How we relate to life informs how we experience it. People who are always looking for the bad in things tend to find it. People who make the best of things tend to be happier.
To my mind, optimists are people who are forever being disappointed. Nothing much goes as we expect it to, and over-optimism is a recipe for getting yourself sorely let down. Pessimism means you get to be right, or pleasantly surprised. But it’s so easy to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in either direction, or to see what you expect to see and miss what’s happening. Steadfastly seeing only the good can lead you deeper into trouble.
Planning for the future and imagining what we want is necessary for getting things done. Without that, we’re only ever reacting, not creating. To live creatively you have to dream, and believe it is possible to turn those dreams into reality. Aware of where you want to be, you can tailor current action to support it. Sometimes it’s fun to be spontaneous, in the moment and just letting that carry you where it will. If your spontaneity is a true expression of self, then it can carry you forward in ways you aren’t going to hate.
The happiest people I know have a sense of direction – not necessarily that complex or detailed, but enough to guide them. They have enough self awareness that their ‘off the cuff’ words and actions do not turn out to be self defeating. I’ve seen a fair few people along the way frustrated by not knowing where they want to go, and thus having no clue as to how to live in order to get there. And people who are utterly self defeating in their determination to be miserable. People who act without thought and do or say things they don’t mean, have little scope for achieving true happiness because they continually thwart their own interests, damage their relationships and backing themselves into corners they don’t like.
There are balances to strike. We need good dreams to guide us and give us courage. We have to believe we can achieve them, or we give up and drift unhappily. We need to live in ways that take us towards our dreams. Approaching life in a way that embraces and emphasises the good in it enables happiness. And at the same time we need the voice of the inner pessimist to flag up dangers and make us recognise setbacks for what they are, and enough realism to hold it all together.
Like so many processes around growth, this is not something to achieve overnight, or to do once and have ‘fixed’. It’s a theory to carry into every day, each situation. To keep asking ‘where is the good in this?’ is so important. So keep watching for the fails and insufficiencies – because they drive us to do better. Pausing, breathing, balancing, thinking things through, asking ‘is this what I really want?’ and ‘is this who I want to be?’ It’s not all doom and gloom, not if we refuse to let it be so.