As I noticed the olive oil, which was just sitting innocently on the shelf, I thought, “My glob! There’s almost a quarter gone already!”
Immediately I began to feel a slow, seeping panic; a feeling of general lack, as if everything was gradually slipping away.
More thoughts followed, like, “How will we pay our bills if we consume olive oil at this kind of rate?” and, “There’s just not enough of anything. All the resources are running out!”
That’s when I caught myself. I was focussing all of my attention on the quarter of the bottle with no oil in it, instead of the oil itself. It was a textbook example of pessimistic thinking, demonstrated perfectly, and I hadn’t even waited ’til half the oil was gone!
I guess this experience may be one that you’re familiar with.
I know that the world is not just black and white, so we won’t get too deep into categorization, but the optimistic/pessimistic divide seems fundamental. It’s not that one way of looking at the world is more or less “right” than the other. You can see things either way. But, you do have the choice.
There may even be an argument for being pessimistic, just as you can find an argument for almost anything. I’ve heard people say things like:
“If I always have low expectations I’ll never be disappointed”
“If you’d lived the life I have, you’d be pessimistic too.”
“Don’t kid yourself by imagining the world is all smiles and rainbows, it’s actually a mean, hostile place, and the sooner we face up to that the better.”
I’ll leave these comments to you to assess. None of them make me feel very good, as I read them.
Maybe sometimes, in the quest for identity, we are too quick to adopt labels, saying, “I’ve always been a pessimist,” and similar statements, as solid facts, as if things can’t ever change. But when and why did you decide to “be” a “pessimist”?
Being optimistic isn’t something you’re born with or which is forced on you by circumstances. There are plenty of people who’ve lived through really tough times and who keep looking forward to the future with hope and joyful expectation.
Neither is optimism a fixed trait. I don’t normally call myself an “optimist”, because it’s not a fixed attribute, but a constant practice. I think of myself as generally optimistic in my thinking, but then along comes the incident with the olive oil to remind me that I’m clearly just as susceptible to pessimistic thinking as anyone .
* * *
There is a practice, found in many cultures and religions, of giving thanks for the positive things in Life. It doesn’t matter if there are religious beliefs involved or not, it seems that practising an attitude if gratitude just feels good and is actually helpful, as it helps us to feel good, internally, so we can allow ourselves to turn our attention outwards, and truly appreciate being alive!
I think it’s probably simple to do, and that feeling thankful is about orienting oneself towards a conscious appreciation of what is.
When I say (and feel) sincerely,
“I feel thankful for my health,
I feel thankful for my family’s health,
I feel thankful for my life,
I feel thankful for Life,
I feel thankful for the sun and the rain,
I feel thankful for all the beautiful things in my world,”
then the first thing that happens is I find that I’m feeling good. I have deliberately brought all these things I am grateful for into my awareness. I am actively appreciating these things, giving them my attention.
Being thankful need not be about appeasing some kind of god, who hath bestowed these things upon us, but for our own fulfillment now! There seems little point in having anything unless we appreciate having it. And so appreciation is always felt whenever we feel good. Maybe it is feeling good.
Gratitude and appreciation are things we can practise. Just by bringing the things we are grateful for in our lives in to our awareness, we allow ourselves to feel better. We can choose to do this, and we’re free to choose not to. I believe that many people are choosing to spend more and more time consciously experiencing the feeling of appreciation.
* * *
Something seems clear to me, that only one of these two fundamental viewpoints is useful for enjoying life. So if we want a happy life – and most of us do right? – then it seems like common sense to train ourselves in a mode of thinking which helps us feel good. Contentment can be the reward.
An awareness of those things we lack can be useful at times. It can allow us to set goals for our development. But it’s not a very comfortable feeling, to be constantly aware of what one is lacking. Just as thinking about the future is useful for making plans, but life is not lived there. It’s here.
Moment by moment, we live in the now. So now, are you choosing to focus on what you have, or what you don’t have?
Thank you for reading.