Half-full or half-empty: A positive shift

Would you consider yourself to be more of an optimist or a pessimist?

An optimist is one who tends to see things with a positive outlook, while a pessimist tends to see things with a negative outlook. Let’s use an old exercise to help make the determination.

If we were to place a glass containing approximately 50% of the liquid it is able to hold on a table before you, would you say the glass is half-full or half-empty? If you would say the glass is half-full, you would be considered an optimist. If you would say the glass is half-empty, you would be considered a pessimist.

If you, like me, would raise a number of qualifying and clarifying questions concerning the shape of the glass, the level of humidity where the glass is located and the levelness of the surface upon which the glass is sitting, we’re going to lump you with the pessimists. If nothing else, because we’re bumming out the optimists.

Several studies suggest the percentage of Americans that are optimists and pessimists closely mirrors the glass in the aforementioned illustration with about a 50/50 split. A cursory perusal of various media outlets and social accounts of friends and family would likely lead us to question these findings. My own personal experiences lead me to believe we are probably a bit more pessimistic than we’d like to admit.

Humanity has a built-in negativity bias. We are naturally drawn to that which is dramatic, sensational, troubling and terrifying. When we see, read or hear something negative, we are compelled to dive deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole in search of something to confirm or deny the negativity that confronts us. Conversely, when we come upon good news, we are much more likely to dismiss or miss it altogether.

In “The Power of Bad,” author John Tierney writes, “To survive, life has to win every day. Death has to win just once.” Unfortunately, that which is negative is much more captivating and compelling than the positive. We may prefer a half-full cup, but we’re more interested in a half-empty cup with levels dropping.

Our negative outlook is a survival instinct that historically has helped keep us alive, but it does nothing for our quality of life. The question we must ask is how do we overcome our draw to the negative? How do we shift attention from the empty portion of the glass to the portion that is full?

First, we need to stop serving as conduits for that which is negative. Don’t share the story. Don’t send the email. Don’t post that comment. We would all do well to take a moment to step away from the keyboard or to put the phone down to think about both the quality of the content we are about to post and the potential impact it will have on ourselves and others.

As Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” What we allow into our hearts and minds will determine what comes out of our mouths and off of our fingers.

Second, let’s turn an old adage upside down. Rather than see no, hear no and speak no evil, we make a concerted effort to see good, hear good and speak good. According to research, it takes five positives to overcome one negative. It’s not enough to just avoid or stop giving airtime to that which is negative. We need to replace it with that which is positive.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” A key part of our calling as Christians is to seek and to share the light of life, Jesus Christ, the ultimate good. We are to be heralds and harbingers of good, not just avoiders of evil. Through Jesus, the glass isn’t half-full, it is overflowing (John 4:14).

I often claim to be a realistic optimist. In truth, I’m a pessimist in denial. The world can be a very dark place. No matter how full we believe the glass to be, we can see that it’s half-empty. It is all too easy and we’re often too eager to complain about it. We absolutely need to be honest and aware of what’s going on around us, but the world has never gotten any better by someone just complaining about how bad it is.

The darkness is only overcome when we shine light. Evil is only overcome when good overwhelms it. And the glass only overflows when the living water wells up and out of our souls.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].