On the realism of optimism. A reminder

I know people who dont think much of the power of “positive thinking.” They say it is unrealistic, and pollyannish. They say it victimizes the victims a second time because it implies if they just had a better attitude, prayed more, tried harder etc. it wouldnt be as bad or hard as what is. They say some things will be hard, somethings will be bad regardless of how you look at them, because life is hard. Some of these things to me seem to be accurate to me. I fear with our love of positive attitude we will become less tolerant and understanding of those who have a hard time and more angry and resentful towards those who do better than us. In the hands of too many it breeds, not the love and compassion you would assume, but a meanfulness of spirit. But positive thinking and optimism are not the same thing.

Optimism is above all else realistic. Suffering, without balance, leads to an unrealistic distortion in the way we see things. Optimism tells us 4 things that are so important to know and so easily lost when we are doing poorly and doing poorly seems so inevitable:

  1. Good things happen. The ultimate lie of suffering is that there is nothing else. I have known people severely ill, severly disabled, severely poor, severely in some kind of pain– who all still find things they are grateful for and treasure. The biggest problem in suffering is not what we see, but what we grow blind to.
  2. Despite what it feels like bad things dont mess things up forever. I have went to bed many times thinking it is just so bad Im going to die, only to wake up alive the next day. Life is a coming and going. Bad comes, but bad leaves. Even the inevitable troubles of our life change in character or degree. The old phrase, “this too shall pass….” has a lot of wisdom.
  3. Despite what it feels like bad things dont necessarily mess up everything. We are all “chicken little” and all of have known of the sky to fall. Most of the good things that have happened to me have come out of the worst things. Opportunity exists, even when it is covered up in misery. We tend to think we are the center of the universe and tend to naturally assume that disaster for us is disaster for all. It just isnt so.
  4. Despite what it feels like everything is not about us. I remember the day when I talked to my tire when it went flat. I wanted to know why it was acting that way. Later my wife pointed out to me gently that it wasnt personal. The tire didnt have an agenda. It is suprising how much better you feel when you realize that life is not a novel about some conspiracy out to get you. The main reason bad things happen is that they happen. Sorry. I think it is that simple.

I struggle with optimism, but by and large, I do better with it. Without it is hard to enjoy anything, be grateful for anything, or to have any hope. For that matter it is hard to care about anything but how bad you feel.

May you be blessed this fine  day.





5 thoughts on “On the realism of optimism. A reminder”

  1. Thanks for the reminders. I especially like how you said ‘despite how it feels….’ Sometimes we do base our ideas, optimistic or pessimistic on feelings and not on facts. This was a good reminder.

  2. This is wonderful advice. Many teach that suffering and joy are always available in every moment. If we can remember to choose joy, choose hope, it can make the suffering more bearable, more balanced and feed hope and optimism. So can realizing the impersonal nature of most suffering. It isn’t about us. It simply is the truth of that moment, a truth that many experience all over the world at any given time. And those moments pass if we open our hands and let them go and remain open to the next moment.

    What is amazing is that we all know these truths, but forget them. It takes some wise soul, like you, to remind us. Thank you so much for these wonderful “wake up” calls. May you have a blessed hope-full day too!

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