016 6 Dec

an image of a glass with water pouring in and splashing

Study after study shows that optimists are both happier and healthier than pessimists. Optimists experience less stress and don’t give up as easily as pessimists. They even tend to live longer. Unfortunately, I’m a pessimist. The online quiz I took proves it. So what should I do? Conclude that I was born a pessimist and will remain a pessimist? No, that’s way too pessimistic!

According to Martin Seligman, a clinical psychologist who has spent more than thirty years studying this topic, pessimists are capable of adopting a more optimistic approach to life. One way to do that is to change the way you explain your successes and failures. Typically, optimists are good at maximizing their successes and minimizing their failures. Say, for instance, someone compliments you for your cooking. You could explain the compliment to yourself positively by thinking, I have turned out to be a pretty good cook! Or you could brush it off by thinking, I guess I got lucky with that recipe. The first explanatory style takes credit for a job well done, while the second views the success as an isolated incident, not likely to repeat itself.

As Christians, we sometimes hesitate to take credit for our success because we don’t want to become proud. But what if taking credit where credit is due helps us to better reflect the joy we have in Christ, who, after all, has given us every reason to be optimistic?

What about our failures? We have to be honest about them as well, but failure doesn’t have to be something we get stuck in. Instead it can become a teacher, leading us toward greater insight. I remember traveling by myself for several days in Europe after a business trip. Whenever I got lost, instead of getting upset as I was accustomed to do when traveling on more familiar territory in the United States, I simply told myself, I don’t have to hurry. Anyway, I’m learning my way around. That little coping mechanism added peace to my adventure, keeping me from feeling frustrated and alone.

If you tend toward pessimism as I do, try a little experiment. Spend the next week trying to maximize your successes and minimize your failures. See if it produces a little more happiness in your life.