Can I just start this off by saying: Uff, what a month.
I believe that working with an assumption that everyone is trying to do their best right now is not an overgeneralization. Of course we’re trying, and of course we often feel like shit nevertheless. When paralyzed at home, treating the quarantine as a personal wellness retreat feels a bit tone-deaf. Obsessing over 24/7 media coverage and conspiracy theories doesn’t however provide a much better alternative. How do we stay sane in times that are systematically working on crushing us down?
Cca. a month ago, I was asked whether I was an optimist on a date (and yes, it does feel like it happened in a different galaxy). Trying to be honest, I replied that I needed to consciously train myself to become one. Looking back, I still think this is true. I remember being so fed up with my own pessimism and with my cynical prognoses some time around 2017, that I decided for an abrupt change of course. I simply wanted to relieve myself and my surrounding of this constant burden of doom and gloom, and so a quest of optimism began.
Seeing the best in everything and everyone takes, as it turned out, a lot of effort. The cliché of rose-colored glasses might tint the bleak reality, it however doesn’t spare you the look itself. I still want to believe that being an optimist doesn’t imply ignoring the flaws, but instead acknowledging them in a softer, more positive outlook. I still want to believe that you can be a realist AND an optimist, and that this choice is an intentional one.
While trying to adapt a more optimistic approach in life, I nevertheless became more sensitive of the external pressure, which pushed me in an opposite direction. It almost felt like optimism was equal to idiocy – and the concept of seeing the good in everything suddenly sounded like a particularly idiotic one. Perhaps I’m just imagining it, but to this date I remain convinced that the world urges you to be a pessimist.
Every single time I renew that stupid BBC website, there’s a yet another tornado, another report about the COVID19 death toll rising, a marginal reminder that the several humanitarian crises are still killing people elsewhere, plus a story of a pensioner violently attacked by a seagull somewhere in Bristol. Even the simple phrasing – By the most optimistic prognosis – that we all keep hearing a bit too often these days, doesn’t signalize anything cheerful, quite the opposite.
What is the solution then? A blindfolded optimism is indeed a sign of idiocy: there is so much wrong with this world, and nothing of it disappears by us hiding away from it. Severe outbursts of racism and violence, small personal tragedies and large armed conflicts, destruction of natural resources… my definition of optimism clearly falls short here. Only an insensitive idiot can assert that there is something good in everything.
This is the point where Dad’s words of wisdom jump in. As we discussed optimism last night, he suggested to find comfort in temporariness. Dad used Bible as a point of reference: while there are so many horrible things happening in there, he said, you can see that nothing of it is permanent. Whatever tragedy, tyranny or injustice occurs, the evil can’t prevail… because the story doesn’t simply end there.
That would be a very touching end of this article, if only I was happy with it. But the objection is clear: not everyone is as wise and patient as Dad. Sure, the impermanence is reassuring, but the silver linings are often far away (the Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt, waiting for Moses – just fyi). How do you remain an optimist on the day-to-day basis?
Lately, I’ve been looking at my life from a micro perspective. Because it feels like I lost control of the bigger picture, and I can’t be purely optimistic about the global situation without feeling like a pure idiot, I try to be positive about the small things at least.
The interest I still have in my friends’ minor quarantine updates.
The excitement I still find in writing.
The consistence of every night’s sleep, the freshness of every morning’s coffee.
This way, I’ve been trying to build an optimistic life from the bottom up.
Sometimes it’s working, sometimes it’s not. I still have meltdowns every now and then. I often feel like an idiot. Is there any foolproof recipe for smart optimism though? If yes, could you share it with me please? And importantly – how do we stay sane without becoming a bunch of idiots?