Optimism is not facile cheerfulness. Most people would define optimism as being eternally hopeful, endlessly happy, with a glass that is perpetually half full. True optimism means being in touch with reality. Realistic optimists are optimalists — not those who believe everything happens for the best, but those who make the best of things that happen.
Being optimistic does not mean shutting out sad and painful emotions. Optimism has a more creative function. Instead of focusing only on righting wrongs and lifting misery, true optimism fosters good mental health through constructive skills. Optimism helps us to strengthen our strengths rather than improve our weaknesses. It is not enough to clear away the weeds and underbrush. If we want roses, we have to plant a rose.
A true optimist is aware of the problems but at the same time looks for the solutions; knows about the difficulties, but believes that they can be overcome; sees the negative, but accentuates the positive; is aware of the challenges, but is bold and daring to face them with a smile.
One of the first thinkers to articulate the philosophy of optimism was Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “Think not so much of what thou hast not, as of what thou hast; but of the things that thou hast, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly they would have been sought, if thou hadst them not. At the same time, however, take care that thou does not through being so pleased with them accustom thyself to over-value them, so as to be disturbed if ever thou shouldst not have them.”
Optimism enhances patience, increases energy and steels the will. It is a perennial source of inexhaustible enthusiasm. True optimists are real winners in the battle of life. Optimism teaches us this lesson: Don’t shoot butterflies with rifles. Don’t make tragedies of trifles.
Some great optimists
Robert F. Scott and his companions: Robert F. Scott and his companions were the first Englishmen ever to reach the South Pole. Their return trip was probably the cruellest journey ever undertaken by man. Their food was gone and so was their fuel. They could no longer march because a howling blizzard roared down over the rim of the earth for eleven days and nights — a wind so fierce and sharp that it cut ridges in the polar ice. Scott and his companions knew they were going to die; and they had brought a quantity of opium along for just such an emergency. A big dose of opium, and they could all lie down to pleasant dreams, never to wake again. But they ignored the drug, and died “singing, ringing songs of cheer”. We know they did this because of a farewell letter found with their frozen bodies by a search party, eight months later.
Edison – The incorrigible optimist: Thomas Edison suffered a big loss of 2 million dollars when a fire destroyed his factory. He was sixty-seven years old. “There is a great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God, we can start anew”. From these words of Edison we can learn the lesson that even when things don’t go our way, there is no need to be depressed. We can get up and fight. No failure is final or fatal.
Prof Dr. John Mathews is a professor of English Literature and Philosophy. A motivational speaker and columnist, he is the author of The Wisdom & Power of Positive Living and An Encyclopaedic Treasury Of Positive Thoughts For Effective And Creative Living.