Glass Half-Empty? + What The Hell Is Polly Anna?

Glass Half Empty? + What The Hell Is Polly Anna?

Are you a ‘Glass Half-Empty’ Person?

Do you worry too much, have a tendency to see the negative side of things or miss opportunities that are right in front of you?

Occasionally I get a little email from one of our lovely readers asking or suggesting a topic I might want to write something about here on Life’s Too Good. Sometimes these are very specific problems or a little off-topic for the site so I’ll help via email, but any time I think that it fits the site & will benefit others, I’m going to write about it and share it on the site (try me).

This happened recently when Paula asked for the following:

“Some thoughts on continuing to be a glass is half-empty person when increasingly we’re living in a polly anna world.”

Introducing Polly Anna

So, though I could infer what I thought Paula meant with the expression ‘polly anna’, I have never heard the expression before so, obviously, I googled it. Here is what wikipedia has to say about it:

…The novel’s success brought the “Pollyanna principle” (along with the adjective “Pollyannaish” and the noun “Pollyannaism”) into the language to describe someone who seems always to be able to find something to be “glad” about no matter what circumstances arise.[citation needed] It is sometimes used pejoratively, referring to someone whose optimism is excessive to the point of naïveté or refusing to accept the facts of an unfortunate situation. This pejorative use can be heard in the introduction of the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin song But Not For Me: “I never want to hear from any cheerful pollyannas/who tell me fate supplies a mate/that’s all bananas… (full article)

So in short optimism – sometimes to excessive and naïve degrees – aka Glass Half-Full, sometimes overflowing and spilling all over the place making a right old mess.

Thanks Paula for teaching me an expression I’ve never heard.

Now I fully understand what you’re asking, let’s have a look at it…

First, High Level Thought

First of all, I would suggest that in general we all have plenty to appreciate about life and the opportunities we have all around us.

Also, a lot of the problems we create are about perspective and come from spending too much (thinking) time in the future or the past rather than in the present where we should be.

A More Direct Answer To The ‘Glass Half-Empty’ Query

As Paula knows (from our emails and the way she worded the suggestion in the first place), there isn’t one.

There can obviously be a great deal going on behind this ‘glass half-empty’ statement, it’s fairly generic and we have to appreciate in life that everyone’s situation is different.

Pause for thought: This happens to me often – I’ll be in company where somebody judges somebody else because of something that is said, or even their general demeanor. What is a universal truth is that outside of that specific encounter they can’t possibly know what else is going on in that persons life – e.g. an otherwise happy person could be judged to be a misery just because of a momentary encounter. In the particular example I have in mind a close friend got into some arguments (not her fault) at her (and my) son’s football match. Parents shouting at each other and acting like children. What the other parents didn’t know is that this particular friend of mine had just gone through a relationship break up. If they had have known my friend better or had known that she’d just gone through break up, perhaps (well, at least I would hope) they would have been more sensitive.

… so everyone’s situation is different.

Therefore I’m not going to answer this directly and it would most likely be off-the-mark if I even tried, because I am not familiar enough with WHY you are a glass half-empty person – i.e. where it comes from (personality, circumstance, passed on beliefs, deliberate approach…).

What I can do and think would be more useful is to offer some perspectives on this. It really is a huge topic (because we are talking about the topic of ‘belief’) but I will give you 4 different perspectives to consider which should help (I usually LOVE looking at things in 3’s but you get a bonus!).

The Practical Perspective – A World Of Opportunity

Let’s face it, we do live in a time where there is more opportunity than ever.

We also live in a time where there is more prosperity than ever – overall and on average, ‘poor’ in most places around the world is less poor than it was, say, 50 years ago. Yes, I know we have had a global economic crisis, I know there are some very poor people in the world, but in general (always dangerous to generalize Alan, didn’t you know that?) our living standards have improved all over the planet.


People who have access to technology (specifically the internet) have opportunity like never before – I recently tweeted about an article which shows 100 useful websites that you probably didn’t know existed. Most, if not all of these (I haven’t had a chance to look through all of them) are absolutely free. Here is the article in question:

That’s just one example with a free list of 100 useful things. Who knows what else is out there – and the opportunities are multiplying faster than I can type this.

A little exercise: Please take a moment to consider the following:

Think of all of the things that we can get now relatively inexpensively that used to be much much more expensive. I bet you can come up with a bunch of them if you put your thinking cap on.

How much did you use to have to pay for a word processing package for example – and how much can you get a decent one for now assuming you were watching the pennies?


Connecting with people is easier than ever and we all know that through networking (not sleazy, annoying networking, but genuine, care about the relationship, things in common networking) great things can happen. In fact I have an entirely separate site dedicated to just that and to helping you very specifically with networking. If you want to check that out it’s here:

If you join the mailing list for that site, you won’t get a mail every time I post an article, but rather a structured series of brief mails in a very logical order to slowly build your networking skills and confidence – free networking training for busy people effectively – because I think in that case, that’s the best way to help people with that subject. Also, because it’s a networking site, it’s not just me but I aim to have every other article on the site from experts in the subject – because it’s a fascinating one – especially in today’s fast evolving world – covering networking, relationships, being genuine, beliefs (and how they relate to networking & relationships), social media, online vs offline networking – basically anything to do with the subject of (genuine, good) networking.

So between advances in technology and communications, the world being a smaller and generally more peaceful place than ever (aside from any discussion about our hapless politicians) – yes we still have a way to go (perhaps thanks to some of those hapless politicians and their corrupt ways) but it’s surely without doubt that we are living in an age where there is more opportunity than ever.


We don’t need help with things as much as we used to – we can buy or sell our own house without an estate agent, we can start our own business in the blink of an eye, we can create our own website in 3 minutes flat…

… the only thing to be mindful of is that because it’s easier than ever to do all of these things, that means everybody can… that means the barriers to entry are low to completely knocked over… that means it’s increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. There are of course solutions to this too but that’s a discussion for another day (or let me know if you want to have that discussion and we can).

The good news is that all of those ambitions you had: write a book, start a business, learn a new language… you name it – you can do them – you always could – but now you are closer to fulfilling your ambitions than ever.

The Psychological Perspective – Limiting Beliefs

We all have limiting beliefs to a greater or lesser extent. These can be healthy, fleeting and harmless or deep-seated, irrational and dangerous. Obviously it;s the dangerous ones we need to look out for.

What is interesting about limiting beliefs is how they can evolve and really take hold of us without us ever really realizing how much influence they have over our lives and choices. Take for example the belief that a lot of us have that ‘I could never get up on stage and present to a crowd of people’ – you’d be surprised by the things such a belief can cause people to avoid, but also by how easily such a belief can be overcome. Also how much importance gets attached to it once acknowledged as a limitation but how little importance it really has (e.g. do you really need to be able to present to a crowd, what if it were a group of 4-5 people, what if it were around a table instead of from a stage… with the right approach, the limitation can always be overcome either by realizing it’s not as important as it has been built up to be or by taking small steps toward building confidence and overcoming the limitation).

The point about limiting beliefs is that we all have them, it’s completely normal. Even really famous people we would see as mega-successful have limiting beliefs, but what they are able to do is draw upon their experience where they know they have overcome these feelings before and that allows them to embrace these feelings for what they are and move forward.

For more on the subject of Limiting Beliefs and a couple of really really useful exercise to overcome them, check out these articles:

and for a little (personal example) on taking small steps, on focus and enjoying the learning journey:

The Psychological Perspective II – Law Of Attraction

The law of attraction basically states that if you just believe, then it will happen.

e.g. if you believe that you will have an abundance of riches (a common ‘wish’ for people who attend the seminars preaching this kind of stuff) then you just have to believe with all your being – i.e. send your intentions out into the universe – and the universe will answer you and all the riches will come flowing to you.

As long as you believe with all of your being.

I’m not going to go into depth on this – you can research the law of attraction yourself – but I’m a little cynical of it. Mainly because I have seen too many people who put too much faith in this and end up believing themselves into financial ruin – and then believing some more. They are flat broke – worse – and they still chant into the mirror (if they still have one) every morning, reaffirming their beliefs that the riches of the world are going to come flooding to them.

There is a fine line between positive self belief and delusion.

Self belief is a powerful and wonderful thing and will get you a long way, but it has to be balanced with a dose of reality.

That being said, I do think there is some truth in the law of attraction. If you have enough belief in something that will influence the chances of making it happen, but you have to add to that two more ingredients: Knowledge and Action. Belief alone will probably not get you there (though it will certainly help).

I recently came across an article that I quite liked which was a similar concept and also reminded me of a book I read (“Monsieur Ibrahim et Les Fleurs Du Coran”) where a little boy was told that whatever happened to him in life he should always smile – that way people would be kinder to him. The article, from Vishnu, is an alternative approach to the law of attraction and I really like it:

Whether the law of attraction, Vishnu’s approach or your own, there is something to be said for positive thinking and positive behaviour attracting good things and more opportunities to you.

Just think about it – if you see someone who always seems to be happy, optimistic or positive are you more or less inclined to want to work with them/get to know them/like them than if they look miserable, angry or pessimistic.

It’s pretty amazing what can be done with a little belief, but as we’ve said above, belief alone can be a flawed approach, particularly if it is disproportionate – then it becomes delusion.

The Philosophical Perspective – Cicero’s 6 Mistakes of Man

When it comes to philosophy (and believe me, I’ve read a LOT), I have yet to find anything that beats the Cicero’s 6 Mistakes of Man – check out this article for the full list:

Before I started writing this article, I made a mental note to include a word or two about Mistake #2 in Cicero’s list:

Cicero’s 6 Mistakes of Man #2: The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.

which is something that I talk about a lot – because a lot of people, including myself are guilty of this. Worrying about things that we can’t change or that might never happen. The amount of energy we spend worrying about some of these things!!

It also reminds me of a chinese proverb that I love. That one goes like this:

If your problem has a solution, then why worry about it? If your problem does not have a solution, then why worry about it?

In addition to this though, which I already ha in mind and wanted to highlight, this #2 mistake that I’m all too familiar with, it occurred to me when taking another quick look at the 6 mistakes in the aformentined article, that mistake #3 also relates to the ‘glass half-empty’ idea and to the self belief (or lack thereof) that we covered above:

Cicero’s 6 Mistakes of Man #3: Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.

So I would strongly encourage you to check out Cicero’s 6 mistakes, it’s a bit of text (6 lines) that will take you moments to digest but a piece of philosophy that I believe beats any book.

In fact, a lot of contemporary best sellers are only really regurgitating one or more of Cicero’s 6 mistakes or a variation on them.

Think of the time it would take you to read an entire self-help book. Instead, spend some time giving these 6 simple lies some consideration, particularly (in the case of the glass half-empty discussion) numbers 2 & 3, and then obviously – as they’re mistakes – try to avoid them!! It will still take you a fraction of the time it would take you to read a book but be much, much more valuable as well as being something you can refer back to and which will serve you well time and time again.

About Cynicism

A little cynicism is not always a bad thing. It can be the difference between naive and savvy, between getting a good deal and getting ripped off.

I have to admit that I have a very real and very pronounced cynical streak running through my core which may seem odd having cited all of the above perspectives.

That being said, it has to be the right dose of cynicism. In big business for example, you should strive to be politically savvy without being political. In negotiations, exercise due diligence and negotiate hard to get the best deal but without mistrusting so much or being so risk averse to get no deal at all.

So whilst admittedly a little cynical myself, I would definitely still describe myself as a glass half-full person.

You can definitely still be positive and optimistic whilst being cynical enough at the right times and in the right circumstances to avoid being a push-over.

Balance & Perspective

Like most things, it’s all about getting the balance right.

Allow yourself to get a little philosophical about it, consider it from a few different perspectives, challenge your own thoughts and approach and see where you end up.

Final Thought

These days we have every reason to be positive, because we live in a world of amazing opportunities and possibilities, because it’s been proven time and time again the power of self-belief when applied and used right (and conversely how damaging limiting beliefs can be) and because it just doesn’t get us anywhere worrying about things that might not happen or that we can’t change.

So consider glass half-full – consider whether in fact you do have plenty of reasons to be more positive and optimistic about things…

…but remember that as well as being positive about what you have so far (the half that’s full) and optimistic about getting the rest, you still have to take action and do something to fill the other half!

People often make the excuse that they don’t have the resources (usually meaning the money but this could also mean the time, the education, the knowledge, the motivation, the energy, the ability or the relationships) to achieve a certain thing. This is rarely true. The problem is often one of perspective, because they think they have to have, i.e. own the resources – but you don’t necessarily have to own the resources, you just have to find them.

Is glass half-empty ever a better approach than glass half-full? I don’t think so, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…


Glass Half-Empty? + What The Hell Is Polly Anna? — 1 Comment

  1. If you’ve never heard of being a Polly Anna, have you heard the term Panglossian? That means about the same thing and it also comes from a work of fiction. Anyway, nerd moment over.

    Personally speaking, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. I like to see the good in the world and feel that most people are good. On the other hand, I know that not all people are good and there is some bad in the world too. So I don’t think I could ever see the glass as completely full. There’s is always room for skepticism and cynicism, even if just minor amounts. You don’t want to be too optimistic or else people can take advantage of you. It’s a balancing act.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *