The stock exchange and the economic news seem to leave little room for optimism. People everywhere are under a continual onslaught of bad news. No wonder more and more people are getting depressed. Under these circumstances, how can you stay positive and optimistic? Well, this is the time to put “intelligent optimism” to the test.
I argue that optimism is a quality that anyone can learn. True optimism isn’t about denying reality against our better judgment. And optimism is not the same thing as idealism, which also reflects a tendency to push up against harsh realities. The idealist is chasing after a big ideal and runs the risk of big disappointment.
Intelligent optimists don’t deny problems, but adjust to them, while still seeking an opportunity for progress. Intelligent optimists don’t allow themselves to get carried away by circumstances they can’t change, but focus on things that are within their grasp and that they can enjoy. My favorite quote is from the diary of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew who wrote a journal describing her life in a Nazi death camp: “Today we walked along little German roads past lilacs and roses.”
You learn to become optimistic by concentrating on things that give you a sense of satisfaction, and you remain an optimist by feeding those things to make them grow. Intelligent optimists also know that for every problem there is (at least the beginning of) a solution and that the search for that solution can be inspirational in itself. They are also not afraid of negative thoughts, which they realize offer some protection and help them stay realistic.
It is not surprising that very little research has been done into factors that influence optimism because science is generally not interested in happy people. Nonetheless, many psychologists and psychotherapists believe that the aptitude for optimism is not genetically determined. In other words: Anyone can learn to be optimistic. All it requires is courage and practice, along with a good grasp of reality. Positive examples around can also help: People associating with others who are optimistic become optimistic themselves. And just as children of depressed parents are more prone to depression, psychologists believe the reverse is also true. Optimism breeds optimism.
Here’s a helpful affirmation for these challenging times:
What I have, is enough.
What I am, is enough.
What I do, is enough.
What I’ve achieved, is enough.
This consciousness teaches you to value what you have and to enjoy the moment–which is the beginning of a satisfied and optimistic attitude towards life.
Optimists understand that change is a given. History teaches us that unpleasant circumstances ultimately fade away. But change is a slow process, one person at a time. So there’s no point in getting depressed about any current situation. Optimists can enjoy a half-full glass in an imperfect world. In other words: Optimism is a choice.