“Half Full or Half Empty?” is a commonly used metaphor to reflect one’s general perspective. It is an ideal example of how events in one’s life can be viewed with different meaning, and it reveals an optimistic, accepting style versus one that leaves a person resentful.
There are, of course, other expressions that emphasize acceptance, such as “count your blessings”. We often forget that having always good outcomes, a life without loss, and having everything we want, cannot be guaranteed, and that we are not entitled to it. It is a deep wish that most humans have of absolute safety in a world where that is impossible. Interestingly though, without any risk or fear, we would be bored. Watching a videotaped game where we know the final score might give you enjoyment, but it will never be as exciting or filled with joy as watching it live for the first time! I dearly recall the wonder I felt hearing certain songs for the first time, and being amazed at the new sounds, rhythms, and harmonies. I have been delighted by seeing a truly original movie, or been stunned by a plot shift in a novel. Once seen or read, it can never have the same impact the second time. Thankfully then, there are surprises!
“Wanting” can obviously lead to inspiration and drive to succeed. It can motivate us to achieve and acquire. On the other hand, at what point is that drive counterproductive, pushing us to blindly keep going without finding moments of satisfaction and pleasure. The phrase, “a locomotive is only as powerful as its brakes”, reminds us that having the capacity to regulate one’s strength is vital. If we are stuck in the “on” position, we are out of control. Control is having options and choices, including being able to go slowly, not achieve, to take joy in what one already has.
I worked with a client once who was expressing envy at some of his classmates who seemingly had more money than he. I asked him if he would randomly exchange places with one of his classmates, and he quickly answered “no”, since he was well above the 50th percentile in his class in income. It is so human to want “more”, to be jealous of the person next door who has slightly more land than you. I led a couples group with three couples in significantly different income levels; they ALL had financial problems, yet the couple with the least income could not fathom how that could be true of the wealthiest couple. Of course, they all spent more than they had, leaving each with debt beyond their means.
How do we learn or remind ourselves that money can’t buy happiness? How do we learn that very few become gold medal winners in the Olympics, and even if we are, we cannot continue to win that award every four years thereafter? How do we enjoy our lives, despite not being a Cover Girl model? What allows people in small homes the possibility of laughing more than those in mansions? How can someone earning less be more satisfied than someone earning more? I have often asked people how much less money would they be willing to make to enjoy life more? When does having more time become more valuable than more money? While working with a woman in her late 80’s, she deeply sighed saying, “if only I could be 75 again!” I initially thought she were wishing she was 25 again, but she said that being age 75 had been a wonderful year, including her capacity to drive, and travel with her now deceased husband. What a wonderful example of “half full”!
I typically ask people to complete an empty pie chart by filling in sections that reflect their ideal use of time; that is, making slices in the proportion that would satisfy them the most, including sections for work, family, solitude, avocations, exercise, rest, friends, and renewal. THEN I ask them to complete another pie chart that reflects their current use of time, noting the discrepancies with their first chart. The exercise forces one to deal with the limits of time, and also that some aspects of our lives are taking more energy than they deserve in gaining our ideal balance.
Gaining the capacity to view the our world with grateful eyes is a vital skill. It is associated with increased health, and reflects working with the world as it is, rather than through a prism of “perfect” which can lead to ongoing sorrow and anger. This is not to say that we should not ever strive to improve the world or ourselves, but it does remind us to appreciate what we have along the way.
People who are more accepting are usually less controlling, and it is operating with less pressure that more often leads to better sales, less heart disease, and smoother relationships. Having a “half full” perspective is not a passive approach, but an extremely beneficial view of the world. Perhaps “half full” is actually “completely full” in disguise? How do you look at it?
Harold Steinitz PhD.
Crane Rehab Center
Jayson DeLeaumount, DPT