Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Optimism

My sons,

When you get to a certain age, it becomes quite common for most people to have fairly well-formed (and often strong) opinions on the passage of time. Some hate it, perpetually longing for a return to the glory days, a time long past where things were undoubtedly better. People in this camp tend to live for and live in the past, often keeping trophies of a time gone by, memories of a time when they were at their prime. They run around romanticizing the past, of simpler times, of more prosperous times. You’ll recognize them by their speech, their rhetoric - “I can’t believe I’m another year older!”, “where has the time gone?”, “things were so much better back then”, or even, “we need to make things great again”.

And then there’s the other camp. The camp that believes that the best is yet to come, that tomorrow will be better than today, that values all the phases and experiences that life has to offer. These people are marked by their forward-facing demeanor. They are characterized by their unwavering focus on the future, their can-do attitude, their creativity, and their desire for progress. These people run around painting grand and lofty pictures of what the future ought to look like, and in fact could look like if we worked together to reach for it.

Incidentally, there is in fact a third camp; a doomsday camp that believes the past was terrible, but that the future will be worse, so you should only live for the present. This camp is much less interesting, so we won’t bother with them.

The thing with our two groups of interest is that they both desire for the future to be great. However, their focus and approach is entirely different.

Romantic reminiscers

Those who find solace in the embrace of the past tend to resonate strongly with the concept of romantic reminiscing, and often have a strong sense of nostalgia. This cognitive bias embellishes their memories, leading them to think that the past was objectively great, when really what they’re actually tapping into is the feeling of novelty and of greatness in their own past experiences.

One of my favorite shows as a kid was Saved by the Bell. I was absolutely in love with Tiffany Thiessen, and I spent many a daydream wishing that my adolescent experience was more like Bayside, and that someone so perfect as Kelly would wander into my life. Years later after I had graduated from College and the show had been long since done, my brother and I saw the DVD collection on sale at Fry’s, so we picked it up and brought it home.

It. Was. Terrible.

Like, really bad. The acting was quite rough, the lines were cheesy, the costumes were comical at best… Really, the only thing that still held up was Tiffany Thiessen. (Incidentally, I also loved her performance as Elle in White Collar). Needless to say, after watching one or two episodes, we promptly put the DVDs away and never pulled them out again.

We all do this though, don’t we? We reminisce about the past - and rightly so! Those of us that were fortunate enough to grow up in safe, loving, and supportive homes that allowed us to blossom into the beautiful humans that we are now are truly blessed to have had those experiences, and it is a good thing to look back on them fondly. But that’s where it should stop - at beautiful reminiscing.

Unfortunately, maybe people stay in the past and have a hard time embracing the present as it is. They have an even harder time seeing the unknowns and uncertainty of the future. This fear of change - or as psychologists call it, “loss aversion” - is a fear that must be conquered, not a philosophy for enacting a return to bygone days.

Life moves on, and so must we.

Having faith for the future

Those who steadfastly look towards the future with unwavering optimism on the other hand, tend to possess a strong sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence. They expect positive outcomes and believe that the future holds greater promise, which in turn fuels their proactive approach to life. This in turn fosters the belief in their ability to shape their own destinies, and to overcome obstacles along the way.

This resilience, this ability to look to the long term, this faith that we have not crested the peak of human experience brings us several strong benefits.

  1. We don’t sweat the small stuff. When we have the mindset that tomorrow will be better than today, the small stuff that happens today is taken in context of a greater tomorrow and is able to more readily roll off our backs without doing much damage.
  2. We inspire and are inspired by others. When we focus on the promise of tomorrow, believing full well that we can make tomorrow better, we start to apply our not insignificant energies and resources toward that end. There is an innate desire in human nature to look upwards, to think big, to be inspired by grand and lofty visions. Since the dawn of the age mankind has looked to the heavens for inspiration, and has looked to individuals who seem to have a vision of what that heaven could be like.
  3. We are healthier. Believing in a better future means believing that future can come for us, and as a result we are much more likely to engage in health-promoting activities. We exercise more. We eat better. We prioritize our well-being, physically, emotionally, and mentally. We live longer because we believe we have more to live for!

Bringing others along

When we think of inspiring people, people who can rally a crowd, can move a city, can change a nation, people who can truly think big, we notice a few things about them.

First, they recognize that one camp is better than another. In fact, they don’t even see the camps as being at odds with one another. They understand that we are all different, and that’s okay! Their goal isn’t to find like minded people and isolate themselves from other-minded ones; rather, their goal is to understand one another, to see each other’s perspectives, and to have open and honest dialogue together.

Second, they know that in the deepest recesses of our hearts we all long for this world to be better. Whether our circumstances have caused us to be jaded or not is another matter altogether. Thinking big means that regardless of whether one is blessed with circumstances and experiences that have led them to see that the world can and will be better or if one has suffered much and can no longer see tomorrow as more than another opportunity for more pain, we unite, we inspire, and we bring each other along.

Lastly, they know that thinking big isn’t just about having vision. It isn’t just about having a grand and lofty idea that can change the world. It’s about taking the vision, sharing it with others, and letting it spread to others so that united we are better, and we can make our world better. Together.



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