On Optimism

Meghan’s post on New Year’s resolutions, in addition to being awesome, got me thinking about my own attitudes about the New Year. I didn’t have any adorably ambitious resolutions as a child, but I did catch on to the whole spirit of renewal that comes with a new year, at least in part.

I was that girl who lined up all her pens and rulers perfectly on the first day of school. The girl who got a brand new planner where she was going to write down every homework assignment every single day. The girl who always felt like this was the year she was going to make things happen. Ever the optimist. In the years since, of course, life has happened, and while my spirits have been dampened a little, the optimism has remained.

For several years in my late-teens/early 20s phase, I found that a bad New Year’s Eve correlated with a good following year, and vice versa. I spent one New Year’s at a party in a good friend’s basement, playing beer pong off an overturned toboggan, filming our shenanigans on a camcorder (!) and generally having the kind of night that would feature prominently in a “good times” montage, were my life a movie. The subsequent year was a haze of traumatic life changes, loss, and loneliness.

Conversely, I spent one NYE crying alone in my apartment over a bad breakup, only to spend the following year meeting the people who would become (and remain) my closest friends, and starting to date my future husband.Smile

The point is that I’ve always tried to find some order to things, even the bad things. And I’ve always found a way to always find hope in the next thing, whatever it may be. I sometimes wonder if this is delusion, or self-protection, but I think it may just be simple optimism. It’s a word that brings to mind the annoyingly chirpy person in your life who ignores reality or never lets anything get them down, but I think those are two different things. Optimism isn’t an attitude or a personality trait; it’s just a default setting: things will get better.

Even at the worst of times, years ago when the depression had really set in, when an intervention was imminent, when I burrowed down into the dark sorrow like it was a blanket, I still was an optimist. The untrained eye wouldn’t have been able to see it, but it was there, weak though it was. It was as simple as this: nights were the worst, and every morning was better. Every morning. I would go to sleep early, in part from exhaustion, true, and because I just didn’t want to be awake anymore. But part of it was that I wanted it to be the next day. The better day.

Now that I’ve recalibrated, and moved beyond the depression, my optimism manifests still, keeping me going. Last year it helped me trudge through unemployment and come out of it with a part-time office job and part-time blogging bliss. It was optimism recently that sustained me through one of the hardest events of my life: my dear friend’s father’s funeral. Through my tears I studied his face as we buried his father, and thought: he will be okay. Tomorrow will be better.

Am I always right? Of course I am. Not because I’ve got it all figured out, or because my life is filled with people living charmed lives. I’m right because that’s how life works. If you wait long enough, everything improves. It’s not easy to remember that fact when things seem to keep getting worse, or when one particular thing is just too hard and you can’t imagine coming out on the other side. But that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

Perhaps you’re wondering how last Saturday night was. It was nice. Not terrible, not great. New Year’s Day was better.

Photos: Getty

8 replies on “On Optimism”

Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve had a terrible start to 2011 (viral infection coupled with the slow and ongoing demise of my relationship) and the line re: going to bed early to get to the next day, the better day, really gave me some…hope? Perspective? -thing to strive for? Anyway, it definitely struck a nerve on a sappy, early-to-bed evening.  I hope you, me, and everybody, have a great 2011.

My husband is a total pessimist, he is really good at finding the bad parts of a situation.  I am a die-hard optimist.  I can always find something good and, although I don’t always think tomorrow will be better than today, I have a bone-deep faith that everything will work out.  It might not work out the way I had planned, but it will work out.  
I’ve lived through some crazy bad depression.  I think the thing that got me through was the assumption that it was temporary.  Some day my world would be better.
I raise my glass to you, fellow optimists.  May we always see them as half-full.

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