life, philosophy, thoughts

Optimist or Realist?

For a long time, as a teenager and into my twenties, I tended to look at the glass half-empty. I was aware of this attitude, but wasn’t quite sure how to change it. 

I met my husband in my early twenties. His entire family’s optimism blew me away. I wanted some of that sweet, positive-attitude nectar, and I drank it. I loved spending time with them. I thought, this must be the way to change my outlook … surround myself with positive people!

This worked well for a while. I felt genuine joy; daily life appeared a little brighter than before. Pleased with myself, I shared this new attitude with my family, and friends. I was shocked when one of them said to me, “Yeah, well, I’m more of a realist.” It confused me, because I considered myself a realist too. Was I considered unrealistic for having a positive-attitude?

I noticed my husband’s granny seemed annoyed by the others in their family, and she called them “ostriches.” In my naivete, I’d never heard the term before. I didn’t have any idea what she meant, and wondered why the rest of them frequently ignored her.

Then some years went by, and … well … the perfect optimistic family before me, started to come into a clearer view. It was like one of those skewed paintings, where you have to look in just the right angle to see the whole picture. They actually had … gasp … flaws! Their optimism slowly revealed itself as pretentious. When difficulties came our way, no one addressed them. We needed support and compassion, but everyone pretended like nothing bad was happening. The “ostrich” reference now made sense.

Eventually, this issue became a cause for arguments in our marriage. He used to argue that it didn’t matter whether something was realistic or not, it only matters what a person believes.

We couldn’t help but laugh when this very issue came up on an episode of The King of Queens. The character, Doug, says something that could’ve come directly out of my husband’s mouth. “It doesn’t matter if the world is made of marshmallows, or you just think it’s made of marshmallows. It’s the same thing.”

How could I argue this point? We see what we believe.

The biggest problem for me was that I didn’t, and still don’t, know how to fake it. If I know the world is not made of marshmallows, I can’t pretend it is for the sake of those who see it that way. I have to be me.

Confusion swept over me for a while. If their optimism was feigned, perhaps it didn’t exist at all. I mean, reality isn’t always pretty, and many times it has to be faced in order to be fixed. At the same time, I needed some kind of hope. The positive-attitudes I thought I’d found earlier inspired me. Realizing their optimism was a cover for denial, broke my spirit. Where was I to go from there?

I fit my zodiac sign of Libra to a tee. I need balance. So, why couldn’t I balance being a realist and an optimist at the same time? I pepper a little realism in with optimism. A sprinkle of humor in with the sad. A dash of hopeful-outlook, while facing the bad news. Put it all together and it’s a nicely seasoned recipe for a life that is never dull. 

I’m not going to deny hurt feelings or grief over a loss. I’m going to cry. I’m going to get mad. But, I’m not going to let those things run my life either. I’m going to joke and laugh. I’m going to do something that makes me happy in between the anger and the hurts.

My Libra sense of justice begs the question, was it really pessimistic of me to see the glass  half-empty? Or, was I just being realistic? After all, the glass is both half-full and half-empty. My old pessimism stopped me from recognizing the half-full part of the glass in the first place. Seeing both helps me feel balanced. My husband’s family did open my eyes to the other side. Thank you to them, and to my wonderful husband for the long Saturday morning philosophical discussions.

We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us – how we take it – what we do with it – and that is what really counts in the end. ~ Joseph Newton

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23 thoughts on “Optimist or Realist?”

  1. This was good for me to read. I think I’m a lot like you. I WANT to be positive and optimistic, but sometimes it’s hard to be. And it annoys me to think that I have to put on a happy face when in fact, I’m not always happy! Besides, I think there’s value in acknowledging the down-side of life. It helps us appreciate the good stuff that much more.

    Great post, Lori!

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    1. Thank you for saying this, Terri. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who gets annoyed when we think we have to do this. Also a good point about how tough times help us appreciate the good times. I’m glad you came over to share your thoughts. 🙂

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  2. Well said Lori,

    Back in the early 90’s I signed on with a local chapter of a national poetry group. After several months at a weekly morning breakfast meeting, the President of the group singled me out and asked me to describe myself in ten words or less. He expressed his reasons for asking were provoked by of the conflictions in my poetry. I became immediately uncomfortable with the question. I said I would have to consider it before I’d be able to respond to his inquest. By the end of the meeting, I was able to address his request with, “ I am a, ‘Romantic-Realist,’ sir.”

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    1. A good description James, and not so far off from how I’ve described myself to people before. I call myself a ‘down-to-earth-eccentric.” Seems you and I are an oxymoron, which I find pretty cool. 🙂

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  3. Big fan of quotes too – maybe I lost the plot here, but why can’t we be both. I’m very much realist – but for that I’m not a pessimist – I’m very much an optimist. Denials ??? works at times .. but not very often. Brilliant post again – always a pleasure ending up here in the end of the evening.

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  4. I’m a totally polyana-esque optimist, always have been, always will be. And for me it’s a personal choice to be thoughtful about events, have perspective on the big picture, and make a positive and “optimistic” contribution when there are times of challenge, or when faced with suffering.

    I couldn’t live if I was programmed to see every down side, predict every possible negative outcome and spend my time waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    None of us have no idea what’s going to happen in the future, and I enjoy looking forward to what the rest of this wonderful life has in store for me. I refuse to be passive and simply expect bad things.

    CORNY !!!

    Great writing!!! 🙂

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    1. Hello Mr. Polyana. 🙂 At least you are aware of your outlook. The people I speak of don’t even know they are in denial .. which is … I think … the whole reason it’s called ‘denial.’ 😛 BTW, expecting good things will likely draw good things to you. It’s much better than being a worrier like me. Still working on that one. Thanks for reading and commenting, Pete. Hope you got a chance to check out my blog titled ‘Everyone Writes.”

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  5. We cannot overcome obstacles, if we do not see them. It is what we dwell upon that shapes our minds and molds our lives. Thanks for sharing!
    Blessings
    S

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    1. I love your quote and may borrow it in the future. “We cannot overcome obstacles, if we do not see them. It is what we dwell upon that shapes our minds and molds our lives.” Summed up my rambling post in just two sentences. Heh. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  6. Great post! When someone asks me whether I’m an optimist or pessimist, I alway say “realist” ha. 🙂 I think we need people with a variety of outlooks to keep this world sane.

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