Just a typical summer evening in my kitchen…how can you not look on the bright side with this scenery? Being a person who has a sudden and fierce interest in happiness is not always met with happiness. I have noticed that as I discuss with people my material and this blog that it has been met with smiles, nods as if people are think “oh isn’t that nice…you’ve got the time to think about being happy. ” Said with only the utmost sarcastic of all Boston accents. I probably pick up on this because that is exactly how I would have met such a person just a handful of months ago. I am from Boston with the accent and type A (recovering that is) edge. I can yack up sarcasm with the best of em but these days that edge isn’t so sharp. Reading more of Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” has given me a framework for understanding the connection between optimism, pessimism and happiness. Positive psychology gets a bit dismissed in the field of psychotherapy because its focus is about happiness rather than plunging into the depths of our inner psyche and despair. This focus can seem like a bit pie in the sky as a goal for average folk. Seligman is quick to point out that positive psychology is not about becoming attached to making people happy. See I knew I liked this guy from the first page of the book. Clowns are attached to making people happy (well at least some:) People pleasers are trying to make other people happy. I know that when I was in a place of trying to please others and make them happy, I was left totally UNhappy. So I am not about trying to make people feel any certain way. Coercion never feels comfortable to me as a treatment modality. Positive psychology offers up another path; one that leads you to your discovering your authentic self. Now that’s the ticket! It is not about turning the frown upside down per se, but more about bringing your attention to skills that authentically increase feelings of joy and pleasure.
Through reading about optimism and pessimism, a realization occurred to me. It is all about whether you locate control for your own happiness within you or outside of you. A pessimist would look at this topic and think “ya, I can imagine I’d be happier if my boss would get off my ass” or “I’ll be happy when this week is over.” When we think that happiness will come when or if something or someone changes outside of ourselves that makes our happiness conditional. A more optimistic view of such challenging situations could be being thankful for your meditation practice for helping you feel less stressed by your boss or taking moments in your day to focus on things aside from your stress. A pessimistic person would see an opportunity arising in their career as luck. An optimist would see the same situation as happening because of their talent. The energetic difference is about whether you see yourself as possessing the power to affect change in your life or if you give your power over to others. I often have told my clients that while it may feel empowering when we blame others for things that have happened, it is actually dis empowering. When you take ownership over your part you are capable of making changes that could alleviate your own suffering.While it may seem that optimism is innate, it actually can be learned. As I have previously stated, the science around neuroplasticity (the ability of our brain to constantly create new brain cells and synapses) is the proof that we can do anything we “put our minds to.” If the intention to be positive is present along with the behavior supporting the intention, then there is a high likelihood we will experience more happy moments over time. The key is that I come back to again and again is the willingness. Being optimistic is not walking around seeing things through “rose colored glasses.” While there is info that this mind state makes people happier, I find the rose colored glasses syndrome is annoying. It is not seeing things as they are but instead as you would like them to be. When we see things simply as they arise we notice that there are things that are good and not so good. The key for me is being open to both and not getting overly attached to either. Optimists don’t live in some Candy Land altered Universe. Instead they simply believe that goodness is within everyone and every experience and the goodness is where they put their attention. Instead of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” or expecting things to go poorly, they walk through life expecting goodness and therefore more goodness tends to come their way. The more I read, research and contemplate this topic, the more I come back to the idea of choice. I had to get to a point where I was ready and willing to choose my own happiness. There was a lot of work in a variety of ways that came before that choice but ultimately I had to decide to jump into the ocean and swim. No one was going to do it for me and as a matter of fact, some people would have been totally content with me making the choice to stay stuck in the muck. It would seem to me that the difference between pessimism and optimism is mostly around whether you take personal responsibility. We can all wait for happiness to show up at the door knocking but most of the time that hardly ever happens. This would mean that happiness is an action step and that optimism can be the energetic tool that helps attract it. Yesterday I had a very interesting experience at my job that made me see this whole theory in action. You get what you seek. Should you seek self acceptance, happiness and goodness, you will find that it shows up all around you. Should you seek or expect the opposite to occur, well there will be no surprise when that shows up as well.
So for today, what will you seek? Pleasure or pain? It’s your choice. Today I think I will enjoy this beautiful Fall day, get my hair did and smile because life ain’t that bad. Actually it’s quite awesome…wicked awesome that is!