“Inside every cynical person is a disappointed idealist.” 

        -George Carlin

Chances are, you weren’t born cynical. You just imagined something different.

You imagined a world better than what it actually is. One where people would be less self-interested. Where your efforts would be rewarded. Where you’d have a job you loved, numerous friends, and the confidence to carry on.

Things haven’t turned out like you’d hoped.

People have lied to you. You’ve tried things and failed. Your job is so-so. You could have more friends. It’s tough to find the confidence to carry on.

Now, you just call yourself a realist.

But there are two types of realists: the cynic and the positivist.

They have their realism in common. But one always comes out ahead.

I know that because I’ve been both.

I hope that by sharing how I learned to practice positivity and how much happier I’ve become, you’ll feel encouraged — and ready — to leave cynicism behind and make the transformation yourself.

Woman raising her arms while facing a sunrise.

The One who Said “Enough”

I started out as an idealist.

I believed everyone was honest, because what was the point in lying? I believed the best outcomes were not just possible, but probable. I believed I could have it all.

Life challenged my beliefs.

In school, people told me I was the smartest, so I should take the reins on group projects. At first, I felt complimented and proud.

Later — when I realized my peers just wanted to take advantage of my work ethic without contributing themselves — I felt offended.

In dating, people told me things they didn’t mean. One said, “I think you’re my person.” The look in his eyes said he meant it.

He asked me to have dinner with him on Valentines Day in a few days. I said yes. He never showed.

In my professional life, I pushed — hard. I dedicated three years to law school and two to practicing law. As an attorney, I realized I’d been working towards something I didn’t want. I’d been trained to assume the worst, and prevent it from ever happening to my clients. Pessimism was an asset.

Cynicism was the outcome. Once it took hold of me, I didn’t know how to think without it.

The light I’d always seen at the end of the tunnel got dimmer. I worried that, one day, it’d go out forever.

I knew I had to change course before it did.

Broken jar on the beach with lights inside symbolizing replacing cynicism with positivity.

The U-Turn Every Cynic Must Make

I knew I had to start practicing positivity. I had to kick my cynicism to the curb.

But I also had to ensure it didn’t return. To do that, I had to understand what made it feel welcome in the first place.

At first, I blamed my cynicism on life. On the free riders, the insincere bachelors, and the proponents of pessimism. “Reality” had done me in.

But then I thought of all the great things I hadn’t focused on.

The peers who thought I was smart, but carried their weight on group projects.

The bachelors who looked me in the eyes and told me what I needed — not wanted — to hear.

The people who lifted my spirits when I couldn’t lift my own.

I had been dimming my own light, all this time. Not life.

So I took responsibility for my outlook. I knew it was in my hands.

That’s when I realized I had the power to change it.

Trading Pride for Peace

My word is my bond.

The “realist” in me has always been proud of that. But the earnest promises I had made to myself over the years were the very things holding me back.

I had promised myself that I would never be shocked again. If someone was dishonest, or if I failed at something, or if a bad thing happened in my life — I’d just shrug. Heck, maybe I would’ve even expected things to not pan out.

I’d also promised myself that if “reality” happened, I’d slog through it all. Because I needed to accept the way things were.

I went a long time thinking the bonds I had made were unbreakable. I thought if I broke them, all hell would break loose.

If I followed my heart, I risked heartbreak. If I held someone to their word, I risked feeling naive. If I thought I could achieve anything, I risked crashing and burning.

If I took on all of those risks, one of them was bound to become real.

But my cynicism — posing as a defense mechanism — got me to a point where something had to break: me, or the bonds I had made.

I chose to break the latter. Only after I made peace with this decision was I able to actually break those bonds. Positivity set me free.

Woman kicking foot towards camera while smiling symbolizing replacing cynicism with positivity.

Breaking Unbreakable Bonds

I forgave myself for breaking promises I never should’ve made to begin with.

I congratulated myself for welcoming uncertainty back into my life.

I let myself feel excited about the successes that lay ahead.

I also stopped viewing “reality” as something to slog through. Instead, I saw it as something to navigate around.

I didn’t take on the role of tortured prisoner. Because my reality was changing.

And I was the one changing it.

The Flexibility of Reality

“Reality” isn’t as inflexible as people make it out to be.

Sure, people who fight reality directly will lose. But those who maneuver around it? Or seek to change it? That’s a different story.

Instead of letting “reality” weigh you down, work around it. Know you can come out on top. Know you can even change your reality.

To illustrate: let’s say you’re waiting for a subway train. You’ve got to get somewhere on time. The train arrives, filled with people. You’re not sure if you’ll fit. Then the doors open.

You have a choice.

You could be the ultimate cynic. You could figure there’s no way you’ll get on; there’s too many people. You could wait for the next train, and the next, until a more “realistic” opportunity presents itself.

Or — you could practice positivity

You could approach the entrance. You could ask people to move this way and that. You could nudge a few. You could pack yourself in like a sardine.

As a positivist, you’re not ignoring the crowd of people. You know they’re there. That’s reality. You just believe you can operate within that constraint. You believe you can fit.

You can also seek to change your reality, where possible. You can hop on an earlier train or choose an alternate form of transportation.

In either case, positivity will help you get where you want to go.

Woman smiling and raising her arms into the air with positivity.

What Positivity Did for Me (and What It Can Do for You) 

My life changed drastically after I let positivity take over.

I spoke up to encourage teamwork. Not just in group projects, but in everything else. I believed in the unique value each person could offer. I trusted people to do their part.

I surrounded myself with people who believed the same. Those were some kick-ass teams.

I also spoke up in my relationships. I expressed my needs because I knew I was worth it. I didn’t fear things not working out.

I was positive that the right relationship would. I’m now in the happiest relationship of my life.

Finally, I spoke up in my professional life. I told the partners at my law firm that attorney life wasn’t for me. Were people surprised? Offended? Weirded out?

Hell. Yes.

But I was positive I was making the right choice. I had faith I could do better. Be happier. Live more.

Now, I have a job I love. I feel like I can breathe again.

Do bad things still happen? Sure. Life will always have its ups and downs.

But the ups are much easier to see, now. And the light at the end of the tunnel is so much brighter.

It feels wild to do a 180 on your life, but it’s entirely possible. Just like more minor adjustments are. With the power of positivity, it’ll be worth your while.

Woman smiling in bed with her arms raised

Re-Ignite Your Light

To replace cynicism with positivity, you have to take some chances.

You have to take a chance on yourself. You have to believe you’re in control of your outlook. You have to believe you can change it — and your “reality.” And you have to take the first step.

You also have to take a chance on others. Because they’re not just there to disappoint. They’re also there to surprise and inspire you.

You then have to realize you’re not really taking chances. Bad and good will happen, no matter what choice you make. You just have to focus on the good.

You can expect good things to come from the unexpected, because ultimately, they will.

And when they do, give them the attention they deserve. Because those are the things that will help brighten your light.

Even if you’re the ultimate cynic, and your light has gone out, know this:

You have the power to re-ignite it.

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