The following text is my second "Mental Health for Humans" post, in *mostly* unchanged form, save a minor edit here and there. Here's the link to the original.
I think our beliefs about ourselves and our external reality (i.e., the world), whether based in fact or fiction, or rational or irrational processes, go a long way toward determining the course of our lives. These beliefs, if not at the very core of our mind-oriented processes, are embedded deep enough within us as to usually be implicit; that is, these beliefs occupy a domain which usually lies outside our conscious awareness, and thereby influences our conscious processes from some deeper, rather murky position. (Apologies to Freud and Jung and so forth.)
In general, the natures of people's beliefs are fascinating to me as a casual point of interest. But beliefs become, to my way of thinking, a potentially imperative focal point if a person is having difficulty in their life.
Now, it's important, perhaps, for you to know that I tend to view many aspects of existence and behavior as being on a continuum. (For example, I think "sexual orientation" occupies a continuum: any given person at a given point in their life falls somewhere on it, to my way of thinking.) Let's leave that, in and of itself, alone for the time being. Rather, for now, it should suffice to know that one of the continuum lenses through which I tend to view people's beliefs is that of optimism-pessimism.
Straight up: I'm biased against pervasive pessimism (cynicism). Granted, I do think pessimism makes sense, and has a very logical utility. Plainly, I think pessimism is essentially a hedge against disappointment: It's a way of guarding oneself from the pain of an unfavorable outcome or development. It's a lot easier to move on from a failure, or from a negative development, if one assumes an attitude of expecting failures or negative developments from the get-go. And if something "good" does happen, it's a pleasant surprise; and even then, of course, the prevailing pessimism will prevent the person from letting their guard down in celebration *too* much.
I get it. I also get that people have very good reasons for developing such pessimism. But I think that, ultimately, pessimism is akin to the local crime syndicate offering a storekeeper "protection" for a price. In this case, the price is an eroded ability to envision and entertain life's possibilities and, therefore, an eroded ability to honor and manifest one's unique gifts. It's really the latter thing there that troubles me. Why? Because I think we're here to learn, grow, and share our gifts with the world as best we can; and it is upsetting and harmful, I believe, when there are impediments to those ends, particularly if they are ultimately within one's own control.
There's another point I'd like to make about pessimism as a pervasive perspective: I think it's simply easier for people to identify reasons why they (or another) *can't* pursue a goal/dream/desire than it is to seek reasons why they (or another) *can.* Practiced with enough doggedness, such habits of thinking engender the routine use of prophetic, truncating words like "should" and "ought" with respect to hopes, dreams, wants, needs, and reasonable courses of action. (Many people get into trouble when they establish unreasonably restrictive shoulds and oughts to govern their contemplative and action-taking processes.)
It is my position that a tendency toward seeking reasons why one *can* pursue what they want or need—i.e., an opportunity-focused perspective—better-facilitates one's ability to access the motivation to pursue one's wants and needs. Furthermore, an opportunity-focused perspective does not deny the existence of obstacles, disappointments, and setbacks; rather, it allows for them, it reasonably accommodates them, and, ultimately, it enables a person to navigate and move beyond them.
Now, none of this is black-and-white, of course, and it is not intended to apply to all things. Taken too far, the perspective I am touting could lead to very destructive behavior. There are some things people should not do—and I use the word "should" very intentionally here. I think the principle "do no harm" ought to rule the day, or at least be on one's personal Board of Directors. None of us are islands unto ourselves, and our actions do not exist in a vacuum. No, our actions affect others, and we have a responsibility to others by virtue of our wordly co-existence. On another note, I acknowledge that my perspective is biased: I am a White American Man, plain and simple. In theory anyway, I love the ideas of independence, individualism, and self-actualization. I've enjoyed the trappings and benefits of my circumstances, a fact which I happily "own"; and I acknowledge that my perspective may not be compatible with others'. But you know what? I think that much of what I'm saying is good and true, and my intentions are in service of well-being.
Thanks for reading.
Here's a link to my latest article on LinkedIn: "Goodwill in Higher Education." Thanks for reading!