Cultivate an Optimistic Temperament

Cultivate an optimistic mind

Fulton  Ourselves tells of a woman guest in a hotel who went to the manager in great distress. She was  obviously on the point of collapse. “Somebody in the next room has been banging on the piano the whole day”, she wailed. “If you don’t have it stopped at once, I shall collapse, and you will be responsible”.

“I wish I could help you madam,” the manager replied. “But the pianist is rehearsing for tonight’s concert. It would be as much as my place is worth. I dare not stop the great Paderewski”. “The pianist is Paderewski?” The woman’s voice changed. “Oh, that’s quite different!”.


She returned to her room and began inviting her friends to come over and listen with her. Soon Paderewski had a rapt audience in the next room, and the woman had miraculously recovered from her attack of nerves.

The situation had not altered. Nothing at all had changed except the woman’s own attitude. She had acquired a new point of view. She was looking  at the same problem from a new angle.

We all have the freedom to choose which aspect of the experiences of life we shall contemplate, and our choice determines whether things shall go well or ill with us. Happiness is largely an attitude  of mind, a way of facing life.

There are three degrees in the way in which we can view life. Some people habitually look on the dark  side of things. Their outlook is consistently negative, and their attitude to life is one of gloom and despondency. They minimize all joy and magnify and prolong every grief.

At the other extreme we have the easy optimist, living in a world of illusion. He tries  to get rid of the hard and bitter facts of experience through shallow flippancy. He makes a farce of pretending that he can get rid of stubborn facts by ignoring them.

A barometer may be stuck always at “Fair” or it may be stuck at “Stormy”, but it is as useless one  way  or the other.In the same way, the pessimist who looks habitually only on the dark side, and the optimist who, through sheer sentimentality and a burlesque of optimism, deliberately suppress the truth – both are wrong.

When Marie Antoinette came to Paris, no ragged or starving person was allowed to appear on the street as the procession passed. France at the time was seething with dire poverty, but the starving populace were swept into the side – streets and could not be seen, so that Marie Antoinette might think all were happy and prosperous. That is how the stupidly optimistic mind works.

The mature character strikes a balance between the two extremes. His viewpoint is broad and deep, and while he looks at things as they are, there is nothing selective in his gaze. He is not afraid to select facts, but  he uses his own judgment in the interpretation of the facts. Knowing that it all depends on the way he looks at things, he accepts the truth that “There is some soul of goodness in things evil, would men observingly distil it out”.

Challenging facts of life face us every day. There is no escape from our inevitable encounter with bereavement, loss,  pain and disappointment. These  things happen to us. None of us is immune from the blows of fate. What we so often forget is that the freedom of our response to their challenge still  rests with us.

Our happiness does not depend upon our view but upon  our point of view. What then can we do to bring about such an habitual attitude to life? To begin with, we have to realize that the cultivation of the cheerful outlook rests largely with ourselves. These are people who almost enjoy being miserable. They have accepted the state of perpetual depression and make no attempt to alter their mental attitude. Marcus Aurelius very aptly wrote: “As are the habitual thoughts , so will be the character of the mind, for the soul is dyed in the colour of its thoughts”.

We can always direct the stream of thought to the things that make for brightness. We can deliberately occupy our minds with cheerful books and shun the tendency towards depression. It is one of the essential qualities of an attractive personality that he looks at the bright side of things; in the phrase of an older generation, “he lives on the sunny side of the street”.

Looking on the bright side is a healthy way of living. It has a direct influence on the nervous system. It is impossible to overrate the importance of a cheerful outlook on life. It is of deep psychological value, refreshing the mind and stimulating the energies. “A joyous spirit not only relieves pain but increases the momentum of life in the body”.

The cheerful outlook implies a brave way of living. Most people can face high tragedy by drawing upon their latent reserves of courage. It is the ceaseless round of little troubles that gets us down. Even when things are apparently hopeless, the positive outlook is still the brave way of facing up to life. “Judge a man’s courage by the hope that is in him”, said Emerson.

Above all, the source of abiding gladness rests in a personal religious faith. Where there is faith, we are not afraid to face life and the challenges of things as they are.


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