Brighten up your life: 3 Tips from Thomas Edison on Living Optimistically

This guest post was written by Derek Ralston of Life Evolver.

Imagine this- you are a highly successful, innovative entrepreneur, and one day, a raging fire burns six of your factory buildings two the ground, and guts seven others, costing you $106 million dollars. Insurance will only cover 30% of the damages. What would you do? This is exactly what happened to Thomas Edison in 1914 (dollars of damage adjusted to today’s value).

Edison responded to the fire by proclaiming he would resume manufacturing within ten days and began mapping out his rebuilding campaign immediately. While others saw the fire as a huge devastation, Edison saw it as an opportunity and saw the possibility of new direction and improvements in his factory design. He even used it to take advantage of the new factory design developed by Henry Ford. Edison’s life is a perfect example of living optimistically.

The Case for Optimism

Dr. Martin Seligman, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, and author of Learned Optimism, has studied optimists and pessimists for 25 years. His research has found:

Optimists

  • Less depression than pessimists
  • Better results than pessimists in most areas of life
  • Longer lifespan
  • Healthier than pessimists
  • Better than pessimists at work and in school
  • More friends and better social lives

Pessimists

  • More depression than optimists
  • Inertia rather than activity in the face of setbacks
  • Feels bad subjectively–blue, down worried, anxious
  • Poor physical health
  • Self-fulfilling; pessimists don’t persist in the face of challenges and thus fail more frequently, even when success is attainable
  • Even when pessimists turn out to be right, they still feel worse than deluded optimists

Seligman’s research also determined that optimism is something that can be learned, so if you are currently living pessimistically, the good news is that you can change!

Now that you see some of the benefits of living optimistically, here are three tips from Edison on living optimistically:

Tips from Edison on Living Optimistically

1) There is no such thing as a failure- there are only unexpected outcomes which will provide valuable guidance for future work

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. -Thomas Edison

Edison believed that most people gave up to soon and walked away from success, accepting failure. He viewed negative events as temporary setbacks on his inevitable path to success. To live like Edison, coach yourself to not take setbacks personally, and instead think of them as temporary glitches on your way to success.

2) Decide with full commitment to accomplish something

Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point when it looks impossible, and gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. -Thomas Edison

After trying 10,000 times to develop an electric lamp, Edison proclaimed, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Without Edison’s full commitment and optimistic attitude to develop an electric lamp, the solution may not have discovered until much later. When you are fully committed, providence moves in. William H. Murray wrote about this in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.

3) Look on the bright side of everything

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. -Napoleon Hill

Imagine how Edison’s family, employees, and investors would have felt if he responded negatively to the devastating factory fire mentioned earlier in this post. When you look on the bright side of everything, as Edison did, you and those around you are better able to persist through many of life’s challenges. You can make the conscious choice to focus on the bright side or the dark side of anything in life- and your focus will often become self-fulfilling.

Derek Ralston’s blog Life Evolver (feed) to snag more helpful insights into making positive, sustainable changes in your life.

Leave a Comment

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • amnigos July 29, 2008, 6:34 pm

    Wish I should have read this post six months back then I would have closed down my startup but now I am learning from mistakes and will start the journey of my dream again very soon.

  • amnigos July 29, 2008, 2:34 pm

    Wish I should have read this post six months back then I would have closed down my startup but now I am learning from mistakes and will start the journey of my dream again very soon.

  • getheadspace July 22, 2008, 6:37 am

    Nice post, Derek. I have discovered that it is important to simply keep moving. When life looks a little dark and grim, it helps a lot just to get busy – with whatever it is. Just moving shifts the gloom and allows you to take the next step.

    albert@Headspace
    http://thoughtsintime.co.za

  • Bart B July 16, 2008, 4:31 pm

    Nice article Derek!

    It's interesting to look at some of the giants of achievement and illuminate a little about their success. I reminded a bit of Benjamin Franklin when he said, ” When you're finished changing, you're finished.”

    The greatness in men and women seems to develop and evolve when they meet serious challenge and defeat. If Edison had got it right the first time, I wonder if he'd had done anything else?

  • Troy Malone July 16, 2008, 1:36 pm

    Edison's view on failure is exactly what a successful person is thinking. There is no success without failure. I once hear a CEO tell his troops: “Now let's get out there and make some mistakes and failures. Then we will be all the closer to our vision of success!”

    This view of failure is what has brought mankind this far. If Edison had not persevered through the 10,000 “failures” we would not have the light bulb!

  • maddy July 16, 2008, 9:23 am

    Great advice – not getting bogged down by negatives makes it much easier to move on after those “unexpected outcomes”.

    • Glen Stansberry July 16, 2008, 5:07 pm

      Very true. Also, creating an environment that allows for more unexpected outcomes (creativity boosting activities/times) helps too.