The Intelligence of Optimism


Sometimes it seems wiser to be skeptical, but optimism actually demonstrates greater awareness.

I have been blogging and posting videos about my Space Diet experiment in which I give myself space where I would normally judge or eat. (In my mind, it looks like I am wrapping in bacon whatever sensations and thoughts come up that I’m aware of.) As with any cleanse, the space that was once filled with fridge foraging, food preparation, chewing, and the self-berating inner dialogue following, is now just filled with…space. And instead of me trying to fill it, as if it were empty, I have been observing what is arising, what is available in/with space. 

One of the most notable insights came this week: happiness is a choice. It’s something I’ve heard many times and been aware of through my work with Access Consciousness, but I finally got it. Happiness is a choice, my choice…and I wasn’t choosing it. In fact, I’ve been resisting it.  

Why resist happiness? Well, because I’m smart. At least that’s what I believed about myself, fortified by numerous academic accolades and a medical degree. To me, optimism looked more like being naive and unwilling to see and deal with unpleasant circumstances. So, in order to be in alignment with my view of me as an intelligent being, not naive or dumb, I have been choosing to be skeptical and critical. And you know what, I’m not that happy.

What. The…

What an unpleasant reality to face. I’m not happy, and it’s because of my choice. 

As a practiced pessimist, I didn’t immediately rejoice that this situation was so easily changeable. Instead, I was in a space of limbo—realizing my attachment to being smart and resistance to happiness was not working for me and hurting my life and relationships, but not quite ready to let go.

Well, thanks to my brilliant sister, an Earth Angel, I’m sure— she can provide just what I’m asking for that I don’t know I’m asking for—sent me a link to an article “Why Does Pessimism Sound So Smart?” 

This was just the “brain food” I needed to complete my processing.  

What I found so interesting were the reasons pessimism gets attention: it looks more intelligent because it speaks to and calculates risks, predicting the future pitfalls; and it provides an action, which is to stop or do the opposite of what is being done. And, isn’t that how so many people make a ton of money in this world? By speaking to inevitable and obvious doom and providing a “quick fix.” But here’s the thing that really struck me like a lightning bolt: optimism has been misinterpreted as naive, oblivious to risk or detriment—but that is actually inaccurate. Optimists and pessimists both speak to difficulty, but optimists include it as PART of the whole process whereas pessimists create it as the END of a process, an end that could, should, or would be avoided if things had been done differently. So, the intelligence and mental energy of a pessimist is spent either preparing for and working to avoid failure or looking backwards at how things could have worked out differently; the pessimist is either paralyzed and doesn’t start (because the possibility of failure cannot be eliminated) or quits because of the perception of “failure” (ending the possibility of future success). In contrast, the optimist includes difficulty and failure in the calculation and continues anyway, increasing the probability of success.

This is where I finally started to change my point of view about the intelligence of optimism. I have long felt that intelligence testing is too dependent and influenced by convergent thinking—distilling information to come up with a singular answer.  Rather, I prize and value my gift and ability, and the gifts and abilities of others, to think divergently—to deconstruct data and generate possibilities and multiple outcomes. I believe that intelligence includes both types of thinking. Though creative pessimists can generate several worst-case scenarios, pessimism is mostly a convergent thinking operation, whereas optimism employs both types of thinking in dynamic ways—convergent, linear thinking to predict possible obstacles and divergent, non-linear, possibility-generating thinking to allow creative solutions to get around unseen obstacles. Optimism is a not just a more intelligent choice, but one that allows for more gratitude and happiness.

You get it when you get it. There is no way to rush or judge yourself into a different choice, a different way of being. I could see that my choice was not working for me, and that I wasn’t ready to let go of my point of view. But how much more quickly and easily, and with more ease, did things change for me when I was willing to give myself the space of in-between instead of judging myself for my choice and berating myself for not changing already. Now, I am confident in my new choice, to be happy, and unstoppable in eliminating all that stands in the way of happiness, of succeeding in being and creating me and my life as what I know is possible.

Are you looking for space to change? Get out of the judgment of you that keeps you locked in your limited life. Click here to contact me.

This article was originally published at Venus In Motion. Reprinted with permission from the author.