Wil Darcangelo's Hopeful Thinking: What choice have we but optimism?
What choice have we but optimism? Truly, in the end, there is literally nothing else for us to do but seek out ways toward which, at a minimum, at least our basic survival seems possible. This is instinctive for us.
Of course there are other options. Pessimism. Obstinacy. Fear. But those things are not self-sustaining; nor are they naturally occurring. They require we bolster them artificially, through the misuse of power and authority. Through an avid campaign of persuasion against our natural instincts. There are those who would prefer we continue to exist in a little bit of fear. That is the way of the world.
Well, clearly not all of it.
Still, there is tremendous beauty, and even elegance, in the design of these challenging human classrooms. When we step back a bit from how difficult it feels to be in it, we see an arc of progress that occurs especially because of having gone through it. Is that benevolence?
I find the distinction between hope and optimism meaningful. Hope is an idea about something we truly want. Optimism is buying a lottery ticket.
Optimism is hope mingled with an at least semi-believable pathway toward what we want.
Pessimism is a belief that good rarely occurs, and when it does, it probably won’t be anywhere near you.
However, pessimism is still a worthy classroom of its own. Living within it often teaches us many things in the long run. But it is a long run to get there. If only we didn’t learn so much from grief.
Of course many of us look for love in the wrong places. But that doesn’t diminish our desire for, and belief that, love might be possible. That’s optimism.
The advice here is to have faith. It is the inserting of the “unknown variable” into the list of possible ways in which our desires might be realized. That’s the viewpoint that allows for unlimited possibilities.
Do optimistic people live longer? We sure do. 10-15% longer, in fact. Even those with chronic illness.
How does one shift more toward optimism? It’s easy to say, “Just change your thoughts and be more optimistic!“
But we all know that’s much easier said than done. It takes practice. Not just practice, but life practices.
That’s essentially the function and purpose of church. Of course organized religion is certainly not the only way to achieve it. But a deliberate shift toward optimism does typically require the support of others.
We need to hear about examples where maintaining optimism proved to have been the best option.
But spiritual community in support of greater optimism also needs a place to let go of the past. We need space to grieve — communally — the parts of us onto which we held so firmly for so long. The parts of us that were wrong for us, un-self-loving, resentful of the past.
What’s left over is an exposure of the parts of ourselves which always believed anything is possible.
There are many dharmic pathways and organized life practices in the world where there exist teachings that can help us. Some are religions. Like Christianity, or Islam. Some are not religions in the classic sense but present themselves rather as organized guidance. Like Buddhism and Hinduism.
Each of them provides instruction on how to be at ease. Each has the potential to offer a sense of belonging and community, which aids our desire for peaceful inner change.
Find a way for yourself. Find others who struggle as you do to retain a belief that all shall be well. We become part of the solution when this occurs.
If you can manage to believe only one thing, believe that you are meant to experience joy. You are designed for the purpose of loving and being loved. You were created with beautiful and benevolent intent. Tap into it.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is the minister at the First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of the First Church of Christ, Unitarian in Lancaster, and producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.