April 2, 2018

Forget the Half-Empty/Half-Full Paradigm & Try this Less Anxious Worldview.


There’s a rhetorical question so often repeated that it has the patina of philosophy. It’s a paradigm in which people are categorized as either seeing a proverbial glass as half-empty or half-full.

The idea is that an individual is predominately optimistic or pessimistic—things are getting better or things are getting worse.

This question is posed as if the choices are mutually exclusive. This is not profound wisdom; it is utter absurdity. There are more than two possible worldviews. For the sake of mental health, I reject the half-empty/half-full paradigm and suggest we all consider doing the same.

This paradigm is consistent with a culture that seeks to label people as either this or that. Republican or Democrat. Yin or Yang. Star Trek or Star Wars. Mac or PC. Us or Them.

It suggests a static state. That is, you are inherently in one camp or the other. It’s binary; you are a “one” or a “zero.”

Not so.

Here’s another idea: what if the glass contains exactly the amount it is supposed to contain in any given moment?

Drink that in. Go ahead and consider it. The next paragraph will be here waiting for you. And believe me, it’s okay to leave this column half-read then return to it after some reflection.


I wonder what possibilities occurred to you. Acceptance, maybe? Things are what they are. We may or may not be able to influence how much is in that glass. If we are able to influence the content of the glass, maybe we should then consider whether we should. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind.

Content is dynamic, always in a state of flux. Sometimes, the cup runneth over. Sometimes, all that remains are bitter dregs. Like everything else, it has cycles.

Consider whether having a full glass should be the objective? After all, what good is anything if the benefit of it is denied? Maybe the best approach is to empty the glass for the benefit of others and ourselves. Then, get a refill. Repeat as necessary.

Turn, turn, turn—and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Finally, another question comes to mind: just how many glasses are there? The rhetorical question is framed as seeing the glass as half-empty or half-full. Maybe the premise is faulty, just like the same premise used to describe our economy. Maybe there are lots and lots of glasses. I suppose one could argue that one percent of these glasses are completely full and the rest are nearly empty. But if there are lots of glasses, maybe content isn’t so finite either—the Federal Reserve doesn’t seem to think so.

But let’s get back to the idea of the glass being “just right,” because I have evidence.

You know that moment when your carefully measured proportions of coffee, creamer, and sugar are exactly in balance, then somebody does you the “favor” of warming your coffee. It was perfect but somebody assumed that it would be better if full.

Or that pair of jeans that’s well-worn but not yet ragged—perfectly comfortable. Or that steak that completely meets your expectation of “medium rare”—absolutely delicious. Or the car that has no more payments and at least another 50,000 miles to go—sweet! Or porridge that is neither too hot nor cold—just right.

This may prove to be a less anxious worldview: accepting things are what they are, realizing that they are subject to change, understanding that there’s not just one glass, appreciating the present, living life absent the forced perspective of being either optimistic or pessimistic, and finally, being content.

It may be well to consider the glass just right.



Why Non-attachment is one of the Keys to a Happy Life & Relationship.

Acceptance is Not Resignation


Author: Kevin Qualls
Image: Norwood Themes/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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