Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

Half Full Cup vs. Half Empty Cup—Optimism or Pessimism—That Is The Question

Will Edwinson PhotoA bit of trivia this week, folks. I’m always amazed at some of the screwball theories people up with.  One case in point is the “half-full cup” vs. the “half-empty cup.”  The half-full cup is supposed to represent optimism while the half-empty cup purports pessimism.   I wonder if  the psychoanalyst who coined that theory  might have been trying to relate it to the 23rd Psalm(“My cup runneth over”).  🙂

I kike to think of myself as an analytical thinker, so I don’t always accept at face value, everything I read or hear. I’d like to take a minute or two of your time to present the case that this psychoanalyst’s conclusion about full cup vs. empty cup is not necessarily valid.  I think the empty cup is getting a bad rap, and the full cup is overrated.  As I see it, he forgot to include one important element to his theory, that of perspective.

He allegedly placed a glass on the table containing water up to the half way mark. He then asked his patient to tell him if he thought the glass was half-full or half-empty.  He then drew a conclusion from the respondent’s answer.  A half-full response meant the respondent was an optimist; a half empty response meant the respondent was a pessimist.

Now here is where I believe his lack of perspective comes into play.  At some point before he started this test, the glass either had to be full, or empty, did it not? Was the psychoanalyst emptying the glass before he set it on the table, or was he filling it?  In other words, which direction was the water flowing when it reached the half-way mark?  Did he let the patient watch while he either filled or emptied the glass? Not seeing  this, the respondent could be both an optimist or pessimist according the psychoanalyst’s theory.

Looking at the half glass of liquid, the respondent could assume the glass was full to begin with,  and the psychoanalyst had poured water out of the glass. So if he said it was half-empty he would, according to the psychoanalyst’s theory, be an optimist,  would he not, because the goal would have been to empty the glass.

Conversely, he could assume the glass was empty to start with and the psychoanalyst had been filling it before he put it on the table. If he gave the opposite response and said that it was half full, he would still be an optimist, because the goal would have been to fill the glass. So you see, it’s a matter of perspective.

An example of a half-full response that would make the respondent a pessimist(according to this psychoanalyst’s theory) might be a boat.  Let’s say people are cruising a lake in a large boat.  They hit a rock that lay just under the surface of the water and put a hole in the hull.   The boat begins to take on water.   Someone exclaims, “Good lord, the boat’s half full of water.  We’ll sink for sure. Is this the expression of a pessimist or an optimist?  They plug the hole and begin to bail water.  After a while someone says, “we’re making headway, the boats half empty now.  Is this the expression of an optimist or a pessimist?

I believe this theory defies logical analytical thinking, something a psychoanalyst should be promoting.  In my opinion, without a little perspective provided,  any conclusion drawn from a respondent’s answer to the “is the glass half-full or half-empty” question is totally meaningless.  Sometime a full cup is good, sometimes an empty cup is good, depending on how you look at the situation.  It’s a matter of perspective.

So next time you hear someone say his or her cup was full, stop and think about that.  What did he really mean?  Was he being optimistic or pessimistic. His cup  could be full of sweet water, or it could be full of sour vinegar depending on how one chooses to hear it.  🙂

LouIsa Cover PhotoNow, on another matter, I have a new novel coming out later this year.  If you go the top of this page and click on the “Books” link, you can read a little bit about LouIsa—Iron Dove of the Frontier.  She was a very intriguing lady with many sides to her personality.   I think when you read her full story, you’ll find her to be a fascinating lady.  There’s a good reason why I call her the Iron Dove of the Frontier.

Right now, I’m a little over half way through correcting all the mistakes in the manuscript the editor found.  So I guess I could say my manuscript is now half-empty of mistakes.  Should I be optimistic or pessimistic about that. 🙂








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