Optimists are the way we are because of several factors.
An inherited gene, a nurtured skill and a conscious choice.
The first factor is biological. Psychology professors reported that based on the variation of our brain’s oxytocin receptor, optimists have more positive responses to stress and greater esteem throughout their lives.
We can blame our parents for that one. Genes may not be destiny, but if our folks are optimists, then it’s likely our brains function the same way.
The second factor is environmental. Growing up with a supportive and nurturing childhood, having healthy and diverse relationships, these things also play a key role in the development of our psychological resources.
If we are someone who has hopefulness and confidence about the future, then it we were probably fortunate enough to have an upbringing that laid an optimistic foundation.
The thing about these first two factors, the biological and the environmental, is that they are completely out of our control. It’s a lottery. We can’t pick our parents. We can’t choose where we grow up.
It’s a pretty straightforward negotiation. You get what you get.
And yet, the last factor that determines our optimism is something that we can control, which is our conscious choice. Our attitude and mindset and the story we tell ourselves about how life is happening to us.
That’s what allows us to keep the flame of hope burning.
Because if we just lean on genetics and upbringing and expect hope to flow naturally and consistently, then disappointment won’t be far behind.
Optimism is a muscle. It takes daily practice and upkeep. And in a world trying its damnedest to beat that out of us, it’s no easy task.
When my wife and I moved to one of the biggest cities in the world, this piece about conscious choice came clear to us. Because where we live, most people don’t trust optimism.
Manhattan is eight million centers of the universe, all carrying around their own pessimism like a favorite toy. They’re constantly looking for proof that people are not fundamentally good, that this a hard time to be alive, and that the world is not okay.
And so, when they encounter someone who laughs easily and says yes to life and is always ready with encouragement and rarely in a personal crisis, then their envy takes the form of contempt and disgust.
Why are you so happy? What’s wrong with you?What’s your angle?
This brand of resistance can be confusing and disorienting to the optimist. It almost makes you feel bad for feeling good. Like there’s something wrong with you for smiling.
That’s where the piece about conscious choice comes into play. We can keep that flame of optimism burning, no matter how hard people try to blow it out.
We can be filled with hope, fled out to afflict mankind, envisioning a world where cynicism and irony are nowhere within earshot, if we really want to. It just might take more effort that we’re used to.
Here’s a song I wrote about this called Two Lights.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How will you balm the burden of being surrounded by people who can’t take yes for an answer?