January 6, 2022

Musings on Optimism and Hope as We Begin 2022: Part One

By Jackie Ogden

As 2022 begins, I’m thinking about optimism and hope.

Just before Christmas, we shared our thinking on the future of zoos and aquariums. One comment in particular got my attention – surprise for my/our optimism, given the challenges facing our world.

Somehow, I hadn’t noticed how optimistic we were – but we are. It’s not as if we’re blind to what’s happening in the world (except the blindness that comes from privilege).

Speaking for myself rather than the whole Zoo Advisors team, some would say that I lead with positivity.  Mostly true. I’m often referred to as ‘Sister Mary Sunshine’, and I actually love that moniker. But as I’ve shared, I simultaneously have had some level of personal depression and anxiety. And I can be as skeptical as the next person.

I’ve been mulling this over this holiday period. I’ve done some reading about optimism, hope, and happiness. Turns out that in the past couple of decades, some smart psychologists had the crazy idea of seeing if and how people could increase all of these. The answer is yes you can, and there are some ways to do so (see www.authentichappiness.com).

But why would you want to? The skeptics amongst us might suggest that they’re just realists. And that optimists don’t see reality. But some of the above-referenced research shows that being optimistic doesn’t mean that you discount reality – just that you believe you can do something about that reality.

We know that people that aren’t hopeful are less likely to act where the environment is concerned. And there is now considerable research showing that people who are optimistic/hopeful/happy are healthier, live longer, and are more effective and productive. Besides, it sure feels better.

This all made me realize that what has helped me survive the past few years is that I consistently *work* at being optimistic. I *work* at being hopeful. I *work* at being happy. I choose to see the glimmers, the moments of joy. I choose the happy.

And I do this not just to feel better (although that’s a big part of it), but because we have important work to do, and I believe that we won’t be successful if we don’t have hope.

So yes, I’m optimistic about the future of zoos and aquariums. And not just because I “choose” to be. But because I have some supporting evidence – all of you.

I often reference my colleague Larry Selzer with the Land Conservation Trust and his thoughts about hope. He says that he’s pessimistic when he looks at the environmental data but is optimistic when he sees the people doing conservation. And that means all of you. I can’t not be hopeful when I see the things you do.

Because in addition to being all-around good people, you – this community – care more than anybody I know.  And you act on this, every day.

Next week, I’ll be back with more of my data points on why I’m hopeful, but in the meantime, do something that celebrates who you are…and the joy and inspiration that you bring to your team and your guests every day.

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