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Are You An Optimist? What Does It Mean To Be An Optimist?

+3 votes
Dec 20, 2017 in Society & Culture by Virginia (7,565 points)

So many of the institutions I believed in over the years have proven unreliable. And I am realizing that much of my sunny outlook on life was tied to things like confidence in the basic integrity of my country, and the belief that most of humankind were really fine people (Internet opens your eyes on THAT one). Religion was never really a disillusionment, not since I became atheist at the age of thirteen...

BUT; now I think that much of our optimism is tied to the fact that things seem to be going well in our lives, and we remain optimistic ONLY by somewhat avoiding all the "bad" stuff.

So that is one of my projects now, at age 73; I want to look clearly at all the awful aspects of life and STILL say yes to life, and find deeper reasons for optimism...what is your experience, what do you think about optimism?

3 Answers

Marianne Dec 22, 2017

Now that you ask the question, Virginia, this seemingly simple question challenges "formerly irrefutable" arguments; pessimists were seen as negative, "painting our world all in black", while optimists were more seen as positive, never giving up.

But there is no balance if "optimism" turns a blind eye on reality, cautiousness and rational considerations.

They represent Yin and Yang, the "dualities", which are opposing each other, but complementary and interdependent, depending on each other to keep the balance.

According to Albert Camus in his philosophical essay "The Myth of Sisyphus",

"There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night."

But "knowing the night" does not mean that there is always night ...

That is where optimism reminds you that

"The darkest moment of the night is just before the dawn"  (or "came just before the dawn")

and that we should never lose hope.

On the one hand, we should not give up to support our values defending sustainable and more equitable systems and social structures, but also accept to listen to our conscience and reconsider misunderstood ideas, irrational superstitions and fears, or erroneous opinions.


Virginia Marianne Dec 22, 2017

Marianne, it is interesting because I was actually thinking of Camus (whom I love) as I was developing this question...and the Wikipedia link gave a fine summary I thought of Camus' Sisyphus...for example I am feeling a rapport with this statement; "Once stripped of its common romanticism, the world is a foreign, strange and inhuman place." And then this one, which to me moves toward optimism..."To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer."

Much as I love Camus I would eventually diverge from his view, because I (like Camus' critique of Kafka), I retain a glimmer of hope...if nothing else, I know you saw the Lascaux photo Tink posted, the hands which are waving to us across the millennia?

And as for the balance of yin and yang, that is what I see as one purpose of our lives; to experience the wholeness from the perspective of splitting it into opposites...

* * *

ty for lovely answer!

Didge Marianne Dec 22, 2017

I like that quote from Camus, very much.

Marianne Marianne Dec 22, 2017

You're very welcome, Virginia - yes, I liked the view - and the message of hope (an excellent idea, T(h)ink!), which seems to take form with the hands 'waving to us across the millennia' (well said, Virginia!).


Marianne Marianne Dec 22, 2017

Aww, so nice to see you, Didge, thank you for dropping by and for liking that quote from Camus! 

Here's another one, which I like:

"Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower."


How are you doing?


Didge Marianne Dec 22, 2017

Sorry I haven't been in for so long. It's a lovely quote and I suspect that it sounds even prettier in French.

I was once cycling along a street that was covered by a layer of autumn leaves when a small whirlwind followed me down the street, caught up, and stayed for a few seconds. It had picked up all the leaves that swirled around me as I rode. It was like being attacked by a swarm of butterflies. That was more than 30 years ago and remains a cherished memory.

Marianne Marianne Dec 23, 2017

Oh, Didge, you are a poet! Your impressions remind of an old, cheerful song by Yves Montand (about cycling, butterflies, ...):

"Autumn Leaves" is a bit too sad for today:

Didge Marianne Dec 23, 2017
Thanks, Marianne. I loved the Montand song and appreciated the translation. And Autumn Leaves is a long time favourite although I haven't listened to it for years, so that's a pleasant memory jtoo.
Marianne Marianne Dec 24, 2017

You're very welcome, Didge. I know, Autumn Leaves was the great success, but Prévert's poem and Kosma's sound are driving tears to the eyes:

Virginia Marianne Dec 25, 2017

Marianne, I just want to make certain you saw that it was Tink who came up with the idea of our ancestors, and their hands waving to us across the millennia! I loved it and picked up on it...

Marianne Marianne Dec 25, 2017

Lol. Virginia, oh yes, I know, and well, all of you have been so inspiring, and it was such a pleasure to see Didge drop by - so, I have been "talking" to all of you.

Yes, I have also read your conversation with Didge, and I would say that fear or boldness should not prevent people from rational thinking, and that is not always easy. In any case, a good preparation, and planning is important, as far as this is possible.

And a certain dosis of optimism is necessary to keep going.


Virginia Marianne Dec 25, 2017

Marianne, your infusion of the thought of Camus into this Q was for me just marvelous; he was totally convinced of his absurdism and hopelessness, yet he still found reasons for taking joy in life!

Marianne Marianne Dec 27, 2017

Yes, indeed, and I admired this energy to draw positive thoughts from absolutely desperate feelings or situations.

But I think that certain absurdities or abstract ideas go too far.

TheOtherTink Dec 20, 2017

Oh, yes, Virginia, optimism is better than pessimism.  It's such an improbable miracle to be alive at all, despite all the evil things that can and do happen. And when I think of what our remote, pre-civilization ancestors had to endure, giving birth in dank caves, or trying to avoid sabre-tooth tigers, or dealing with ice ages, etc., it just boggles my mind. :O


Virginia TheOtherTink Dec 21, 2017

That is a very interesting, refreshing long-range perspective, Sister Tink, which I will ponder for a's quite centering...

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Dec 21, 2017

Hi Virginia, I counldn't help but be much moved when I saw those massed handprints when I looked up Lascaux for a picture.   I was aware of individual handprints by the cave paintings, which I thought might be the signatures of the artists, but I had never seen this one before.  I'm not sure exactly what it means... is it an appeal to the gods for good hunting or plentiful food? Or is it our ancestors affectionately waving to us across the millennia...?

Virginia TheOtherTink Dec 21, 2017

O'Tink, I am going to believe the lovely latter possibility...that they affectionately wave to us across them millennia!

The painting does have remarkable depth and perspective, does it not? :happy:  <3

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Dec 21, 2017

Yes, indeed, Virginia, it is lovely. :) <3

Didge TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

Hi, Tink. I haven't visited for a while but your answer really hit me in the eye. You didn't say where you got it but I'd be willing to bet that it's a photograph taken in Red Hands Cave on the Australian Blue Mountains. As the crow flies, it's located about 4 or 5 km from my home. It was a pleasant surprise to see it here.

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

Hi, Didge, good to see you!

I don't really remember where I found the pic, I just Googled Lascaux cave painting images, and this one came up, among many others. I had no idea it was from Australia, much less so nearby to you:)

I was also surprised to learn that it is believed to be no more than about 200 years old, and here I thought it dated back tens of thousands of years:)

Didge TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

Now I feel like a goose. Perhaps it isn't Red Hands Cave but a similar cave painting. I should have looked further. Here's a link to RHC. They're similar, but not identical.

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

@ Didge,

There seems to be considerable confusion about the "hands" picture I posted.  At least one website seems to attribute it to Lascaux,

but its real location is in the 'Cueva de las Manos' in southern Argentina, and the painting is estimated to be at least 9,000 years old.

Didge TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

Thanks for that. Our local cave has now been fenced off--an unfortunate necessity. Too men tourists, even well-meaning ones, would destroy it. It was unfenced when I first saw it, perhaps 40 years ago, so I was able to go inside. I haven't visited for some years, now.

Virginia TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

Didge! If that painting is in Australia, then there is a chance it is REALLY I recall the aborigines have been there something like 40,000 years? Anyway I love SO much Tink's thought of maybe they are waving to us across the millennia...if not optimism, then that thought surely does invite a centering peace...

Oops, now I just saw Tink's research the handprints are no more than 200 years old...still lovely...oh, wait! Reading still more, now it is believed to be 9,000 years old?

Didge TheOtherTink Dec 22, 2017

I believe ours are older, Virginia. I attached a link to Tink's answer. And, yes, our aborigines have been here for 40,000 years.

Marianne TheOtherTink Dec 23, 2017

Lol, I had to check too, because I did not remember all these hands from the descriptions and pictures of the Lascaux caves, and confusions occurred rather often with on-line pictures.

But I found what I checked first:

Virginia TheOtherTink Dec 23, 2017

I could open the Blue Mountain link, Marianne...lovely...

Marianne TheOtherTink Dec 24, 2017

I am glad that you could, Virginia.


Virginia TheOtherTink Dec 25, 2017

Didge, and Tink, the similarities of those ancient paintings between South America and Australia makes you wonder if there is something archetypically fascinating to our distant ancestors about a multitude of hands...

Didge TheOtherTink Dec 25, 2017

I was thinking in terms of archetypes, too. Clearly different groups of people who had no contact with each other came up with similar thoughts.

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink Dec 26, 2017

I think universal or near-universal archetypes occur in music too.  For example, the fifth interval, do-so, stirs heroic or joyful feelings.

Virginia TheOtherTink Dec 26, 2017

THAT is an interesting possibility, O'Tink!

Didge Dec 22, 2017

By definition, an optimist is a person who walks into a restaurant, orders oysters, and expects to find a pearl in one. A pessimist expects to choke on it.

I'm a lifelong optimist. I refuse to accept that there will ever be a time when things will not turn out well for me or that Life can serve up a situation I won't be able to deal with. Of course, from time to time, I butt my head up against that particular brick wall and discover that in even the most optimistic life there are some hiccups, yet the optimism is never dimmed for long.

I used to work with a pessimist. It was Sydney's largest telecommunications centre with a staff in the hundreds and my friend Doug always expected the worst. And he got it! When I had occasion to work near him I watched from time to time to see how he went about his job. He looked just fine! And yet things would go wrong -- equipment would break down, tapes would become tangled, uneven surges of traffic flowing through his equipment would create bottlenecks. Then he would move to his next task, somebody else would take over, and serenity would return. We had a regular fund-raising raffle with first prize of $200 and Doug used to buy a ticket every week. One week he actually won a $10 consolation prize. Was he still unlucky? You bet! He was only one number off first prize!

Doug and I were polar opposites. When people asked, "How are you going?" my standard response has always been, "I've never seen it better." Doug's characteristic response was, "I've never seen it worse."

Is it possible that attitude and expectation can attract or repel good fortune? Is it possible that optimists and pessimists attract the very thing they personify? In a sense, I think it is. The optimist recognises the good breaks when they come; the pessimist is too busy watching his shoes to see the opportunities that come his way.

Virginia Didge Dec 25, 2017

Hi Didge,

You have brought in another dimension of this question...and that is, the possibility that there are laws of nature we don't really understand yet! ...such as the idea that expectation could attract or repel good fortune?

You have read the Bible more than I, but isn't there a verse something about "that which I feared came upon me"...?Stephen Hawking, in his little book A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, mentions his belief that we have now discovered all the basic laws of nature...well, I doubt that; I think we are in for an interesting ride into the future...

Didge Didge Dec 25, 2017

Hi V. I wouldn't have put it quite like that and yet, having watched my friend Doug for some years, it does seem a possible (if not plausible) explanation. It's one of those "more things, Horatio" that are so tantalising and always just a little out of reach.

Virginia Didge Dec 25, 2017

Didge, what I was thinking of as I read your description of your co-worker was that when I was a child, I was always terrified of all the various horrific possibilities that were mainly my own inventions...and none of those bad things ever happened!

In my childish magical thinking, what I decided was that all you had to do is be afraid something bad will happen and the fear would prevent it from occurring!  :D  

Didge Didge Dec 25, 2017

Whereas, in reality, your fear may lead you in a direction you would prefer not to go. It's not really so childish. Even as adults we can fall into that trap.

I'm about to shut down for the day. Back tomorrow. :)

TheOtherTink Didge Dec 26, 2017

@ Virginia,

But a common superstition involves an aversion for expressing your fear out loud in words, for fear that it will then come true.

Virginia Didge Dec 26, 2017

Didge, just out of curiosity, what would you consider a more plausible explanation for the experiences of the co-worker Doug? (You mention my idea as possible but not the most plausible, based on your observations...?)

Virginia Didge Dec 26, 2017

O'Tink (sigh) well I have spent most of my life going up the down staircase...I cannot even do magical thinking like everybody else! ;)  :silly:  <3

TheOtherTink Didge Dec 26, 2017

Virginia, I tried that once or twice as a kid... running up the down escalator in a department store. :devil:

But the salespeople frowned on it.  :) :D

Virginia Didge Dec 26, 2017

O'Tink, why do I have this persistent hunch that even now, firmly ensconced in the respectable institutions of adulthood, motherhood, and our sacred shopping culture that somehow you are STILL not fully conformant to the prescribed and proscribed directions of life's many escalators?

TheOtherTink Didge Dec 26, 2017

I'm not called the other Tink for nothing.  :angel: :) :D


Didge Didge Dec 26, 2017

This is a reply to Virginia's query. Having posted it, it seems to have landed in the wrong place. Sorry.

Doug? It's not something I've ever chosen to look into because although, superficially, it's a curiosity and, occasionally comical (like being one number off first prize) at its extreme it's sheer tragedy. No matter how many rules Leroy Jethro Gibbs (NCIS) lives by, coincidences do happen.

The comical side? Doug once loaned me a long play record to take home and copy on my old tape recorder. It's the only thing I've EVER left on a train. I had to buy him another copy. Did Doug's bad luck rub off on me? Who knows?

The tragedy? Doug was a bachelor, a man's man, a heavy drinker. In his early 50s he met a woman, was genuinely in love with her, married her, and although he continued to be a chronic pessimist, his life now revolved around her. Within five years she died of cancer. There's is NO way I can attribute that to Doug's talent for attracting misfortune.

I liked the guy a lot. I don't know what happened in his life after I changed jobs--we didn't stay in touch.

TheOtherTink Didge Dec 26, 2017

Not your fault, Didge... the comments here post in chronological order, regardless of to whom they are addressed.

Didge Didge Dec 26, 2017

Thanks, Tink. I'll have to get used to it again.

Virginia Didge Dec 26, 2017

:D  <3  :)

(This is my hurrah for Tink's bipolarity ...)

Virginia Didge Dec 26, 2017

Didge, just reading about your co-worker Doug made my heart jump with affection for him.

Didge Didge Dec 26, 2017

Thanks for that. He was a very likeable man, Virginia.

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