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Is it Better to Be Optimistic or Positive? (Yes, there's a difference)

When I was a teenager, I had a big ol’ crush on Michael J. Fox. I loved him so much, I rewrote the lyrics to Mr. Sandman to make them about him (Back to the Future fans will know why I chose that song).

It went something like this: “Mr. Sandman, send me a dream, Michael J. Fox, in his blue jeans.” There was also a reference to his nose being like a ski jump, but I won’t sport with your intelligence by going any further into that.

And yes, I did send it to him.

Suffice it to say, I really liked him. Still do. Everyone does.


The consensus seems to be that it’s because he’s so damn optimistic. Pathologically so. Since his diagnosis with early onset Parkinson’s disease, he’s written books with titles such as Lucky Man and Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist for god’s sake.

The thing is though, I don’t really buy all this optimism stuff. In fact, I don’t think Fox is particularly optimistic at all. In a recent interview, he even admitted that he doesn’t expect to see a cure for Parkinson’s in his lifetime. That’s not the kind of thing an optimist says.

No, I think Fox is something much more powerful than an optimist. He’s a positive person.

What’s the difference you ask?

Optimism is the belief that things will generally go the way we want them to. It’s reliant on external forces – things that are beyond our control. Optimism requires that a miracle happens and then everything works out.

Positivity on the other hand, is the belief that no matter what happens, we will have the inner resources to handle it. It arises internally from an authentically powerful place. If things work out, great. If not, we’ll be okay anyway. We’ll figure it out.

Fox knows he’ll always have Parkinson’s, and that his disease will continue to progress. In his own words: “Things don’t always turn out. Sometimes, things turn shitty. My optimism is suddenly finite.”

Yup. Sometimes things turn shitty. But Fox knows that despite this, he’ll live the best life he can. Rather than believing in miracles, he believes in himself and his love for his family and the purpose he finds in his foundation.

Above all, he is grateful for those things. And isn’t that everything?

Now take a look at your own life. Are you waiting for a miracle? Or are you developing the inner resources needed to thrive no matter what comes your way?

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