Debunking The Optimism Myth: The Art of Self-Strengthening

There’s a new moral code that many of us buy into, without even noticing it: the moral code of perpetual optimism. To be honest, I don’t believe this kind of optimism is real (and potentially is harmful to you). The false type of optimism has taken over and robbed many of us who are dealing with trauma or difficulty; it is ever-present and makes us less resilient on both a personal and community level.  Resilient optimism, the real kind, is not one that denies reality, but rather, one that realizes the power of the will as a transformative agent of life.

Transformation is something that is possible for everyone and empowers individuals to make an actual impact on the world around them. You might not like hearing this if you are pretty keen on positive psychology or optimism, however, I think optimism and transformation have the same goal. Let me tell you why with the example of Ivan Ilyin–

The Singing Heart written by Ivan Ilyin is a book that discusses some of life’s most common struggles and how they can be viewed with a unique, spiritually informed wisdom. Ivan Ilyin defines true optimism as healthy, constructive optimism. This is one way he describes it: “For the will is a wonderful and mysterious force that can always become more powerful and stubborn than it may seem at first. The true optimist’s will is the gift of strength, the art of self-strengthening, a living continuity of perpetual effort.” The art of self-strengthening is the acknowledging that we have to transform ourselves. It means looking at the dirt and not get bogged down by it, but realizing we can plant something in that dirt and blossom as a result.

 The art of self-strengthening becomes one of the most important agents of understanding how to develop personal and community resilience. In fact, in the designed training for the special forces, individuals that exhibit a false sort of optimism are quickly excused from training due to their lack of realism. When you’re dropped into a flood and swim past floating infant corpses, as one soldier reports, you can’t focus merely on the bright side of life. However, without knowing how to confront this, you also can’t be the hero that the situation may need. Basically, you transform the situation with focusing on what needs to be done. Therefore, optimism, without adversity, cannot reach the fullness of its potential.

So how can you develop resilient optimism?

Find a resilient role model that has survived and transformed their life, despite difficult circumstances. Being able to talk to someone and see what methods they used to create a better situation, despite their trial, is a practical way to understanding how you can do it. We aren’t made to live alone, so looking up to someone, or a few people, can be both bonding and useful.

In terms of developing community, there is another approach. Seeing the difficulties that occur in your community is one of the first steps to becoming involved in the solution. Shying away from seeing the issues, or getting overly disturbed by them won’t assist the greater good. Therefore, with resilient optimism in mind, take a look at what around you may need fixing, and assess it with some data and reason. With a healthy balance of empathy and logic, you can create an impact on more than just your personal life, with balance, depth and insight. We will talk more about this type of effective altruism in an upcoming post!

Recommended reading:

What do you think about this resilient optimism? Do you agree or disagree? What would you add or take away?

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