We Get What We Expect
(An excerpt from the bestselling series How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds, based on talks by Earl Nightingale)
I ran across a quotation by Norman Cousins I thought you’d find interesting. He said, “The prime fallacy of pessimism is that no one knows enough to be a pessimist.” I’m sure a pessimist would counter with the remark that if that’s true, no one knows enough to be an optimist, but this would not change the truth of the former thought.
The prime fallacy of pessimism is that no one knows enough to be a pessimist and regardless of whether this is also true of the optimist, we do know that over the long haul we tend to get what we expect from life.
Because we tend to get what we really expect from life. It makes a lot of sense to choose to be optimistic rather than pessimistic. How many times have you heard someone say, or perhaps have said yourself with my kind of luck, such and such is bound to happen – indicating that your like is generally bad and that you expect the worst.
Even when people find themselves enjoying a sudden stroke of good fortune, they’ll often say, well, it’s too good to last again indicating that they expect their fortunes in life. To be generally bad. Now this must be a hangover from times going back to the dark ages, and perhaps before, when life was a thousand times more precarious than it is today. As recently as a hundred years ago, if you cut your toe and blood poisoning as it was called set in, you could be a goner. The mortality rate for children was astronomical and almost as high for adults. If a person reached his 30th birthday, it called for a real celebration. In fact, birthday celebrations for any age took on importance simply because getting from one to another was no little achievement.
Now couple this with the almost total ignorance of the times, widespread illiteracy and lives governed by superstition, and you can understand why people tended to be slightly on the pessimistic side, but that’s in the past. And even then it was the optimists who were responsible for what little forward movement occurred.
Pessimists aren’t builders. They’re more often stumbling blocks. Instead of looking for the reason something can be done or tried, they tend to look for reasons why it won’t work. A pessimist is a real reactionary. He tends to go backward. He resists anything new and untried. He’s the person who says the bottle is half empty instead of half full, or that the weather is partly cloudy instead of partly sunny. He dwells on his past failures and forgets his successes. He’ll come up with a hundred reasons for not doing something instead of a single good reason for doing it. He likes to say no to people and as a result says no to life.
And getting back to that quote of Norman Cousins. Perhaps the biggest fault of the pessimist is that he thinks he knows more than he does. He doesn’t know about the power of enthusiasm and a good attitude. He won’t move forward until all the lights ahead turn green and thus never moves because all the lights are never green at any one time.
A person has to learn to be a pessimist. Children are the most wonderful optimists and think anything at all is possible. It must be in the home that so much of this natural enthusiasm dies or is killed. As George Santayana said, “We must welcome the future remembering that soon. It will be the past – and we must respect the past. Remembering that once it was all that was humanly possible.”
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