Cultivate a more optimistic outlook

A father had twin sons who, in spite of identical appearance, were actually total opposites. The first, for instance, was a gloomy pessimist who spent his days moaning and groaning. But the second was an eternal optimist, ever-confident that everything would work out well in the end.

Now, when it came to their birthday, their Dad was curious to see what would happen if he bought them gifts matching their temperaments, so the pessimist received a giant stack of every imaginable video game, while the son who was the optimist had his bedroom filled with manure.

Later that morning he found his pessimist son in his room sobbing his heart out.

‘What on earth’s the matter?’ he asked.

‘Oh, everything,’ said the boy, ‘My friends will all be jealous now, I’m not going to have time to play all these games, they’ll soon be outdated anyway, and half of them are certain to be boring.’

Shrugging, the father next called on his other son’s room, where he found the boy shrieking with delight as he leaped up and down in waist-deep manure.

‘Wow. Why are you so happy?’ he enquired.

‘Well,’ explained son number two, ‘With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.’

The world is full of some who see their glass as half-full and others who see it as half-empty, but there’s no denying that those of us who experience gloomy spells have a tendency to become more pessimistic during such low times.

Are pessimistic people more likely to suffer from depression? Maybe. Does depression increase levels of pessimism? Very probably.

What’s important to recognise, however, is that in some ways optimism can be regarded as a skill, and like all skills you really can get better at it. If you practice being optimistic there’s every possibility that your mood will get lifted as a result.

One great exercise for building your optimism muscle is to imagine a perfect day somewhere in your future (ten years is good), then to write a detailed description of where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing etc. Having done this myself I can vouch for it being a fun activity – whether or not it ever comes true, but that isn’t what’s important.

It’s simply really refreshing to spend time with optimistic, positive thoughts every once in a while.

Then maybe you’ll come to see that whatever kind of bad day you’re having, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.

9 thoughts on “Cultivate a more optimistic outlook

  1. Love the post, and the concept that even when up to one’s neck in manure there’s room for hope – and a pony.

    Even more apposite for this farmer / grower in the Thames Valley south of London, lucky owner of two lovely Shire horses, our job means we’re always up to our neck in something – too much rain, mud, dust, manure, whatever – we really do have to be glass half-full merchants.

    But not easy with bi-polar – thanks to Moodscope and Moodnudges, a daily reality blast, a reminder to pace and steady oneself.

    Awesome, Jon & Alex, keep up the word-smithing!


    1. Thanks for writing, Charlie, and please give your beautiful horses a stroke for me! So glad to hear that you’re enjoying the reminders to proceed steadily and pace yourself – I need to be reminded of that quite often as well. 🙂

  2. Optimism has to do with how we explain events to ourselves, per “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. The questions to ask yourself are, “Is this situation permanent?”, “Is it pervasive(happens all the time everywhere)?”, and “Is it personal (how much is my fault)?” Seeing the situation accurately helps a lot! We all tend to be either naturally optimistic or naturally pessimistic. The book helps figure out which one you are. He also wrote “The Optimistic Child,” a very important book for parents.

    1. Thanks for the book references, Steve! Yes, permanent, pervasive, and personal – if we see challenging situations life as all three of these things, it can lead to depression. If we take the perspective that everything changes and we are all connected, it can be a big help to boost our mood!

  3. what a great message Jon, truly something to think about! growing up I always had the feeling that something good was going to happen. my excitement did not help much through the years as I found my self surrounded by many negative, unhappy people that just hated me! as I got older my spark went down and I turned distant and somewhat unhappy. but I know I still have that little spark inside of me and you message truly got me thinking! I was and I’m still that girl and is time to bring her back!
    thank you!

  4. There is an old Polish proverb that says …

    It does not matter at all whether you see your glass as half full or half empty. What matters is that you fail to see that your glass is twice as big as what you need.


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