When my son, Cruz, was about five or six I remember clearly an incident that has stayed with me for the over ten years since. It was near Christmas and Cruz and his brother's absent father had made no attempt to contact them or be in touch. We were speaking about this and Cruz said, with all of the positive, innocent energy of a child, "Maybe he is saving up to come see us or to give us a big present." There was no sense of his saying this as a hope of getting something, but rather a voice of faith that his father might have better motives than it seemed. I recall being sure (inside) that this was not the case. Who was right? Me. Their father over the years has almost never called and never has sent anything for them for Christmas. But a bigger question has since come to me: Who was happier for what they believed?
Over the years I have pondered this question in many instances and in many ways. Somewhere I read that those who are pessimistic are much more likely to be right than an optimist. But the optimist is happier, and as Thomas Friedman says, "Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.” That makes sense. If you don't think you can effect change, why bother?
So, do you want to be right? Or happy and able to effect change?
The Huffington Post stated in an article in 2013 that a study showed that pessimists live longer. Of course, other studies have shown the opposite. But if we look at pessimists living longer we can almost hear one yell, "Figures, not only is life hell, I get to live longer to 'enjoy' it."
An optimist can be wrong in his or her estimation of how things will turn out, but one has to admit there is no right or wrong if one chooses to see the good side of everything. If one expects the most favorable outcome, sees the good in everything is one harmed? I go back to my son that year. He showed no sign of disappointment. He was proven wrong and yet he enjoyed his Christmas and was happy in spite of his father not doing what he thought was possible. And maybe that is the answer here. He thought it was possible. That made him happy. He wasn't disappointed when it didn't happen the way he thought it might. He just enjoyed what did happen.
I, on the other hand, "knew" his father. I knew darn well his father was not going to do anything for our boys, and it bothered me. It would come to mind, and I would get angry, sad, anything but happy. I was right, but I was miserable. Cruz was wrong, but he was happy.
As an adult with an awareness of all of the troubles and suffering and horrors the world has to offer, what do I do when looking at the future and at people in trouble? It is very tempting to see the future in a negative light, I admit. It is tempting to think it is optimistic to know it will all end at some point! Yet, if instead, I think of a tiny jellyfish that has the ability to restart its life over and over and I think of all of the human accounts given of life after life, the idea that it all will end may be, dare I say, optimistic. And while I am living today, what will make me happiest? Thinking of the hellish things going on in the world or thinking of the good?
For example, when I hear about the latest disease-- I can dwell on how many people are getting sick-- or realize that many more people, the majority, are well! Hospitals house a very small population compared to the general populace. Even if you take into account all of those who are not feeling bad enough to be hospitalized-- there are a disproportionate number of people feeling great! When I think of the wars and terrorism going on-- I can dwell on the suffering or know that there are many more people not in wars, not being bombed, not being terrorized.
This kind of thinking does not mean I don't care. I am an empath. I am often told I care too much (if that is possible, which I am supremely pessimistic about!) I care. For years I let the caring weigh me down. There were far too many things I saw that it seemed I could do nothing about, and I hurt for those hurting. It has taken a long while for me to realize that the highest form of compassion is to care enough to see the possible. If people are well-- it shows the possibility of health for those who are sick. If people are not involved in war, it shows that it is possible for people to live in peace. And my thinking of the positive possibilities helps energy go toward good outcomes and create further possibilities for positive change among those afflicted. How do I know this to be true?
Some of the most profound moments of my life have been contact with people who extended a loving smile, a warm compliment, a message of hope in a moment of despair- an optimistic and positive thought. Anyone who might have seen my situation at the time could have easily commiserated with how horrible and frightening it was. It was the vision of love and hope that helped me get beyond those moments. It was the message of, "I know you can do it; I believe in you," from my oldest daughter that got me through a particularly challenging time when I desperately wanted to give up. It was belief in good and that it was more powerful than the bad that helped me see good was possible. If the majority of people look for and see good, there is a greater possibility to bring this about.
When we are in the midst of darkness, humans can't see. The darkest dark I have ever "seen" is in an unlit cave. It is an intense dark. But one small light can illuminate that darkness, destroy it, if you will. The darkness can't fight the light, can't do a thing to oppose it. The darkness is just an absence of light to eyes that only "see" with reflected light. There are fish and creatures in the deepest parts of the sea where there is zero light that "see" just fine there. Bats fly in the darkness of caves "seeing," both in the intense dark and in the dusk that they fly into, so clearly that they catch tiny insects on the wing. Few would argue that these creatures are optimists just because they can see what is there when humans can't. They don't invent this world in the darkness or pretend it is there; they just have the sense(s) to see it. Optimists could be seen as humans who use deeper senses to see in metaphorical darkness. So what are pessimists? I would argue that they are humans who do not turn on their deeper senses in the dark.
If it is hard to believe that pessimists can be optimistic, I would aver that no one is truly a full pessimist. We are all optimists in many areas of our life-- even pessimists believe if they walk out the front door the ground will be there; they drive down the road and expect most drivers will obey the rules of the road; they eat food from stores and restaurants and don't expect to get sick or die. There are millions of these expectations that are optimistic- expecting the best, a favorable outcome- even while some experience negative outcomes. And optimistically, I believe that a pessimist can expand their optimism if they wish.
It is interesting that this Christmas Cruz's father called and actually came to celebrate with our sons. Because my son saw possibilities he never shut his father out. His father gave both boys gifts and money to spend as they pleased, and spent time with them visiting. I said earlier that Cruz was proven wrong. It was I who was wrong. He saw the possibility. All these years later my son, in his beautiful deeper seeing, was proven right. Real seeing and the knowing that comes from real seeing surely is done with deeper senses than the eyes that only see reflected light and make interpretations about those images in a brain that can read the signals improperly.
We don't have to believe in a particular outcome or a particular way for things to go. We can believe in possibilities. We can accept and trust that there is good and that good has the upper hand. And we can see with our deeper senses that we likely used as children, and hone those senses rather than just accept what our limited eyesight tells us. All this believing in good and possibilities, oddly enough, has the pleasant side effect of allowing a person to feel happy. Even if they can be proven to be "wrong," for the moment.