SPINKS: A life half full
An optimistic mindset is a valuable tool for leading a happy life, and should not be confused with naivete
Expectation is the root of all heartache. These oft-quoted cautionary words, while they may be cliché, are not inaccurate. When you attach expectations to a person, an experience, or an event, you are mentally creating demands that may or may not be fulfilled. Even if the experience overall is positive and rewarding, it may not match your personal vision. It may be different than you hoped it would be. People of all kinds know this experience well. But when you’re an optimist, you don’t have mere expectations—you have high expectations. You have dreams. And far from the bitter taste of disappointment or the small twinge of resentment that most may feel when they are let down, optimists will feel so much more. Rather than heartache, we will feel heartbreak.
I say “we” because I see myself as an optimist; or at the very least, the optimist’s cousin, an idealist. And it is hard work to remain optimistic in today’s world, which is so colored by cynicism, greed, selfishness and cruelty. Whether you feel discouraged by corrupt politicians or simply hurt that the cute boy from your discussion section didn’t say hi today (yet again) being an optimist can often feel like receiving a constant stream of slaps in the face from the universe. The worst part is that optimists do it all with a smile on their faces, confident that the next day will be better than the last, despite the plethora of evidence to the contrary. To remain hopeful in the face of adversity is not as easy as we make it look—it is very, very difficult.
Another trial of being an optimist is being constantly mistaken for naive. Toeing the line between optimism and naivete is a delicate process. Some would call it an art. Is expecting the best when the world has taught you to prepare for the worst optimistic or is it pitiable? When you tell me that something great has happened and my default inclination is to believe you, does that make me charmingly sanguine or gullible? Here’s a real-world example to try to demonstrate the difference: If you take an incredibly difficult test and hope for a B instead of a C, that’s optimism. If you tell yourself that there will “definitely be a curve,” so that your 65 percent will magically become an A, that is naivete.
Perhaps it would be easier to be a pessimist. Maybe we optimists should lower our expectations. Adjusting my attitude to mirror one of a pessimist would make life a lot more bearable, especially if current predictions about the unemployment rate of my generation are reliable. Everything from the job application process to dating to coexisting with colleagues would be simplified if I abandoned my optimism. Didn’t get the job I wanted? That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting to. A guy rejected my dinner invitation? No big deal, it was more likely he would say “no” than “yes” anyway. That jerk at my office didn’t do her share of the work, and I would have to stay late? People are sure to disappoint you. I shouldn’t expect her to come through.
Sure, life as a pessimist would be devoid of a lot of disappointment. But would I be willing to sacrifice the rollercoaster ride that is existence just because the sudden drops gave me a stomach ache? Is a life without passionate, idealistic, slightly stupid faith (even if it means avoiding the heartwrenching let-downs as well) worth living at all?
I think being an optimist is worth it. Because when people do live up to their inherent goodness or experiences are as thrilling as you’ve imagined, nothing makes you feel more validated or alive. Sometimes, being an optimist just requires viewing a situation from a new angle. For instance: yes, technology is permeating our lives and arguably making us less articulate or less able to form meaningful bonds with other humans. But the proliferation of amazing technology and science also means that we know more about the world than anyone has ever known. People are able to be more productive, live healthier lives and create beautiful art and tools. The world is amazing; expect it to be, and while you may occasionally be disappointed, laughed at, or doubted, you will also be happier than those who don’t allow themselves to dream. You’ll have a wish to make up to in the morning.
Ashley Spinks is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily.