Something we all need.
Optimism is having the courage to try things. It’s stepping into something because we hope it will be a good thing, without knowing what will happen.
We choose an optimistic perspective, one that supports us to bear the uncertainty of life and not automatically respond to unexpected situations with fight or flight. We learn to focus on what is healthy, positive, strong and well developed and not on what is potentially dangerous or potentially wrong.
Optimists experience life as more random. They have less anxiety, less stress and sickness — they live longer, are more creative, and are open to new ideas. Optimists “see more.”
An optimistic attitude allows us to put our energy and effort into creating a good next moment; one that represents what we wish for ourselves, our intimate others and the world. This means working for what we want to have happen — working, not wishing.
Optimistic people know how to live with uncertainty. They accept ambiguity as a fact of life, believing that the only thing we know for sure is the present. They know how to embrace it and not be victim to it.
Outcomes of an Optimistic Stance
Optimism creates positive energy. As energy gets generated and expands, possibilities emerge. We notice more things — we move — we experiment. When we are energized we are able to look at what is worth doing and what is worth trying. Research suggests that if you are moving and not stuck, you are healthier, both physically and emotionally.
Optimism leads to curiosity, which implies being interested. Being interested is an antidote to troublesome interpersonal habits such as stereotyping and caricaturing both of which bind energy and keep relationships frozen and narrow.
An optimistic orientation leads to asking questions and being creative; knowing the difference between a guess and a belief. It moves us ahead and generates the capacity to deal with whatever life hands us.
Optimism can lead to success and achievement. We are more successful when we are optimistic. Our brains are hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.
Optimism leads to hope. We articulate wants and create visions for the future, keeping out despair and depression.
Optimism leads to courage and courage transforms hope into action. Hope needs to be tied to realism, or it is not enough. Courage is concrete and focused and it leads to doing. Courageous individuals can generate the energy to live out their hopes as they enter the world of the unknown. (Sonia Nevis ~ It takes courage to get out of bed in the morning.)
Optimism gives us the strength to fail. Most creative lives are filled with failure. We all know about failure, but optimists are resilient and more comfortable with the disorganization that it brings. We learn from experience and move on, knowing that we don’t learn unless we risk.
We are born with an ability to reach out and explore the unknown. We are programmed with curiosity to engage with the uncertain future. This natural ability, if nurtured, results in a forward-leaning, open and interested orientation, an optimistic perspective.
We are also born with the polar opposite tendency, pessimism. Rather than being expansive, a pessimistic process is narrowing and restrictive. It is tense rather than relaxed, fearful rather than courageous, backward as opposed to forward leaning.
Both orientations have their appropriate place in each of our lives. Given the seemingly unsolvable conflicts that exist in the world today, one might view anyone who has an exclusively optimistic stance as being, at best, naïve.
Furthermore, and as neuroscience research confirms, our bodies are wired for pessimism. We are designed to respond to a sudden change such as physical danger with a fight or flight response. Identical reactions occur to psychological and emotional “threats” or dilemmas. Indeed our brains do not distinguish between physical and psychological pain. Uncertainty of any type may send our brains into a fight or flight response, physical manifestations include raised adrenaline levels, increase in blood pressure and pulse, shallow breathing, skin prickling, etc.
This flight or fight “design” is ill suited to contemporary times, for modern lives are filled with an unending bombardment of stimulation and environmental changes. War, displacement of large populations, environmental catastrophe, and economic swings appear constant. As one conflict diminishes another appears to take its place. Said simply, no longer are there hiding places from stress.
As our pace increases and as we try to do more and process more with the same amount of time words such as overwhelmed, stressed and burnt out become normal language. Modern life produces few natural resting places. One such place is embracing optimism.
The word optimism elicits many responses and calls forth its opposite, as in yes-no, confidence-doubt, open-closed and of course optimism-pessimism.
An optimistic orientation is positive both figuratively and literally.
• Do I think supportive thoughts or do I engage in negative self-talk that tears me down?
• Do I believe that things will get better or worse?
• Am I more often filled with passion, excitement, and enthusiasm, or do I often experience fear, dread, anxiety?
• Are my sensations loose and flowing, or do I feel blocked and tight?
• And finally . . .
• Do I lean forward with an open stance, or am I more often back on my heels and closed?
Of course we experience both sides of the above questions, which is merely being human. The real question is where do we land even more importantly, what do we do? This is where courage enters, for optimism consists of both hope and courage. Optimism, hope, and courage all overlap. How so?
Hope is primarily a wish. It is vague and unfocused and by itself does not provide the energy for doing as it can give the responsibility for change to someone else. Perhaps a family member, a work associate or peer, one’s manager, often a “higher power.” That said, hope is still important as it can keep people from despair.
At it’s best hope articulates wants and creates visions for the future. But hope alone is not enough to live well in the world. Hope needs to turn energy to action. That is the function of courage, which is the application of optimism.
Courage is more concrete, more focused, less general. Courage connects to action. It supports one to move and to behave differently. A courageous individual sees possibilities and can try new things. With courage we can let go of the old and enter the void of the unknown. We can let things fall apart supported by the belief that something good will happen.
Courage need not be connected to large heroic acts. Life consists of small moments, moments in which we choose to move forward or move away, to speak or not to speak.
Optimism can be learned, 5 things that help:
1. Have a strong social network..
2. Understand that everything that happens to us in life has both good and bad aspects.
3. Learn to see the positive in life.
4. Appreciate the small victories.
5. Keep yourself moving physically and in action.
In sum, optimism is about our orientation to the future. It is a mind-set that we can do more with what’s in front of us. In a world filled with chaos, confusion, and with increasing levels of uncertainty we must learn not only to bear not knowing what is to come, but to become curious and interested in it. Optimism, at its core is about how to live an improvisational life.
From the writings of Joseph Melnick and Sonia March Nevis with additions by Mark Koenigsberg