Optimism as a Step Into Hope

Recently, in one of the weekly "life talks" I offer I spoke to the matter of hope. You can check that talk out by going to www.ordinarylife.org under the podcast menu. The title of the talk is "I Only Want to Hope You."

Had I had the time and space I would have contrasted hope with optimism. They are different. Perhaps, if we know more about what optimism is, we can have a platform to step off into the realms of hope.

What makes people optimistic? What are the behaviors and beliefs of those who are optimistic?

For one thing, optimists are seldom surprised by trouble. They know that life is not the way it’s supposed to be. Life is the way it is. The way we cope with "what is" is what makes the difference. This doesn’t mean that optimistic people go around giving themselves phony pep talks.

Optimists seek for something to do about their situation because they know that there are no hopeless situations in life. There are only people who grow hopeless about situations in life. That is to say, optimists are people of action. They don’t look for perfection because they know there is no such thing.

Optimists believe they have control over their future.

Optimists allow for regular renewal. Without regular periods of rest and renewal, re-creation, meditation and prayer — call it what you will — we simply aren’t going to experience life at its fullest.

Optimists interrupt their negative trains of thought. Life is not in what happens to us. Meaning in life is in the interpretation we give to what happens to us. Optimists have learned to latch on the to affirmative and eliminate the negative.

Optimists heighten their powers of appreciation. An attitude of gratitude does so much to affect the way we experience life. For those of you who do spend some time in the morning, or in your day meditating, let me offer you a hint. Begin that period listing the things, the people, the events, the experience, the possibilities you are grateful for.

What about the suffering in life? Don’t try to avoid it. You can't. Indeed, find ways to be with those who are suffering. Let’s awaken ourselves and others to the reality of suffering in the world. Though life is filled with suffering, life is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. Simply to focus on suffering is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.

The bad news, so called, is the common soil in which men and women raise the works of civilization. All significant greatness seems to come from pain. The bluebird of happiness sings on a compost heap.

Is that Pollyanna? What if it is? Which is better — to see the glass half full or half empty?

Optimists use their imaginations to rehearse outcomes. This is about creative visualization. This is one of the most powerful keys to your ideal day I know.

Optimists are cheerful even when they can’t experience happiness. Cheerfulness is something we can control. We can choose to behave cheerfully in unhappy circumstances — this is partly to sustain our own strength and partly as an act of courtesy to others.

Optimists believe they have an almost unlimited capacity for stretching. Regardless of their age, they have a stubborn belief that their personal best is yet to be.

Optimists build lots of love into their lives. Love is the ultimate answer to the ultimate human question. Having loving relationships is the hallmark of the successful human.

Optimists like to swap good news. Their social exchanges aren’t full of “ain’t it awful?” stories.

Optimists accept what cannot be changed. The art of contentment is an inward thing.

I honestly believe that if we consistently practice these things about optimism, our lives will be dramatically different. I also honestly believe that optimism isn’t the same as hope.