Three Things That Optimism Isn’t

Ever since the play “Annie” came out, I think people are confused about the concept of optimism. If you haven’t seen the play, or you avoid it at all costs in order to not get the songs stuck in your head accidentally, it’s about a young orphan who is so infectiously cheerful that she actually sings when she completes her house chores. (Seriously. Who does that?) Through the twists and turns of the play, she is adopted by an exceedingly rich man and lives a happily ever after that even Hans Christian Andersen would have to applaud. And what is her constant, literal refrain throughout the darkness and gloom in her life?

The sun will come out tomorrow…

And yes, there is something in that song about betting your bottom dollar (why is she promoting gambling?) along with a generally nice message. But anyone watching the news and the over-paid meteorologists every night will know that Annie is in way over her head by attempting to predict the weather.

However, her optimism is clear, although perhaps misguided. If one has hope and believes things will turn out right, they eventually will. Maybe the sun won’t come out tomorrow, but if you allow yourself to feel it’s warm rays, you’ll feel a bit brighter.

So, why does this idea accurate in Annie’s life, but not in the weatherman’s? Mostly because it is a fictional play. But that isn’t to say that optimism doesn’t have it’s uses. It’s only that we’ve been wielding it wrong. It’s because optimism isn’t:

1. A panacea or cure-all. Sure, it will help you to feel better about your situation, which will in turn encourage you to forge ahead, but simply being optimistic about something does not guarantee that you will achieve your goals. A little cheerfulness coupled with a plan can certainly go a long way, but optimism without hard work is like a cupcake with beautiful frosting: nice to look at, but all empty calories.

2. Being happy all of the time. Some people have this view of optimism that suggests that they are always happy and full of glee and rainbows. But really, the most optimistic person in your life might be the one who is dealing with the most problems. It’s not the smile on their face that denotes a sense of optimism; it’s the amount of drive and determination they exert when faced with a challenge that appears insurmountable. I offer you my absolute favorite quote of all time by Mary Anne Radmacher for evidence of this:

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

3. Always looking on the bright side. Optimism doesn’t always mean that you should see the grass as greener on the other side immediately. It only means that you should definitely pick yourself up by your bootstraps once you’ve had a chance to process. Sometimes optimism means moving on, or letting things go, rather than simply grinning and bearing it. The universe won’t be fooled by you trying to believe that there is a silver lining to that catastrophic event that totally devastated you, but it does know that you will be alright in the end. And so should you. Eventually, and in due time. Remember, you can be both optimistic and clueless about what to do next. Just never be “realistic.” It doesn’t help anyone.

And there you have it. Optimism certainly worked for a little red-head orphan girl. Make it work for you.

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