Optimism isn’t an exclusive club. It isn’t an unattainable attitude. It isn’t even a phony, rehearsed way to get on people’s good side. No, optimism is a better way to live. It maintains relationships. It’s a healthy coping mechanism for life.
The dictionary definition for optimism varies from source to source, because it’s hard to simply define it. Dictionary defines it as focusing on the positives of an event and anticipating the best outcome or as the belief that good always prevails over bad. The Cambridge English Dictionary interprets it as being hopeful and hoping that things go for the better. The Oxford Dictionaries stick to the definition of confidence of the future of something or success and as the philosophy that this world is the best possible version that there could be.
One thing that all of these definitions have in common is the hope in the good of the world, but the world isn’t good. That’s not positive idealism. Anybody can see that the world isn’t doing as hot as it could be. Whether it be watching on the news a family lose their house to a hurricane or seeing yet another person covering scars on their arms walking the halls, it’s clearly visible that not everything is right with our planet. Pain, loss, and disappointment lurk around every corner. Children and fools think the world is at its best. A true optimist understands that life on Earth is a roughly-made trail filled with scattered traps, snares, and pitfalls, yet still has hope and can find the value and benefits in each experience or trial. It’s a harsh but true reality.
The real definition of optimism is more emotional and less distinct. Certainty in life’s good isn’t an effortless state, it takes intent and surrender to the world. You have to accept that the world doesn’t cater to you and that it’s your job to find meaning in experiences. Real positivity is grasping that everything may not be obviously in your favor, but searching for what is instead. Most of the time, it takes retrospect to find the positives of a situation.
For example, two summers ago a two year relationship ended unceremoniously with a note. At the time it was hard to see anything positive about the situation. In fact, it was devastating for a while and I felt the worst about myself that I had up to that point. Looking back though, it helped me to form my independence and dependence on God, not only relationship-wise, but in the world. It helped me to realize that people do have faults and I let myself explore more of my interests and learned more about what I want my future to be like. In the time after the break-up, I wandered away from God and gave him some of the blame as he was one of the reasons she stated she wanted to break it off. This led to me searching for and finding my own understanding of Christ rather than what I’d been told by church-breds all my life. This led to a revolution in my faith as a Christ-follower and has put a new passion for life in me. I wouldn’t take back any of those experiences. Ever.
Another example of hindsight optimism is when I was bullied throughout elementary and middle school. I was one of the shyer types earlier in life and had some strange interests that weren’t as popular with the “in” crowd. The “popular” boys didn’t take too kindly to these and I was pushed around and insulted because of them. Of course at the time it was an awful feeling, and it didn’t stop no matter what tactic I used. It wasn’t until I gave up the fight and started laughing with them and holding my head high again that the bullying began to fade away. As it faded though, my confidence filled where it had been. It caused my personality to skyrocket, from shy boy to drama-student levels of sociability. I don’t support bullying at all, in fact I’m firm believer against it, but in my case, it made me a better person. I owe my extroversion and sociability to bullying. It’s all through retrospect that I could find these positive takeaways.
Optimism in everyday life starts as a small change in behavior. It takes mental (or even verbal) self pep talks and tweaking our behavior to find the plusses in our circumstances. Eventually, positivity leaks into our habits naturally. It honestly improves our mental well-being and confidence. We become more pleasant people to be around and the world becomes just a bit more rosy. Once we truly realize, and I mean actually believe, that every situation has an upside, it’s hard to justify hopelessness anymore, let alone pessimism.
A personal example of this is when I tried out for the school play hoping for another big role after a successful performance in an earlier play. Unfortunately for me, I was given a very small role this time around that at first left me disappointed. My first thoughts were not exactly praise of the director’s casting, but soon I caught myself and tapped into my optimism reserve. Instead of complaining to my friends, I did some introspection and got to grasp that the casting should switch around to give everyone a chance, that’s how I got my big break! I started getting interested in what our director would do with the casting this time and about all the freedom in having a smaller character, I didn’t have to memorize as much and could play with character ideas. It just takes effort to tap into your inner optimist and twist a situation in your favor to make your life infinitely better.
I’m in my seat in the classroom, barely making the bell again. I’m exhausted from staying up the night before attempting to crank out another essay and trying to study for Physics and Psychology afterward. After finishing at 2:30, I decided to have an ill-advised, late-night workout session, leaving my body to feel like a heap of trash at school. But that doesn’t affect my morning. I enthusiastically get to work on other homework, relieved that I don’t have to worry about writing the essay I did late last night or the tests I’m now prepared for. My body doesn’t feel great, but the pain reminds me that my muscles will regrow stronger, bigger hopefully. I’m pumped that I beat the clock and ready to tackle the rest of the day. Just another positive day.
Positivity is one of, if not the, best ways to cope with life’s issues. It hones your mental and emotional resilience as well as your enthusiasm for life. It begins with identifying the positives of your situation when you feel down. Some might say it’s denial, but that’s not real positive thinking at all. It’s is accepting the weight of a situation, but instead of falling into traps of fear, anxiety, or despair, discovering the opportunities and plusses of it. Without looking for the advantages of your circumstances, you fall deeper into the pit of self-pity. Optimism is not blindly believing that things will work out for the better either. In reality, you can have positivity even when you know you’ll fail. Honest cheer for life is justifying your circumstances with the good things.
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” This simple yet boundlessly wise statement by the fourteenth Dalai Lama perfectly captures the biggest draw to the glass half-full state of mind. With positivity, you live with fewer regrets, leading to less stress, and therefore a healthier life. Meditate on that. If it’s cynicality you chose as your way to cope, good on you. I still invite you to at least try on the rose-tinted glasses for a while, because for me, optimism is the only way to truly feel alive.
Works Cited - Accessed 11/10/17
“Definition of ‘Optimism’ - English Dictionary.” Optimism Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.
“Optimism.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/optimism.
“Optimism | Definition of Optimism in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries.
“A Quote by Dalai Lama XIV.” Quote by Dalai Lama XIV: "Choose to Be Optimistic, It Feels Better."