Is the glass half empty or half full? - From Flickr user dieselbug2007

You’ve surely heard this before. Optimists will typically look at the glasses above and say that they are half-full. Pessimists, on the other hand, will look at those exact same glasses and say that they are half-empty. Who is right? Is the glass half empty or half full?

If you see the glass as half-full, you could be viewing the world through a couple of rosy lenses and you may have a positive outlook on life. You may believe that you will achieve your goals and you live your life accordingly. By contrast, if you see the glass as half-empty, you may take on the Homer Simpson philosophy: “If something’s hard to do then it’s not worth doing.”

In reality, seeing the glass as half-empty or half-full does not matter nearly as much as the size of the glass that you bring to fountain.

Think about it this way. If you bring just a thimble to the fountain and fill it to the brim, you are really only collecting a teaspoon worth of drink. That is not going to quench your thirst and you will ultimately be disappointed. You may even complain about not being able to get enough to drink. By contrast, if you bring a huge beer stein to the fountain and you only manage to fill it up half way, you are walking away with a lot more drink than the guy that brought the thimble.

It’s all about perspective.

Flipping the previous argument on its head, consider this similar analogy:

Going back to the fountain with a thimble, you discover that your thimble is overflowing with liquid refreshment. You were barely expecting to fill that thimble and now you have more than you could have ever imagined. By contrast, if you approached the fountain with a five-gallon jug, fully expecting to fill that thing to the brim, and then you only manage to fill it half way, you could walk away disappointed. You expected the world and only got half of it. Lowered expectations could lead to greater happiness.

I remember reading a study somewhere that said that Danes are the happiest people in the world. High taxes and high standard of living aside, it seems that Danish people approach life with rather low expectations. In this way, whenever they find any success, they can extract a great deal of joy. By contrast, Americans are led to believe that they should be chasing the American Dream. Growing up, they are taught that the sky is the limit and that they can do whatever they want. Naturally, the vast majority shoot for the stars and fall very short of these extreme goals.

Is it better to carry a small glass or a big glass to the fountain, then?

On the one hand, you will likely end up with more to drink if you bring the big glass, but you may end up more disappointed because you weren’t able to fill it. On the other hand, you may end up with a happier experience with the smaller glass, even if you end up with much less fluid on a quantitative level.

What do you think? I might have to walk around with two glasses, it seems.