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Wednesday
May152013

Rooms 285-335: Bring Optimism Back

So, lie down on the couch and tell me what you see in the photo above. 

George Clooney? Dancing Dobermans? Two friends fighting over the last piece of pizza? Be careful before you answer. Psychologists say that what you see in this Rorschach Inkblot Test is a good indicator of your personality. 

In other words, what you see defines you. 

Of course, I’d add that what we see also ends up walking into our house and taking a seat on the couch. What we choose to focus on becomes our reality. Our eyes become our truth. Our point of view becomes our experience. 

In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that how we choose to view our world is fundamentally one of the most important choices we will ever make, which is why this week we’re optimistically walking into a 50 room suite. 

If you’re thinking this is going to turn into one of those “glass is half full” kind of blog posts…you’re absolutely right. 

It is. 

Rooms 285-335: Bring Optimism Back
The Glass Is Half Full

Now, before we start squeezing lemons into lemonade, I know this whole “glass is half full” business has almost become one giant cliché. But, before you put your finger in your throat with saccharine disgust, let me clarify. 

Being an optimist isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses, holding hands and wishing on a rainbow that the world becomes a better place. 

Let me be the first to break the news: somewhere out there in the middle of space, probably a thousand light years away, asteroids are ricocheting off of stars at 17,000 miles per hour. And, should one of these make an untimely left turn at just the right spot, there is a centillion-to-one chance that it could end up crashing on your front porch. And with apologies to Norman Vincent Peale, it’s unlikely that any amount of positive thinking will change that. 

But, don’t worry. I’m betting the asteroid will miss us. You should still go to the gym tonight.

The fact is, being optimistic isn’t about changing the world, or redirecting the planets so they align with our personal wishes. It’s about changing ourselves, and our own orbit, so that we can become more conscious of the world around us and within us. 

Being an optimist is also not about pretending to feel good when you don’t, or saying you’re happy when you’re obviously miserable. The true optimist doesn’t bury his head in the sand and pretend that life is one struggle-free ride at Disneyland. This room is not about being gullible or Pollyannish. 

Real optimism is about being vulnerable enough to acknowledge that life sometimes hurts. And our job is not to ignore the suffering, but to transcend it. 

Real optimism is about focusing on what we have, not what we lack, and seeing what is, instead of what is not. It is a cultivation of gratitude that allows us to appreciate whatever falls on our plate.

Real optimism is about living as if everything in our world is here to point us toward that one secret we need to know before we can graduate. It’s living as if every moment and experience has something to teach us, empower us, and free us. 

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing cliché about that.  

Our job this week is to put this new found optimism into practice in as many ways as possible. Let it be our challenge to reframe the day so that we see truth and meaning in everything we touch. 

And while you’re at it, look around and notice all the optimistic people in your life. Notice how you feel when you’re around them. Like a really good tour guide at an art museum, these optimists can show us meaning in things we never saw before. 

The more we surround ourselves with the fresh eyes of an optimist, the more likely we will be inspired to pass this energy along to someone else, which is the real gift of an optimistic life. 

Fortunately, when it comes to hanging out with optimists, I’m about as rich as they get. My whole life I’ve been surrounded by them. I grew up with a mother, who raised three boys all by herself. She had a full time job in the day, sewed at night and even took in renters. All to make ends meet. 

Her life was one struggle after another, but you wouldn’t know it. Not because she denied it, but because she rose above it. Through her optimistic lens and creative touch, she turned scraps into fabrics that decorated our house with enough love and beauty to last a lifetime. 

I also have my wife, who is one of the most optimistic people I have ever known. Along with my two kids, they share a common spirit that allows them to see the positive in almost anything, which is practically a prerequisite for living in our house. 

Yes, all my life I have watched people I care about turn their challenges into doorways that have led to new states of awareness. Whether that’s diabetes or breast cancer, divorce or unemployment, loneliness, sorrow or pain, it doesn’t matter, because it’s not their struggles that have defined them, but the meaning they courageously brought to those struggles. 

Just the other day, I got an email from a friend of ours who wanted to bring us over an artichoke appetizer she made. She thought we’d like it. It was a simple gesture, and it might not seem like much. Except here was a woman who was about to go spend her entire Friday getting her weekly treatment for cancer.

As is her nature, she reframed her day to focus on someone else. She’s always the first to ask you how you’re doing, and the first to extend her hand to help. She has turned hardship into an inspired life that spreads to everyone she is fortunate enough to touch. 

And then there’s my uncle. His wife, my aunt, has Alzheimer's Disease. It’s not an easy road, and he knows it’s only going to get harder. A while ago I asked him how he deals with it. Without pausing for a second, he smiled at me and whispered, “I’ll let you in on a secret…taking care of her is the greatest gift of my life.” 

And I swear he said it like he just won the lotto.

He’s not making light of the challenges and he’s not diminishing them. He is simply seeing them for what they really are. The universe in action. 

Call it optimism. The silver lining. Or the glass half full.

Either way, it’s a choice he’s made. A decision to find meaning in life—to live with purpose, service and immeasurable love. 

That’s about as real as it gets. 

If I could have one-tenth of that in my life, my cup would runneth over. 

Is my glass half-full? 

Damn right it is. And I have the family and friends to fill it. 

And I don’t know about you, but I’m going to enjoy every last drop.

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