Is that glass half empty or half full?

Why do we ask someone this question? Apparently we can use it to judge whether someone (seeing it as half full) is a positive, happy person and someone (seeing it as half empty) is negative or pessimistic or unhappy … that glass of water is trying to tell us that we should all be more optimistic, stop focusing so much on the bad stuff and look for the good. That’s pretty demanding for a glass of water.

Of course it’s true – optimists tend to thrive and be more resilient etc… but there is much more to what we see in that glass than just whether we are optimistic or pessimistic.

Our attitude/mood, whether we are optimistic/pessimistic at a particular point in time, whether we are sad, feeling worried etc… all depends upon a range of factors, many of which are out of our control. Of course, someone that has just dealt with the loss of a loved one is not going to be the most optimistic at that point in time. Of course, someone going through a divorce or relationship break-down is going to feel a bit sad. A person dealing with a chronic disease may not be the most optimistic at that point in their life… and of course that is completely normal. Looking at our state of mental health and how we look at the world at any particular moment as a reflection of our personality or character is completely unfair. We all have good days and bad days, we all have ups and downs and we will all sometimes see the glass as half empty and other times as half full …. sometimes we may be so busy/stressed that we might not even notice the glass at all.

What often does not get acknowledged when talking about mental health or about our mood and outlook is that we all sit on a spectrum – on one end of which is optimum mental health and happiness and at the other end of which are conditions such as severe depression. Where we will sit on that spectrum will not always be static. Where we sit on that spectrum at any point is also influenced by a range of factors, including what else is going on in our lives, our physical health, what we are eating, how much we are sleeping etc. So we cannot see a person’s mood or outlook at a particular point in time as an indicator of who they are. Of course, some people are generally more prone to be optimistic and others are more naturally pessimistic but an optimistic outlook is also something that can be cultivated later in life. Whilst genes and early life experiences play a role in our emotional resilience and outlook – resilience can be built up and outlook can be changed later in life through use of the right tools.

So let’s not just ask people if they are a glass half-empty or glass half-full person – let’s not try to simplify mental health as just another static personality trait… we should instead equip people with the tools and knowledge they need to know what they can do to start seeing the glass as half full more of the time and also let them know that it’s okay for the glass to sometimes be half empty – in fact that is normal for us all at some points in our lifetime.

Mental health isn’t as simplistic as optimism and pessimism, happy and sad …because we all sit on a spectrum of mental health that we will move up and down throughout our lives.

And anyway - maybe the glass is half empty and that is a good thing – because we just aren’t thirsty and wasting water isn’t good for anyone.