I’d be willing to wager – and I’m optimistic I’d win the bet – that you don’t know March is “National Optimism Month.” Websites galore make reference to it without mentioning how and when this low-profile annual observance got started, but it’s especially appropriate in 2022.
So don’t take the pessimistic view that you’ve missed half a month of keeping a stiff upper lip; look on the bright side – half a month is still ahead.
Considering a long winter, the pandemic, and now the Ukrainian tragedy that has cast a dark cloud over the world, a dollop of optimism would be welcome tonic – so let’s examine what some clever minds have had to say about staying positive.
We’ll just ignore the late French scientist Jean Rostand, who once declared, “I feel very optimistic about the future of pessimism.”
The late comedian George Carlin had a wise take on staying upbeat. He observed that if you constantly think your glass is half empty, “I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”
If anyone was an emissary for optimism, it was the late motivational speaker Hilary “Zig” Ziglar, who made a living for years traveling the world and talking up emotional sunshine.
He described an optimist as “someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.”
The late William A. Ward, an educator who wrote motivational articles for national publications, suggested a practical middle ground between optimism and pessimism: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
Ward also offered this comparison: “The optimist looks at the horizon and sees an opportunity; the pessimist peers into the distance and fears a problem.”
Winston Churchill declared himself an optimist because “it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.” Going a step further, he observed, “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”
Author Lucy MacDonald looks at optimism from an existential viewpoint, noting, “It’s not that optimism solves all of life’s problems; it is just that it can make the difference between coping and collapsing.”
Inspirational writer Harvey Mackay, author of “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” adds another practical reason for being upbeat: “An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere.”
The blind and deaf Helen Keller, with more reason than most to be pessimistic, instead took an opposite tack: “If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears.… I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.”
But leave it to the sardonic George Bernard Shaw to sum it all up by giving equal opportunity credit to those who are upbeat and those who are not:
“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.”
Gerry Goldstein (email@example.com) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.