How to See the Glass Half Full

Did you know that the saying glass half full or half empty exists in many languages, including but not limited to French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc.?  I will share where this first originated and what it means today.  Then I will explain how it is used to help people see things as positive instead of negative.

Around 1933 there was a quote from the linguist bulletin-board, and it said

“Two men were looking at a bottle of milk.” “said one with a groan,”
“The bottle is half empty." “Said the other with a grin, “The bottle
is half full.” " The first belonged to the courters of disasters,
forever bemoaning their losses; the second to the Invincibles who
win by counting their blessings.” source: Los Angeles Times, Feb 26, 1933, p. 14. This phrase is common in Europe among many generations, making it hard to understand how it is less than a century old. 

The Peace Corps used this in one of its advertising campaigns in the 1960s, and here is the quote as it appeared.

“Is the glass half empty or half full?  If you think it is half empty, maybe the Peace Corps is not for you.  If you think it is half full, you’ve got the first thing we look for in Peace Corps people, optimism.  If you want to know more about what it takes to pass the muster in the Peace Corps, write us.”

Not only was it popular with the two men looking for a bottle of milk., the Peace Corps, and also President Ronald Regan.  President Regan used this at a press conference on Feb 21, 1985, and said, “You can say it’s like saying, is the glass half full or half empty.”  Now you know how it became popular but may still be asking yourself what does it mean?

The glass is a metaphor for our perceptions.  Perceptions are derived or formed by what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and pick up from our proprioceptors.  Perhaps you have seen the number 6 on the ground, but then wait, you look back and say it’s a nine.  You move again and can’t agree on whether it’s a 6 or 9, as your belief changes depending on the angle you view it.  The one sense that many people often don’t understand is their proprioception. 

According to, proprioception lets you know where your body is in space by getting sensations from your muscles, joints, and tendons.  Each time our body moves, different receptors send data about the position of your body back to your brain.  Your brain then uses this data to work with your vision, nervous system vestibular system.  Our vestibular system is the link between our inner ear and brain that keeps our equilibrium or balance.

Did you know that an infection in our inner ear may cause an earache and affect our equilibrium and ability to stand?  We create a perception based on the data we get from our six senses and render it meaningful. For example, you might see a pizza maker at a restaurant and form an impression of how they should act in that role.  Perhaps you are at a concert, see several musicians with their instruments, and may include a deduction of how they should act while on stage.

Pretend you were outside near your home by a busy street corner for the walk light to illuminate.  While you are there, you can’t help but notice all the sounds from cars honking, birds, teens rapidly accelerating, smells of the outdoors, smells of the exhaust, the presence of any wind against your skin, etc.  Note that when we notice a sensation through our senses, it is just us being aware of it and a physical process.  When we collectively analyze and interpret these senses, a perception is made, which is psychological.

Dr. Dwayne Dwyer shared an exciting discovery that he learned from one of his mentors.  He said, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”  We must look at things as they are now, not how we think.  If we want to change our perspective, it takes patience and practice and will slowly become more apparent.    

Many reading this will probably be scratching their heads and wondering how I may see the glass half full instead of half empty. Take the problem you see and ask yourself how to make this an opportunity to get your creativity flowing and increase your positivity. One thing you should do is to be clear and set the intention you want to happen. Look for some ounce of optimism in everything you see, and do, and it will become a habit.  Another great thing to do is to listen to your favorite music, sing and see what is there instead of what is missing.

Lastly, stay away from people that will drain your energy. Maybe you have a friend who always seems pessimistic every time you visit.  A great thing to do is cheer them up and suggest we do something fun to improve your spirits.  When this happens a second time, let them know I used to enjoy hanging out with you, but you are not fun to be around anymore.  You recently have been negative, and I won’t hang out with you anymore if this continues.  If you meet a third time and it happens, say goodbye; they will either be shocked or not care.

Remember that no one has the right to put you down or make you feel inferior about yourself.  They will either drop away or change their attitude because they don’t want to lose their friendship with you. 

Thus, if you wake up in the morning and stub your toe, break an orange juice glass, spill some milk, or anything else unpleasant, release it; it’s a bump in the road.  Acknowledge it and say the rest of my day will be great as soon as it happens.  We don’t discuss the road you were on years ago where the car went over a bump.  Exactly, it’s in the past, and it was a momentary blip; thus, what you focus on will attract more of that in your life.




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