Ever observed the different kinds of thoughts and emotions that come upon us as humans? With every changing minute (and even seconds) the situation changes dynamically in this fast-paced world, and our mind goes through these roller coaster rides of emotions. How we react to these changes in the “ride” of life determines, eventually, the state of mind for both us and the people around us.
Emotions that trigger “undesirable” reactions are generally classified as negative. Most of you would agree that negativity is generally the first (and the easiest) reaction that the mind throws out. Somehow, it seems, we as humans are innately trained to react indifferently (in the form of sadness, anger or fear) when things do not go as planned or are against our belief or expectations. But these are the reactions that we actually do not prefer to have or don’t want to breed.
Before we dwell deep into this topic, let us understand what emotions are in the first place.
The complex and interactive “Wheel of Emotions” Image Credits
Emotions are regarded as ‘lower-level’ responses. They first occur in the subcortical areas of the brain, such as the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices. These areas are responsible for producing biochemical reactions that have a direct impact on your physical state.One of the more popular psychological theories of emotions is Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. It states that there are eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger and disgust. Pairing the emotions with their opposites creates the wheel of emotions.
In the wheel, the core emotion decreases as you move outward on the wheel. Plutchik also used color to represent the intensity of the emotion: the darker the color, the more intense it is.
So, at its most, intense sadness becomes grief, and at its least, pensiveness, and so on for other emotions. It’s a fantastic starting representation for helping us develop our understanding of how our emotions present themselves, how they fluctuate and how they can interact with each other.
Anger, frustration, fear, and other “negative emotions” are all part of the human experience. If not taken care, they can all lead to stress and are often looked up as emotions to be avoided or even ignored, but they can actually be healthy for us to experience as well. A better approach is to manage them without denying them.
No emotion is without purpose. It’s when we begin to further explore and understand the purpose behind each emotion that we learn ways to respond, which supports our emotional growth and sense of well-being.
It is how we react in these situations what matters; how we pivot towards optimism from pessimism.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
How many times have we come across this proverbial phrase? While it has been used profusely as a litmus test to check the level of optimism (half full) or pessimism (half empty) in a job seeker, there is surely more to it than just being a tie breaker question.
While “seeing” the glass half full may land you the job, practicing the same in life will make you an eternal optimist.
And why is it important to be optimistic? Let’s first look at what happens if we look at the glass as half empty.
In the game of life, the easiest thing to do is to “measure” how empty the glass is. It’s the natural tendency of the human mind to choose the easiest option i.e. be pessimistic. But going by that route only helps us in counting our problems. By concentrating on problems, we give more energy to it and eventually end up thinking at the level of the problems. If your intention is to solve the problem, then that is not the right approach.
To quote Albert Einstein: “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created.”
This approach further leads to breeding more and more negativity until eventually it becomes your habit. Unknowingly, one ends up carrying pessimism as a personality trait. I once read, “The trouble is, if you are always looking at the ditch instead of the road ahead, you tend to end up in the ditch instead of where you wanted to go.”
Where pessimists see problems, optimists find opportunities.
Every day, life places a half-filled glass in front of us. It is upon us how we respond daily to the same question. By acknowledging and appreciating the half-full glass, we choose optimism. Research shows that optimists are happier, healthier and wealthier. A study by Psychologist Susan Segerstrom found that ten years after graduation, law students who were optimistic earned an average of $32,667 more than their glass-half-empty peers. (ref)
Further, a new study of 2000 Americans found that people who view a glass as half full not only think more optimistically, but also line up more personality traits including decisiveness, playfulness, and creativity. These thinkers also tended to be more patient, more creative, more competitive, more adaptable and more playful than glass half-empty thinkers. (ref)
Once we choose optimism, we not only acknowledge good things, but also expect good things to happen. This mindset will lead us into taking actions that produce positive results. The Universe gives back only what we ask for. An optimistic and positive frame of mind is the one looking for solutions, for results; and the universe pitches in to help with that.
In fact, the word “optimism”, derived from the Latin word “optima,” means the best outcome or belief in the greatest good.
Optimism allows you to reduce the negative emotions of sadness, depression and anxiety., It helps you develop strong relationships with others, reduce the effects of stress on the body and improve your cardiovascular health and immune system. Experts state that the real difference between optimists and pessimists is not in how happy they are with their lives, or how they see situations that occur around them. It’s in how they cope with the stressors and events. So, if you’re someone who tends to be pessimistic, it’s worth the effort to retrain your brain to react differently
If one has actions accompanied by belief, the path is paved out by the universe. And realization of the results eventually leads to a more peaceful self.
Developing optimism and Positivity
If peace is the seed of happiness, gratitude is the womb that carries it. ~ Om Swami
In my opinion, seeing the glass half full is optimism. Acknowledging and appreciating that the glass is half full is gratitude.
Gratitude is surely one way to train your mind towards building an optimistic approach towards life. Contemplating on a half-empty glass is not just pessimism, but also breeding negativity.
Practicing gratitude is shown to have wonderful effects for both the recipients and givers. These effects have long-reaching impacts on our mood and perception of events. So it’s worth spending a little bit of time adding the practice to one’s daily routine.
Gratitude is a practice; optimism is a personality outcome and peace of mind is the eventual result.
Here is a good exercise described by Tim Dowling on how he learned to be optimistic by maintaining a Gratitude Journal. He recommends:
Start a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down just one or two things that you’re grateful for or positive things you’ve experienced that day. This could be as simple as a great cup of coffee to start your day, a random act of kindness, or getting in a morning walk. Find small things to be happy about and it will snowball.
Once you accept that at least a portion of your pessimism is just a story you tell yourself – and an inaccurate one at that – it’s hard to hang on to it.
Mindfully keep a watch on your desires. Desires cloud one’s thinking, and if not tamed, they breed pessimism eventually.
How do I practice Gratitude?
Journaling allows one to reflect on current and past situations. It helps to put things into perspective, to count on our blessings.
“There is an art of which every man should be a master, the art of reflection. If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all? “~ William Hart Coleridge
Gratitude Meditation on Black Lotus
This is something that I have been practicing for the last 2 years. The commentary of meditation is outstanding. It will hit the right notes, will get you in the right zone, and the feeling of gratitude will just flow. My favourite stanza of the meditation is as below
“Gratitude is the mother of happiness. While I may not have all that I wish for, I still have plenty to be thankful for… and when I am grateful, I am at peace.”
I would not spill beans any further on this. Try it to experience the bliss.
Peace is a choice, an option, a path. Being grateful is the easiest way to be peaceful.
While I understand that for few of us life is indeed a struggle, for most of us, it is just a perception of incompleteness that we have created around us. By the art of reflection, we give ourselves some time to face the truth that has been hiding behind our never-ending cloud of desires.
Imagine it’s raining pretty hard. Desire is wishing for the rain to stop and gratitude is carrying an umbrella. ~ Om Swami
So the next time it rains, don’t let negativity creep in because it does not fit your plan; instead, carry an umbrella of optimism and gratitude. And what about the roller coaster? Well, you will be unaffected like Mr. Bean in this video