We’ve all heard the question: Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? If you are the ‘half empty’ person, the really good news is that optimism can be learned, and you can be drinking from that ‘half full’ glass after a mere month of daily practices!
Optimism is NOT about expecting only good outcomes or good things to happen. It is about looking on the bright side when things go wrong or so-called ‘bad things’ happen. Pessimists can often be heard saying that they are simply ‘realists.’ But what is realistic is that life includes both good and bad things and what is more important is what you do in your mind with both the good and bad. The tendency is often to fixate on the bad and not even notice the good. This is a bit about personality but it is also a lot about learned habits. And as stated earlier, habits that can better serve you can be learned. Here is an adaptation of a positive psychology exercise called Finding Silver Linings as applied to caregiving.
Practice: What is another way I could look at this?
- First, write down 5 things in your life that make you feel that your life is enriched, worthwhile, and enjoyable. This will bring you into a positive state of mind about your life in general.
- Now, think about a time when something in relation to your caregiving went wrong or didn’t go as planned and you felt impatient, frustrated, or upset. If you can’t think of a time, then please tell us your secret(s)!
Describe the situation in a couple of sentences (or longer if you are so inclined).
- List 3 ways some good came of this. Write these down, whether it is in a journal, on your phone, or computer—just write them down somewhere!
Here are a few examples:
You missed a doctor’s appointment
- We didn’t have a chance to write down/discuss our questions for the doctor beforehand.
- It really drives home my need to get more help.
- The weather wasn’t that great anyway and I didn’t have to deal with it.
- I know the person is being cared for 24/7.
- It gives me a bit of a break.
- It is an opportunity to have a family discussion about care needs.
My father had his driver’s license revoked
- I know he and others will be safer.
- I have peace of mind.
- There are lots of transportation options these days.
Optimism’s First Cousin: Hope
Optimism and hope are obviously related as they are both about the future. Hope is not helpful if it is wishful thinking or blind optimism because it sets us up for disappointment. Hope is helpful when it is grounded in actions you can take, which brings a sense of empowerment.
What do you hope for in the face of caring for someone who has a chronic and progressive illness or disease? That is, when the initial hope that the person will recover or be cured is dashed, what do you as a caregiver hope for?
Dr. Feudtner, a pediatrician in a children’s oncology department in Philadelphia, has done some important research and clinical work with families and provides us with some valuable wisdom that can be applied to caregiving:
- People don’t have just one hope, but have a number of smaller hopes. As a caregiver, what are your smaller hopes?
- When faced with progressive diseases, parents want their positive feelings also acknowledged. While there is always sadness, there are also positive feelings, such as love for their child and other children. Caregivers, what positive feelings are you experiencing?
- Hopes are related to goals, and these goals are informed by your values and what is important to you. As a caregiver, what is important to you? What are your values? How does what you are hoping for translate into a goal?
Imagine having a conversation with the person you are caring for about what each of you are hoping for. This can inform decision-making and has the potential to bring the two of you closer. These conversations can be hard to begin. However, the potential benefits far outweigh the initial discomfort.
Hope can be quite powerful. Its opposite, despair, will stop us in our tracks, while hope gives us energy and mobilizes us.