The Half Empty Syndrome

The optimist sees the glass half-full, while the pessimist sees it half-empty. We’ve heard this before. We know that even thought the situation is the same, different people view it differently based on their emotional inclinations. But how can we begin to see the world as half-full? How do we take a positive attitude to situations? Does it mean we ignore the blatant errors?

Let us begin to understand the half-empty syndrome. We need to understand that this way of looking at life is rooted in two fundamental mental positions.

One, a strong expectation. That is, life must go in a way I say so. All other options are untenable. The holiday must not have any unexpected hitches. My partner must not do anything to hurt me. The bar is set at a very high level. Having high expectations in itself is not bad. It is good. It shows that one is aspirational. It shows that one doesn’t settle for the ordinary. The key though, is how does one behave when the expectations do not come to fruition? Do we get into a blame game? Do we wallow in self-pity or indulge in ‘other blame’? Our high expectations must accommodate the possibility that they won’t come to fruition. Such strong expectations of results push us in seeings faults in every situation.

Second, an expectation that the situation will satisfy us. This is the fundamental error we make. We think external situations can bring us happiness. But this is simply not true. Happiness can never be brought into oneself. It can only be expressed. And therefore must always exist in oneself. True joy is always in expression. Never in consumption, in grabbing, in acquiring. This is evident in man’s effort to acquire the ‘next thing’ that promises deliverance, that promises contentment. But as we all know from our personal experiences, that promised time never arrives. But that does not mean that man is condemned to a meaningless life of suffering. No. We can ‘find’ in creative expression – art, music, engineering, teaching, cooking, walking in nature. Any act brings us this joy provided we bring ourselves to it. The activity is secondary. But the act of bringing oneself to it is pivotal. Half-emptyers expect external situations to fulfil them. To be more precise , they expect perfection to bring happiness. In seeking perfection, they become imperfect – they become overly critical of others and extremely irritable.

How can we make the shift to start seeing things as half-full?

We can start by realising that we can never be happy if we are half-emptyers. There will always be something that is inadequate. Everything is inherently imperfect. And at the same time we seek to be free, content and happy. Then, we can begin to ask ourselves “In this imperfect situation, how can I find happiness? What can I do myself to elevate my spirit?”. Notice how the responsibility is shifted from the earlier – external -“I expect the world to make me happy” to oneself- “How can I find joy in this situation?”.

This shift in attitude takes time. But if embarked upon earnestly, one begins to see that one can find something interesting in every situation. A flight gets delayed by two hours? One finds a comfortable lounge chair and settles in into a long meditation. Or chats up fellow passengers and strikes an interesting conversation. Life is offering each of us plenty of opportunities to exercise our will, our ingenuity and express our creativity. We need to utilise that gift.

Try to make the best of every situation. And understand that nothing can ever make you happy. Nothing can fill you up completely, since you are always full – always ready to share – always ready to bring oneself creatively to each situation.

The sun sets over the rockies. South table mountain. Golden in the spring of 2023

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