Quote of the Day

Monday, February 22, 2010

the reluctant optimist

I have realized that I am a complete and utter failure as a pessimist. Even on the darkest of days, when I feel completely overwhelmed by questions of where my life path is going, or utterly discouraged and depressed by the state of the world and the endless cycle of fucked up things people do to each other... even on the days when I feel I have to fight the urge to punch everyone I see or take deep calming breaths just not to burst into tears in the middle of a crowded room... it seems that all I need is fresh air on my face, a gorgeous night sky, the wag of a puppy tail or the strains of a favorite song in my ear to seep through my blues and remind me that life is good, that the world is a beautiful place and that tomorrow will be another day filled with simple pleasures and happy surprises and the kindness of friends (or even strangers).

The cruel irony of optimism is that that smug fucker hope always springs eternal. I realize that for the most part hope is a good thing, something that the world could generally use more of. But I tell you, it can be exhausting. And it i
inevitably brings expectations, which can then be let down. I have to think that it might be comforting to be a pessimist; to never expect anything, or to always expect the worst. To wallow cozily in curmudgeonly gloom & doom. To not have constant hopes and dreams to be swept up in a stormy wave and dashed against the rocks. Because for the optimist, even when our hopes are crushed in the cruelest of ways and for all rights we should become jaded beyond repair, we always seem to bounce back, ready for more.

Marya Mannes once said,
“The curse of the romantic is a greed for dreams, an intensity of expectation that, in the end, diminishes the reality”.

Maybe then, this is the curse of the optimist as well, to dream too vividly, hope too fervently, foster imaginations that run like wild stallions, beautiful but dangerous.
But I have to wonder: is it not possible to appreciate the reality and yet still harbor great expectations? After all, can we not see the world as it is but believe we can make it better? Maybe the problem is not the hopes and expectations themselves but the lack of initiative to make them real?

To be honest I don't really know, but either way, I have to think that a "greed for dreams" and "intensity of expectation" are essential to the human spirit. Some are greedier than others, some are better at pursuing their dreams, and some may become so discouraged and cynical that they feel like giving up dreaming altogether. But in order to truly be human, in order not to lose our spark, I think we have to harbor great hopes and dreams. And when we manage to make our dreams become reality, that is something amazing to behold; a priceless victory and triumph of the spirit. But even if we fail, at least the dream was there, at least we held its fire in our hands and hope in our heart. There's no shame in that.

And when the optimist's insane, stubborn insistence that the universe is benevolent, that people are generally good at heart and that you are ultimately in control of your own destiny is proven correct in any way, those small victories are almost magical, and the I Told You So so much sweeter, not just because we were right, but because of the implications that holds.

And I for one wouldn't want to live any other way. In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones: you can't always get what you want. Dreams will inevitably be crushed, setbacks will occur. People will disappoint you. These are facts that simply must be accepted in order for each little blow not to cave in our entire world and send us reeling into the abyss. But that doesn't mean you stop trying, or stop trusting. It doesn't mean you stop believing in magic or serendipity or the power of the heart and the human spirit. After all, that would be to give up on life itself.

So no matter the hurt and disappointment I'm potentially setting myself up for, I have to believe in "next time", I have to believe that the people I put faith in won't let me down,
that I will learn from my mistakes, that honest efforts will be rewarded and patience will not be in vain, that with hard work and conviction dreams can come to fruition, and that each month and each year will be better than the last. That life is good but can always be better; that I can always be better.

And I'm guessing that hope and intensity of expectation will continue to slap me around and let me down, time and time again, but at least I know that this reluctant optimist will always bounce back up, feet on the ground, head in the clouds.


  1. there's nothing wrong with being an optimistic pessimist.

    like, "the glass IS half empty, but that means there's room for more water."

    rather than the optimist who says, "the glass is half full and that's perfect!"

    that's not perfect, that's just low standards.

  2. --like, "the glass IS half empty, but that means there's room for more water."--

    Hah, yes, I like it! Personally, I think of it as "optimistic realism".

    Because I think there is that more dangerous brand of "optimism" out there that is really more akin to denial than hopefulness.

    The optimistic realist sees the ugliness in the world and in people but chooses to focus on the beauty and goodness, and on how to make more of that in order to counter all the fucked-upness.