Editor’s Desk: Optimism: An Antidote to Worry

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Image Source: Dreamstime |  © Iakov Filimonov

One of the keys I’ve learned about living with grace in a chaotic world is to be optimistic – optimism is an antidote to worry.

I recently came across this excellent quote from Chris Hardwick. It’s quoted in the book Drawing on the Dream: Finding My Way by Art by artist Denise Kester. “Worry is a misuse of your imagination.” That says a lot. We often talk about imagination being a uniquely human capacity. Whether or not this is true, imagination pervades our existence and influences most everything we do.

It was Albert Einstein who once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” 

Imagination can lead to elaborate theories, dreams, and inventions. However, it can also lead us down the tunnel of worry and anguish. If we dwell exclusively on all the things that could go wrong, little energy is left for positive creative outcomes.

This, I suggest, is where optimism can play a big part in helping us participate in a larger field of opportunity and solutions. Holding a positive system of belief is an extremely pragmatic approach both psychologically and spiritually. Many wisdom leaders have pointed to the truism that we tend to act in the direction of our expectations. A sincere faith that things will be well inspires us to behave in a manner that creates positive effects in ourselves and others – and, consequently, things do improve and we enlarge our field of possibility. This is seen clearly whenever a neglected portion of road is turned into absolute rubble by the optimism of grass feeling the need to push up through cement to find the sunlight it “knows” is waiting there for it. This goes along with the thought expressed by activist, novelist, and poet, Alice Walker: As long as the Earth can make a spring every year, I can. As long as the Earth can flower and produce nurturing fruit, I can, because I’m the Earth. I won’t give up until the Earth gives up.”

Estelle Frankel, a psychotherapist who uses the wisdom and spiritual practices of the Kabbalah, has said on New Dimensions: “Even if some of our initial concerns turn out to be correct, worrying in advance rarely helps us cope . . . Being relaxed and centered is what will help us respond more effectively . . . When we allow our anxieties to control our decision-making, we often end up unnecessarily restricting our lives . . . Courage, on the other hand, enlarges an expansive playing field upon which our lives unfold.”

I’m suggesting a kind of grounded optimism and recall what Michael Toms was fond of saying: “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and working actively to change the evidence.” 

When we are under the influence of positive emotions more options are available to us. This fact is supported by world-renowned researcher Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. who discovered that experiencing positive emotions broadens people’s minds and builds their resourcefulness in ways that help them become more resilient to adversity and effortlessly achieve what they once could only imagine.

If all this does not convince you that optimism is an antidote to worry, let me repeat an encouraging example reflected in The Chinese Bamboo Metaphor in Olivier Clerc’s book Invaluable Lessons from a Frog: Seven Life-Enhancing Metaphors. It is said that there is a very special variety of bamboo in China. If you sow seeds of this type on fertile ground, you have to be very patient. Nothing happens for years; there are no green shoots or any sign at all for the first, second, third, or fourth year. The fifth year, something green pushes through the soil. Then it grows forty feet in one year! The reason is simple. The years nothing is happening on the surface the bamboo is developing prodigious roots preparing to manifest in the world. That is what bottom-up grassroots change looks like when a critical mass is reached. Suddenly there is support, a new attitude, a confluence of effort and energy and if enlightened leadership also manifests, a major cultural shift can happen.

I encourage us to default often to optimism. As the great wisdom leader Wayne Dyer has aptly expressed, “No one knows enough to be a pessimist.”

– Justine Willis Toms