Optimism: A Philosophy of Life

As a philosophy of life, optimism is a choice one makes in response to uncontrollable circumstances.


| December 2014



Optimism

Optimism is a fundamental attitude. It’s not an opinion about reality; it’s a starting point for dealing with reality.

Photo by Fotolia/Rafal Olechowski

The world isn’t coming to an end, contrary to what you may have heard. But the media’s near-exclusive focus on conflict and disaster means that the progress and everyday acts of brilliance taking place across the globe go unnoticed. In The Intelligent Optimist’s Guide to Life (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2014), Jurriaan Kamp shows that optimism — intelligent optimism, not a rose-colored-glasses brand of wishful thinking — is good for not only your mind but your body too. The following excerpt comes from chapter 1, “The Best Way to Live.”

In high school, my week revolved around the field hockey game on Saturday. Back then, we still played on real grass. Hence, as the week progressed, a striking parallel arose between my mood and darkening skies. Too much rain would force the game to be canceled, which routinely happened in the fall and winter. My grumbling started well in advance. If it were raining cats and dogs on a Friday afternoon, my dear mother would try to cheer me up by looking out the window and pointing at a random piece of sky. “Look,” she’d exclaim, “it’s already clearing up over there!”

That unfounded optimism always infuriated me.

Yet she had a point. After the rain there will always be sunshine. Yes, bad things happen. But it is our choice to accept the rain and look beyond it to the coming sunshine. We create pessimism by our focus on the bad. At the same time we create optimism by focusing on the good. And, as we shall see, optimism is a much more rewarding strategy.

Optimism doesn’t mean denying reality. According to the dictionary, the everyday meaning of optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.” But the root of the word comes from Latin (optimum) and the more precise definition of optimism is “the doctrine that this world is the best of all possible worlds.”

Optimism is a fundamental attitude. It’s not an opinion about reality; it’s a starting point for dealing with reality. At every moment, you can decide that you’re in the best situation to handle a given challenge. That is optimism. Optimism is searching for the yes in every situation and finding it. Or as someone once aptly described that attitude: “If there’s no solution, then there’s no problem.”