You’ve probably heard the question. You may have posed it or answered it. It’s the social litmus test we use to tag people as either optimists or pessimists and file them accordingly. For optimists, the glass is perceived as half full; pessimists see it as half empty.
Does it matter?
Some think so. Labeling and categorizing is one of the ways we human creatures try to make sense out of and navigate our complicated world. “Just answer the question, and we’ll know where to put you”. Others aren’t so sure. The labels and categories don’t always fit and if misinterpreted or misapplied, can do more harm than good. Case in point: me. I'm a widow, but I'm not just a widow; that's part of who I am, but that one word does not define my entire existence. And I may be nothing at all like whatever stereotypical image pops into people's heads when they hear that word.
The perception that optimists are positive and pessimists are negative makes this all even trickier to navigate.
After pondering this with grief as my traveling companion and in light of an amazing and thought-provoking email from a dear friend, I have to say “yes, but…”
It sounds simple on the surface, but there are a lot of gray areas for me. I’m becoming less and less sure that being one way is better or worse than the other. My mother was a world-class pessimist. She could tell you, in excruciating detail, every single thing that was wrong with every single picture on the planet. I don’t mean that in a critical way, and it doesn’t make her a “bad” person; it’s just who she was. Given the fact that she was eighteen when the stock market crashed in 1929 and kicked off the Great Depression, there are compelling reasons why she had that world view. And as she would be quick to point out, knowing what can go wrong and where the land mines are can actually help you make wise and appropriate choices, limit damage and discomfort, and determine helpful coping strategies.
The other thing that gives me pause here is the sheer number of things that affect how we see and approach the world, many of which we can’t control. We were created as unique individuals; each one of us is “one of a kind”. There is no one else on the planet exactly like us, so we each experience things in our own way. There are also multiple external variables besides the particular DNA and personality traits we’re hardwired with that can affect how we perceive things at any given point in time: our circumstances, our spiritual state, our health, world events, the season, the weather, the attitudes and perceptions of the people around us, how much stress we’re under, just to name a few.
Grief is one of those external things that adds a layer of complication to everything, and one of the ways it's complicated things for me is that because of my experience, circumstances, and feelings a lot of the things I *thought* I knew and seemed so sure of are now much grayer areas. With that as part of my reality, I’ve found that I have to pay even closer attention to what is going on both inside of and in the world around me in order to live authentically and well.
AND - having said all of that, I also have to say this (something I have to keep reminding myself of regularly): we always have the power to choose how we respond to what is happening around and within us, even if we can’t change the circumstances themselves.
What do you think? Is the glass half empty or half full?
Does it matter? Is that a useful construct, or is there another way of looking at it that is more helpful to you?
Wherever you are on that continuum, and regardless of what life hands you today, may your mind gravitate toward and be occupied with “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…” Philippians 4:8, NIV.