Driving back from my grandparents house one day with my parents when I was about 10, I noticed a sign for an “Optimists Club.” I questioned my mom about it and she told me it was a program that tries to bring out the best qualities in children through acts of service. We joked about what a “Pessimists Club” would be like. Maybe it would encourage kids to complain all the time and eat cookies for dinner. (That second one sounded pretty good to me!)
When I search for the word “realism” in Google, it is defined as “the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.” In practice, this seems to mean “the attitude or practice of focusing on the worst possible situation and being prepared to live with it anyway.”
Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda, said that we can tell if we have done the right thing or had the right attitude in a situation by it’s outcome. What is the outcome of realism? Of idealism? This might give you an idea:
Friends and relatives of mine who identify themselves as “realists” or “pessimists” are distinctly less happy, less healthy, and have much less appreciation for the beautiful things in life (at least they rarely mention them). Even the ones who are spiritually inclined have found the lowest-consciousness way of practicing it, and still do not seem to have found any peace of mind.
Those who consider themselves “idealistic” or “optimistic” are so much brighter and happier. Even if they are materially poor, their lives have so much richness and energy that people are drawn to them, even those that consider them naive.
If being idealistic can significantly improve our lives, then shouldn’t we make every possible effort to be that way? Or would that just be lying to ourselves; living in a fantasy world so we don’t have to face the harsh reality?
Parmahansa Yogananda, a yoga master and author of Autobiography of a Yogi, tells us that “life is a dream.” Of course, for those of us living it, it is real enough, with real consequences. Ultimately though, none of us is here forever. We all move on, whether to another life on Earth or a higher plane. Treating Earth as the only reality will only keep us stuck in it longer and will make it much less fun.
By this definition, life is, truly, what you make it. You may not be able to control the circumstances or your life, but you can choose your attitude towards it, which is what will determine to a large extent your happiness and enjoyment of life, and ultimately, your spiritual growth.