I’m trying really hard to remain an optimist. As we grow older, conversations become graver. Life gets more complicated and less certain. There’s less talk about hopes for the future and more about missed opportunities.
Our world gives us too many reasons to complain and I do my best to pull out of what is sometimes a very appealing spiral. Sometimes it takes a conscious, sustained effort to remain on a positive trajectory. When others try to engage me in a grumble session, yes, I will most likely join in – at least for a while. Then, I’ll usually catch myself.
It’s not about ignoring the negative; this is not an exercise in mutual exclusivity. We must continue to confront and address personal and societal problems.
But, let’s face it, there’s always something to whine about. If there’s no constructive effort to discuss a potential solution, I give people room to vent but then will likely ask, “Tell me something good.” (I adapted this line years ago from the movie Apollo 13. After an explosion rocked the capsule, alerts and alarms spewed at Mission Control and in space. Trying to get hold of an increasingly panicked situation, flight director Gene Kranz said, “What do we’ve got [sic] on the spacecraft that's good?”)
It’s often a heavy lift to pick up and place yourself onto a different track. Complaining is easy, generally satisfying, and attracts a crowd. Once re-railed, though, new opportunities can open. Happiness for another’s good news might overwhelm your schadenfreude. Smiles can replace frowns. Hope may supersede regret.
What passes for optimism, though, is largely in eye of the pessimist. It might take a little or it might take a lot but it shouldn’t always have to take years and cost billions of dollars.
"Reasons for Optimism in 2023" (The New York Times) recognizes that we’re in “a world facing many challenges” but proclaims “there are reasons to be hopeful about next year and beyond.” Some of the reasons mentioned in the article are not exactly cheap or around the corner, however. Among the highlights listed include moving “a little closer” to nuclear fusion, advances in AI that “probably won’t take your job,” and “getting closer to cancer vaccines.”
That mislabeled article is not a prediction for breakthroughs in the next 12 months. It’s much better viewed through the lens of hopeful incrementalism. We limit our happiness and our satisfaction if the only measure of success is a home run or a touchdown.
We can enhance our lives exponentially if we remind ourselves that the little stuff matters – a lot. We need to invest in the essential steps along the way to a larger goal and celebrate when each are accomplished. Politicians, business leaders, and our friends and loved ones should consider expanding their definition of what is good cause for optimism. Searching for optimism in 2023 and beyond could get a whole lot easier.