January 19, 2022

Musings on Optimism and Hope: Part Two

By Jackie Ogden

Greetings! Well, it’s been a week since we last spoke, and it seems like hope and optimism are still necessary.  Based on my first post, several people have asked how I go about choosing hope…

I remember the moment I decided I was going to be a happy, hopeful person. I was nine years old and had spent years watching my father be miserable. And I decided that wasn’t going to be me. But this hasn’t always been an easy journey. On the website http://www.authentichappiness.com, there’s a little test regarding propensity for optimism. The good news is that I have a propensity. The bad news is that I also have a propensity for the darker side. Well, that explains a lot. It explains why, during this pandemic and as I settle into my new community, I find myself having to consciously choose optimism on a regular basis.

Researchers have identified two elements critical to both optimism and hope: gratitude and forgiveness.

I have gratitude down. I am *really,* *really* grateful for many things. Except when I forget – I still often remind myself to think about the huge list of people and things for which I’m grateful. It’s trite, but that “writing down three things a day you’re grateful for” thing really works – check out the Gratitude Journal Affirmations app.

Forgiveness? Yikes. I *thought* I had this down – I think of myself as a “forgiving” person. But I’ve been paying attention and have discovered I still have work to do. As an example, while I’ve consciously forgiven my father for many things, I continue to bring him up in my musings. Huh.

Research has also discovered what this community already knows – seeking meaning in your life is strongly related to overall happiness, life satisfaction, etc.  Aren’t we lucky? Our whole profession is founded on meaning. On days where I’m struggling a bit, I’ve found that if I can immerse myself in some real work related to my “why,” optimism begins to emerge. The best is doing work that uses your most creative strengths – that’s when you enter that wonderful “flow” state.

Research has also shown the importance of looking outward. Depression, anxiety, etc. are very inward-facing emotions – it’s hard to stay depressed when you’re actively caring for others. There’s a great quote from the Dalai Lama that I have on my bathroom mirror: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” This means picking up the phone and checking on a friend. It means practicing random acts of kindness. It means mentoring someone.

I also actively look for positive signs in the world. And in the midst of the craziness, I’m seeing some. I just saw that The New York Times is doing a series of focus groups with people from both sides of the fence, just to listen to their concerns. What a brilliant idea – we should all do that. I increasingly hear people saying “Earth” or “planet” rather than “nation.” (Don’t freak out, I love our democracy. But we’d best focus on the global stuff). I continue to see changes in how people lead. It looks like empathy and vulnerability are sticking.

Much of this has to do with getting outside your head – being in the moment, moving, and all of that. I also think it’s about fun and laughter. I try to giggle regularly. I was staying with a friend a couple of weeks ago and we had a dance party one night. What fun! (Although what possessed us to hit record??)

Don’t get me wrong – I know that the world is very challenging right now. And I know that many people have it worse than I do. But it doesn’t look like negativity is working. Nor hatred. Nor apathy. Nor fear. That’s not the world I want. So, I continue to choose love, happiness, and hope. And I’m so happy to do it with all of you. What other group can talk about saving the world without someone rolling their eyes?  So, go save it. Save it with someone. And laugh a little while you’re at it.

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