By David Penney
By this Friday the sun will begin to rise before 8am – and by the following Friday the sunset will be closer to 5pm than 4pm.
Within a month we will begin to see the green shoots of spring flowers and the first bumblebees will emerge on sunny days, looking for untidy corners to start building their summer nests.
These seasonal realities may seem relatively inconsequential against the seemingly perpetual stream of challenges many of us are facing at the moment, but how we view the former tells us a lot about how prepared we are to face the latter.
One of the most common refrains to be heard around the recent lockdown is about how much harder it will be to manage in the cold and dank winter months compared to the beautiful late spring and early summer weather of the first lockdown last March.
It is a completely understandable expression of pessimism in light of all our experiences over the past 10 months but also reflects a mindset that focuses on the challenges of today rather than the opportunities of tomorrow.
As the great Winston Churchill said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
To be an optimist is to look at the world differently. To be optimistic allows you to react to problems with a sense of confidence and often with an ability to overcome them.
Optimists have a strong belief and understanding that negative events are temporary, have limited scope to impact the long-term direction of their lives and that all issues that befall them can be managed.
Of course, optimism can be repeatedly challenged – we are in a period that seems to be doing that on an almost daily basis – but by remaining optimistic is to look beyond events and focus on your assumptions that everything will work out in the end.
To be optimistic is linked to thinking positively but it is not the same. Thinking positively is undoubtedly the best way to live your life but there is a downside to always taking the positive view to the point of it being potentially destructive.
Being positive does not automatically make things ok – it can be a screen for challenges that are not being faced and can be a slippery slope to accepting mediocrity, both in our personal and business lives.
Indeed, being exceptionally positive is in many ways no better than being overly negative – we need to balance both extremes to live a life that has equilibrium and authenticity.
When we always think that everything is going just great, we lose that all important motivation to improve.
It is positivity that motivates us to respond to the moment, but it is optimism that provides us with the comfort and hope that there are better times ahead.
Positive thinking is about telling ourselves that everything is good even when it may not be whereas optimism accepts the truth of reality and looks forward to a brighter future.
The Four Pillars of Financial Freedom
It is this optimistic mindset that provides the fundamental underpinning of our four pillars of financial freedom – growing wealth, family, wellbeing and community.
Within each of these four pillars you can find a lessons that provide the support and reassurance that allow us look to the future with an optimism that invigorates our lives rather than leading to stagnation and paralysis.
When investing to grow wealth, the prevailing view will always be to take a long-term view and look beyond short-term fluctuations as has been reflected in the bounce back in the markets over the past 10 months.
By embracing a long-term orientation, we are reflecting an optimistic view of the financial markets, reinforced by experience and cold hard facts.
When it comes to wellbeing, optimism is the very essence of personal well-being. Our own physical health and those around us is more important than anything else in our lives and having an optimistic mindset can have a hugely positive influence on this.
Not surprisingly it is considered an important factor in the fight against depression and anxiety but there is also strong and credible evidence that it improves the immune system and can make you less likely to suffer from chronic disease.
Not everybody is naturally optimistic, but it is a state of mind that can be learned through a range of processes, not least by focusing on those important virtues of selflessness and a gratitude, virtues that are intrinsically linked to those other key pillars, family and community.
The dictionary definition states that to be to be selfless is to be more concerned about the wishes of others than one’s own, something we all do as parents or indeed as children, particularly as more of us join the so-called ‘sandwich’ generation.
While our feelings and actions towards our own families are often instinctive, we should also recognise in ourselves the effort and sacrifice we make to make their lives better. Serving other people, whoever they are, is inspiring, fulfilling and full of reward.
Gratitude is something that we have all probably had much more of in recent times as we have focused on the importance of community and those who have been such a support throughout the pandemic.
Gratitude is such a fantastic initiator of optimism and when you look at all the things that you are grateful for in your life, it is difficult not to be optimistic.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to deal with the challenges in our lives but the benefits of approaching life with an optimistic mindset undoubtedly allow us to solve the problems before us in a more calm and courageous way.
So whatever challenges you are facing today, remember that we are another day closer to the bluebells and daffodils emerging to remind us that a new and wonderful year of opportunity is upon us.