You Can Fight Pessimism

HOW do you view the setbacks you experience? Many experts now believe that the answer to that question says a great deal about whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. We all suffer various hard trials in life, some of us more than others. Why, though, do some people seem to bounce back from hardships, ready to try again, whereas others seem to give up after even relatively minor difficulties?

For instance, imagine that you are looking for a job. You go to an interview and get turned down. How do you think about this event afterward? You might take it very personally and view it as a permanent problem, telling yourself, ‘No one would hire someone like me. I’ll never get a job.’ Or, worse, you could let this single setback color your view of every aspect of your life, thinking, ‘I’m a total failure. I’m no use to anybody.’ In each case, such thinking is the essence of pessimism.

Battling Pessimism

How can you fight back? Learning to recognize such negative thoughts is a vital first step. The next step is to fight against them. Look for reasonable alternative explanations. For example, is it really true that you were turned down because no one would hire you? Or is it possible that the employer was simply looking for someone with other qualifications?

Using specific facts, expose those pessimistic thoughts that are overreactions. Does one rejection really mean that you are a total failure, or can you think of other areas in your life​—such as your spiritual pursuits, family relationships, or friendships—​where you have a measure of success? Learn to dismiss your more dire predictions as mere “catastrophizing.” After all, can you really know that you will never find a job? There is more you can do to push aside negative thinking.

Positive, Goal-Oriented Thinking

In recent years researchers have developed an intriguing, if rather narrow, definition of hope. They say that hope involves  the belief that you will be able to meet your goals. As the next article will show, hope actually involves much more, but this definition seems useful in a number of ways. Focusing on this aspect of personal hope can help us to develop more positive, goal-oriented thinking.

If we are to believe that we can meet our future goals, we need to build up a record of setting goals and meeting them. If you feel that you do not have such a record, it may be worthwhile to think seriously about the goals that you set for yourself. First, do you have any? It is all too easy to get caught up in the routine and bustle of life without stopping to think about what we really want out of life, what matters most to us. Regarding this practical principle of establishing clear priorities, we again find that long ago the Bible said it well: “Make sure of the more important things.”​—Philippians 1:10.

Once we set our priorities, it becomes easier to pick some key goals in various areas, such as in our spiritual life, our family life, our secular life. It is essential, though, that we do not set too many goals at first and that we make each goal one that we know we can readily reach. If a goal is too difficult to reach, it may daunt us, and we might give up. Hence, it is often best to break down larger, long-term goals into smaller, short-term ones.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Thus runs an old adage, and there seems to be some truth in it. Once we have key goals in mind, we need the willpower​—the desire and the determination—​to strive to reach them. We may strengthen that determination by contemplating the value of our goals and the rewards that will come to us by reaching them. Of course, obstacles will arise, but we need to view them as challenges instead of dead ends.

However, we also need to think of practical ways to meet our goals. Author C. R. Snyder, who has made an extensive study of the value of hope, suggests thinking of multiple ways to reach any given goal. Thus, when one way does not work out, we may resort to a second, a third, and so on.

Snyder also recommends learning when to trade in one goal for another. If we are truly blocked from reaching a goal, brooding on it will only discourage us. On the other hand, replacing it with a more realistic goal will give us something else to hope for.

The Bible contains an illuminating example in this regard. King David cherished the goal of building a temple for his God, Jehovah. But God told David that his son Solomon was to have that privilege instead. Rather than sulking or trying to persist in the face of this disappointing development, David changed his goals. He threw his energies into collecting the funds and materials that his son would need in order to complete the project.​—1 Kings 8:17-19; 1 Chronicles 29:3-7.

Even if we succeed in building up our personal level of hope by fighting pessimism and by developing positive, goal-oriented thinking, we may still have a profound deficit when it comes to hope. How so? Well, much of the hopelessness that we face in this world comes from factors completely beyond our control. When we contemplate the overwhelming problems that afflict mankind​—the poverty, the wars, the injustices, the ever-looming threats of sickness and death—​how can we maintain a hopeful outlook?

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If rejected for a job you wanted, do you assume that you will never get a job?

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King David showed flexibility when it came to goals