October 26, 2012

Don't Let Optimism Get in the Way of Hope

My dealings with friends, family, and others in the recent past have led me to think often on the ideas of Hope and Optimism.  I think many of you can relate to this.  These are hard times for most everyone.  "If it rains hard enough, everyone gets a little wet." as the saying goes and it's obviously been raining for quite a while.  How are we to cope with our respective problems and challenges?  

The generic answer is be optimistic.  It's so easy to tell someone that "the grass is greener on the other side" or, "everything will work out."  My personal relation to someone else's hardships cause me to question that generic solution to every problem.  I feel like it's a copout sometimes.  We have to say something comforting, right?  Maybe, but I wonder if we are missing an opportunity.  

Optimism is the positive mindset that everything will work out.  It is a mindset regarding the potential for better things in the future.  It allows people to look past their problems to the potential of better things ahead.  It brings comfort knowing that things could be better than they are currently.  Within optimism, however, lies a problem.  Optimism seemingly lies in opposition with reality.  As time passes and challenges persist, the view of our better future gives way to the reality that we can't actually be sure if it will end up that way.  We end up having to keep revisiting our problems and repainting our desired outcomes in our mind.  This kind of optimism is unfounded and weak.

Hope is often confused as the same thing as optimism when it really is very different.  Vaclav Havel was a president of The Czech Republic as well as an accomplished playwright.  He is known internationally as one of the top intellectuals of our century.  Consider his definition of hope.   "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."  Hope is not about some futuristic picture that may or may not be true.  It is a tangible result of our meaningful acceptance of present situations.  Hope is the perfect balance of optimism and reality.  It doesn't give way to reality because it is founded on reality, and it doesn't overshadow optimism because it leads us to it.  It combines the structure and foundation of realism with the positive attitude and forward thinking of optimism.  

No matter how much we progress in life, there will always be barriers in our way that knock us off balance.  Hope gives us the power to find meaning in these experiences.  So before we try to picture ourselves in a better place, find something to be grateful for where you are now.  Before you tell someone else that everything will work out, help them learn the lessons life is currently trying to teach them.  


  1. It has always bothered me when people say I am pessimistic by pointing out the reality of my situation. Sometimes life just sucks and that's the hard truth. But unless I know the reality, I can't change it.

  2. I love how this focuses us on the reality of hope. I am always hopeful and faithful that all of the experiences that we are going through will be for our good and because of that I don't have to be a negative realist, I can be a positive realist. Absolutely positive that all will work out the way it should in the grander scheme of things. And this knowledge helps me to go through hard and challenging times with the realization that there will be a better day, and I don't have to resent my trials because I know that they make me a better person in the long run.

    Happiness is a choice that each of us has to make for ourselves and just because someone chooses to be happy in the face of trials might not mean that they are living in a Pollyanna world, it could mean that they are choosing that deeper joy that comes from a belief in the grander meaning of life, and why we are here on this earth. But each has the option to choose for themselves.