Every day on my lunch break at work I eat with the same woman. And every day I listen to this woman complain and nit pick and gossip and place blame and whine and whine and whine. She is one of the most pessimistic people I’ve ever been forced to spend time with. The negative energy oozes out of her, and it takes all of the mental strength I can muster to shield my generally optimistic self from her pessimism.
Pessimism is contagious. And I don’t want to catch it.
Optimists are the rays of sunshine who typically expect a favorable outcome. Pessimists are the sour pusses who see all the bad in the world. Of course, there are varying degrees of optimism and pessimism, but we all fall somewhere on the Optimism/Pessimism Spectrum.
I can’t say that I see sunshine and rainbows all the time, but I definitely lean more toward optimism than pessimism. I try not to excessively complain, I try to see the best in even the worst people, and I try to see the good in every situation. I think being a military spouse has helped my optimism in a way. After all, most of the time we mil spouses don’t have much of a choice in certain matters that directly affect our lives, and if we don’t try to make the best of the hand we’re given, we’d fall apart.
I think being a teacher has also helped me to be more optimistic. Oddly, one of these lessons in optimism came when I was knee-deep in my first round of report cards. I had no trouble assessing my students and assigning them grades. It was the comments section that killed me.
“Remember the sandwich,” a co-worker advised me. “Always sandwich a negative in between two positives.”
For some students, coming up with positives about their work ethic or academic strengths or behavior poses no problem. But there are always those students who really make you think, who challenge your instincts to label them as the trouble-makers or the daydreamers or the bullies or the chatty Kathies. Sometimes, when you’re forced to find the good in someone, even if it’s only one good thing, that’s all you need to see them in a different light.
Our position on that Optimism/Pessimism Spectrum affects so many aspects of our lives, including our behavior, the people we attract, our interactions with others, our overall mental health, and our general perspective on life. I think of my co-worker, how I avoid her at all costs in the hallway, how some days I would prefer to eat alone in my car than share my lunch break with her, how depressing her life must be when she can’t seem to find the good in almost anything, and I’m thankful that I’ve taken up residence at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Pessimism is contagious. But I’d like to think that optimism is too. Maybe my co-worker will catch my optimism one day. In the meantime, I’ll continue to build up my immune system to fight off her pessimism. I’ll also enjoy the yummy food she always brings to the monthly potlucks. (See, I can find the good in anyone!)