How you see things

Looking through a lens at a blurred green image and seeing detail of lovely green grass and trees.
image: iStock

Someone once remarked that I was deluding myself. He said I saw the world through ‘rose-tinted spectacles.’ 

It was quite a few years ago, before I began writing books and speaking. He criticised my aspirations as being unrealistic and my general attitude as not reflective of the true nature of people. ‘People in general are xxxxx’, is basically what he said. 

‘Everyone is out for themselves’, he proclaimed. ‘To think otherwise is naïve’, he asserted in a fairly aggressive, self-righteous tone.

I responded with, ‘OK then’ and I left it at that. He was firmly set in his mindset. He didn’t like me all that much so I didn’t see the point in saying much else.

I think that if I’d said that I was sorry that his experience of life had led him to feel that way, I’d probably have really got under his skin. It might even have earned me a punch in the face.

This happened when I was at school. I was being bullied at the time. He was one of the bullies.

But I would have had a point. Our experience of life conditions what we subsequently expect from it. If your life has been generally pleasant then it’s normal to expect more of the same. 

On the other hand, if life sucks for long periods of time, then it’s hard to see how it can be different. I suspect that was his experience. Afterwards, I wondered what had happened to him growing up or if things were difficult for him at that moment. 

Sometimes life feels like it’s beating you with a stick. It’s no wonder some people feel so cynical and pissed off at others who seem so brightly.

It’s hard to see people as kind if you’ve always been taken advantage of. It’s hard to believe that there are good people in the world when you’ve always been treated badly, or much worse.

Sometimes life dishes up too much of one thing that it’s hard to believe that something else is even possible.

How do you change such a belief? How do you get from a negative expectation to a positive one? And will it make any difference if you do?

Would it be naïve to say, Hope? Sometimes hope is all you have left. 

Depending on the circumstances, of course. I turned to hope recently. My Dad had a brain tumour and despite the obvious fact that things were declining week-after-week, I hoped, right up until the last few minutes, for some kind of miracle.

I didn’t get my miracle in the way I wanted it, but that doesn’t mean hope is pointless and stops you facing reality. Hope can help you feel less helpless. It can help you cope. And it can help you see things in other ways.

Some would say faith, that you just have to believe. I think it depends on the circumstances and the person. You don’t necessarily need to believe that you will get what you want. Sometimes, a workaround is to believe that you will always get what is best for you. That belief has served me well through my life.

It helps reduce your resistance to life. It stops you fighting against the flow of things. It helps you to go with the flow and in turn, with a bit of practice of that mindset, you learn to say Yes to what life presents. 

This dissolving of resistance turns almost any negative into a positive because it changes how you see it. This approach might not change the thing, but it changes how you see the thing, and that can matter quite a lot.

There are more practical approaches, of course. If it’s possible, then taking some clear and determined action can work wonders to change a set of circumstances. Feeling stuck somewhere, or with someone, or in a job that makes you unhappy, changes the moment you leave. But this sort of practical approach depends on the situation. Sometimes, changing a situation isn’t possible, at least within a hoped-for timeframe. All you can do, then, is change yourself.

Perhaps, as many believe, that’s the whole point of life. With such a view, life is then continually presenting you with opportunities to help you grow into the next version of yourself. Such an attitude helps turn most problems and difficult situations into opportunities.

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all way to turn a seemingly negative experience into a positive one because it mostly always depends on the person or their circumstances.

Sometimes, depending on the circumstance, the best approach is to refuse to allow people or life to change who you know yourself to be, no matter what it costs.

In other words, don’t let being treated unkindly make you unkind. It takes courage to remain true to yourself in the face of difficult circumstances. Be kind out of protest if you have to. Be kind out of determination if you have to. But don’t let someone’s unkind behaviour grind you down.

Sometimes, a silent prayer for someone can help. Again, it depends on the person and the circumstances. If someone is being unkind or unjust, it can help to suppose that they’ve probably been through a lot or pain, or perhaps are going through a lot of pain right now. Hurt people hurt people, as they say. That’s how I changed my perception of my ‘friend’ above.

You never know what a person is going through in their life, or what they have been through. Pausing for that moment of thought might not change a person, but it will change you. And it will change, in part, how you see the world in that moment. A little light where a moment ago there was none.

And it might then change what you expect from life, even if just a little.

How you see people and the world can even affect your health. Attitude can produce stress or spare us from it.

Research has revealed a link between attitude and stress and, subsequently, risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other research has shown a link between a person’s attitude and how severely they get the cold or flu. When researchers used nasal drops to expose 192 healthy volunteers to the cold or flu virus, they discovered that those who had a positive emotional style – a measure of how they emotionally meet challenges (e.g., do you meet challenges with a sense of calm and optimism or with irritation and stress?) – were much less likely to develop an upper respiratory infection than those with a more negative emotional style.

Having not only a positive attitude to life, but a positive attitude towards ageing and what it means for you, has even been found to add years to one’s life. 

When studying the attitude to getting older in 999 people over the age of 65, researchers found that those who had a more optimistic view of being older had, over the next nine years, a 77% reduced risk of dying from a heart attack and a 45% lower risk of death overall than those who had the least optimistic attitude.

Let me say that, for the record, having a positive attitude is not necessarily more correct than a negative one. They’re just relative positions around what is.

The point is that life tends to agree with us much of the time. It’s simply that if you see the world through rose-tinted or grey-tinted spectacles, life will present you with people and facts that corroborate your view.

We extract out of life – people, relationships, circumstances – the consequence of how we behave, which is often a consequence of how we see people or the world.

It’s not about what attitude is the ‘right’ one, but perhaps about which is the healthiest and which produces better results in life and gets you closer to what you want, whether that’s a thing, like some thing or circumstance you want, or a state, like peace, happiness or love.

Having a positive attitude just might help you navigate life differently and be a bit more sparing on the health of your mind and body in the process.

Attitude is usually a choice, even if it doesn’t always seem so. It might not be easy at first if you try to adopt a positive mindset, especially if life is hard right now and your expectations are more of the same. If the current in the river of life has pulled you one way, it can take a good deal of focus and determination to paddle in the other direction. 

But it might be worth it in the end. Even if you find it tough, remember the words of A.A. Milne in Winnie the Pooh. Christopher Robin told Pooh, ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think’.

Einstein once offered his thoughts on attitude and said that you can either view life as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle.

Whether it is or isn’t is beside the point. 

It’s how you see it that matters.

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7 Comments

  1. Frances on November 24, 2022 at 9:38 am

    Thank you David for all the work you do especially your articles on various topics. This particular topic really sits well with me . Since I adapted my thinking to gratitude and positivity I observe myself and I switch when I feel I’m slipping. I re-adjust my thinking and it works wonders. I’m also vet my conscious of the story I’m telling myself . I guard my thoughts and make a choice to not entertain anything that might upset this new found freedom … thank you David and God bless your life and your work .. frances

  2. Pippa on November 24, 2022 at 10:22 am

    I’m reading this when I’m at home with an unwell boy when I should have been going to a funeral. I’m sad but the wonderful lady who departed this well would see it as a bonus that I planned to go. She lived to 90. Having a bit of quiet time with my boy is the bonus!

  3. Yvonne Bostock on November 24, 2022 at 11:27 am

    Great article – thankyou. So clear – makes so much sense – and I love the fact that you add in, from you medical knwledge, the health benefits of being kind, caring and optimistic.

  4. Sue Rotheram on November 24, 2022 at 10:16 pm

    Wonderful message from this. My Mum always told me I was lucky and it has taken me years to understand that. Yes I am because she taught me to be grateful and whilst being realistic always stay positive. Her teaching has seen me through a lot of dark times. People say I am resiliant and strong but there are times when I have felt none of those.
    I am now in an incredibly calm and positive space. Now living with someone I knew at college 50 years ago. Life does move in mysterious ways but I am sure it is all due to positivity and staying strong.

  5. Laura Hope Cordell on November 25, 2022 at 5:48 am

    Thank you David, it’s so good to read your thoughts again after what I know has been a difficult time losing your beloved dad. I wholeheartedly agree that attitude makes a huge difference, and an attitude of gratitude can show us more things to be grateful for. Perspective is vital. I find the dandelion to be a perfect metaphor for how we see life. “Is it a weed or a wish?”

    We laid my beloved grandad to rest this week. He was always thinking of others, even when he’d had a stroke and his speech was very badly affected he struggled to communicate that he was worried he’d miss sending a birthday card for a neighbour who moved away years ago. Even when nurses were doing painful procedures, he’d be thanking them. The poem I wrote for his funeral included the verse:

    You’d always see the rainbow
    In spite of torrential rain
    I’ll try to uphold that attitude
    Until we meet again.

    I love how you recommend being determined to be kind, even when life (and bullies) are unkind to us. This attitude is what got me to set up http://www.kindness-community.com a global community of people spreading kindness inspite of how unkind the world has been to them. Many of our members have definitely been on the receiving end of life’s challenges but are determined to use their experiences to share kindness to make someone else’s day a little brighter.

  6. Deb Hawken on November 30, 2022 at 11:23 am

    I can’t thank you enough for this David. I’ve felt I’ve lost myself in recent times. I’m a youthful person who has been struggling against age identification. I’ve also been facing a number of issues that I’ve never understood, and I lost my optimism. I feel centred in me again. I first met you in Bath many years ago, and I can honestly say that was one of the luckiest days of my life. Thank you. Best wishes to you and yours.

    • David Hamilton on November 30, 2022 at 11:30 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Deb. 🙂 It’s so nice to hear that you feel centred in yourself again!! Best wishes to you and yours too.

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