I didn’t grow up an optimist. I don’t think it’s my natural setting. I’m naturally a pragmatist and over-thinker, which can lead to being frozen in time.
When you think of every possible permutation of what could happen, you have to think of the catastrophic too. I’m a natural risk assessor. I’m good at ranking likelihood of things going wrong alongside the severity.
I’ve always found it confusing when I tell people my plans and they say, “Have you considered this awful negative thing before you start?” because the answer is, of course I have.
What confuses me most is that they’ve not thought of the hundred other things that could go wrong too. It used to leave me wondering what I’d missed about that one thing that stood out to them: Why was that problem so special? Why was that the thing that stood out.
It usually set off another round of overthinking that could leave me so exhausted that I ended up giving up before I even began.
What I should have realised was that other people don’t think like me. They were just sharing the one thing they’d thought of; it wasn’t an in-depth analysis and it certainly wasn’t more demanding of my attention just because it had been pointed out.
I’m not sure when I decided to be an optimist. It was at some point in my late twenties and it wasn’t a conscious decision. I’d accidentally spent a long time putting my optimism and efforts in in the wrong places. Sometimes you need to see things as they are to let them go, not hope for a change you can’t effect.
I decided that things would be as they are whether I expected them to be awful or brilliant, and that my pragmatism is strong enough to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
I started hoping for the best. I started looking on the bright side and expressing my natural excitement about things. I felt lighter, it felt right. I could still hear my internal doom-monger, but I wasn’t letting it take charge.
As time passed the habit began to form that I would look for the positive explanation for things rather than the negative one. In a world where social media is so often filled with either meaningless platitudes or angry criticisms, I chose to share the small things that made me happy.
It mostly comes down to how I make assumptions about other people’s motivations. Most people aren’t trying to hurt others. Even if I assume that most people are selfish, even then hurting other people is often a byproduct rather than a motivation for things.
Most people assume everyone else is just like them, has the same experiences as them, views things in the same ways as them. I’m privileged to know that most people don’t think like me, which gives me a bit of distance.
Lockdown hasn’t been easy. There have been times when I’ve really wanted to wallow. I’ve allowed myself a day here and there to feel how I need to feel. It’s frustrating seeing how people’s selfishness can have such enormous consequences to others.
It’s hard being optimistic during a pandemic. It’s such a weird form of natural disaster; it doesn’t happen suddenly and then go away again leaving you time to grieve, it builds up slowly, crushes your routines and plans, squeezes your personal relationships, and threatens to linger for a long time.
My optimism reads articles on promising vaccine possibilities, my pragmatism reads articles by pandemic experts about what we can do to keep our vulnerable safe, and my pessimism wants to wallow in anger at those flouting the rules and refusing to do what is expected.
It’s not easy looking for the good in things sometimes, but even now there is a humbling amount of quiet bravery going on. I feel let down by leaders, I feel betrayed by conspiracy theories, but I feel buoyed by humanity at its subtle finest; those maintaining social distancing when they themselves are unlikely to suffer badly with COVID-19, those stepping back into schools to take our children by the hand despite their fears, those who’ve worked to keep our world going.
My pessimism wants to ruminate on all my work cancellations and opportunities lost, my optimism wants to point out how little I’ve had to travel and how much I’ve enjoyed embracing home.
Sometimes optimism takes some effort – it takes more effort the more time I spend on social media – but the benefits to me and my state of mind are immeasurable. I only hope I can keep it up.