Why We Need More Optimists in a Cynical Society

Why We Need More Optimists in a Cynical Society
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I have this friend who is so positive she’s like a Disney princess on Prozac. I’ll never forget the time I asked her how she was doing during what ended up being a really rough pregnancy. In her typical bubbly fashion, she said, “So well! I only threw up three times today!” And this occurred at the end of working her regular 12-hour shift as a nurse. Cue perspective shift. Previously, I had dismissed her optimism as a combination of naivete and a cushy lifestyle. This woman isn’t a princess; she is a warrior. That, my friends, is strength.

With that friend in mind, let me welcome you to 2020, where it seems like everything is a s***show. Insanity is reigning, and more than ever we need warriors to lead the way. That’s right, in our world that has equated cynicism with enlightenment, I am talking about my optimists. And in my corner, I have Susie Moore, confidence coach and bestselling author. She’s been in more than 300 media publications, including Oprah.com, Marie Claire, Business Insider, Forbes, Refinery29, the Today show, and Inc. My interview with her only bolstered my belief that strength is anchored in optimism.

Negativity isn’t that great

We wasted no time and dove right into a discussion on the pervasiveness of negativity. Moore referenced a study which demonstrated how a negative review was perceived as more intellectual than a positive one. Now I will readily admit that a solid critical review can be pretty hilarious. That is why shows like Cinema Sins and Morning Roast have such loyal followings — they’re entertaining. However in this beautiful, animated scene, the critic reveals the value, or lack thereof, of negative critiques when he admits, “The bitter truth we critics must face is, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably worth more than our criticism designating it so.” <Seriously, that scene is perfection. You should definitely go back and click that link.>

Our tendency to feed off negativity is just one example of how we elevate things that don’t elevate us in return. In my previous interview with Ingrid Lee Fetell, we similarly saw that, while black and grey are viewed as professional, her research demonstrates color can fuel productivity. As more studies like these come to light, it becomes our job to question whether cynicism really is enlightenment, and what the real color of professionalism is. We have to seek what really helps and works best for our businesses and communities. It takes strength to be hopeful and vibrant when we are being told it is weak and wrong. So this begs the question…

Are you strong enough?

Moore went on to say, “It’s easy to be cynical. Anyone can be a cynic. Is that how you want to live your life? What takes work is viewing something from a new perspective.” Well it’s also easy to come up with excuses for that cynicism. Believe me, as a world class grudge holder, I had a list of reasons for allowing negativity to weigh me down. However, change takes strength. The strength to move on and let go of the grudge. The fortitude to say “So what?” instead of being offended. Or the capacity to have a long-term perspective rather than drowning in the moment.

All of this made me think of my mother who, in my hardest moments, would say that I must be preparing for amazing things — each of these struggles was just making me stronger. For her it came down to fostering a long-term view and finding a purpose for the pain. Moore added to my mother’s wisdom when she noted that pain can actually be turned into fuel for happiness. She summed it up so succinctly when she said, “It can feel like happy people haven’t suffered, but if you have lived more than five minutes then you have struggled. Actually, I’ve seen studies demonstrate that the kindest, most generous people are among those who have suffered the most. It’s so interesting to me. It’s as if your negative experiences can serve you because you want to consciously be choosing something else.” In the end, naivete or a smooth life isn’t the answer. Optimism is a powerful, willful choice.

So, now to you, my dear friend, is it time to post a “Choose Joy” image on your phone’s background? If that might help, heck yes! Do whatever it takes to remember that we don’t need to chase happiness. Yes, please sign me up for a milkshake or to take that vacation or to tickle a toddler. Those things are all good, but Moore says we just use each one as a middleman to happiness. What if in the day-to-day, we cut out the middleman and chose happiness, not just in the good moments but in the hard ones too? It’s a simple solution, but not easy. It’s taking your eyes off the big clouds and seeing the beauty of the sun filtering through the gaps. It’s knowing that this hard moment is just one part of a season, and this season can be used to prepare for an even better season. It’s staying rooted in facts and reality and realizing that some of them are good. There is always some good. As Moore said, “People who can see the best in a situation are really the minority, and we need more of them.” Will you please help us fill that gap?


Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Becky Pocratsky recently started working as a freelance editor and writer. She works from home with her two sweet (loud, energetic, help me!) daughters. Also she is a super geek who went to Hobbiton on her honeymoon.


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