On optimism

I have a few guiding principles in my life that serve as the foundation for how I:

Create stuff
Make decisions
Become a decent human

On Creating stuff. I’ve said this before, and it’s the unofficial motto of this blog. Dare to be pointless. The stuff you do, and the stuff you create, doesn’t need to have a point. All that matters is that you enjoy it and find it interesting. Hopefully others do too.

On making decisions. Be pragmatic. Ask questions. Listen to your gut.

On being a decent human. There’s a lot that goes into being a decent human. Helping others, being kind, listening. I try to do all of that, but here is my guiding principle: maintain optimism as a default setting.

There is nothing that turns me off more than negativity. It is my least favorite quality. And it does seem like it’s getting worse, that more and more people are turning to pessimism and cynicism in how they look at the world.

Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that negativity and outrage will somehow lead to positive change, either in our own lives, or in the world at large. But that usually doesn’t work. At least not in my experience.

I don’t think it helps that we have continuous and unrelenting cycles of manufactured negativity – the news, social media, higher expectations, Donald Trump, whatever. I think it is harder now to be a positive person. It takes more work.

But negativity doesn’t feel good. It’s just easy.

Optimism is my default setting because I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. There are also a tremendous amount of things to be optimistic about.

That’s not to discount the problems we have – climate change, nuclear weapons, cancer, and about 681,357 other things. But it turns out that humans are very good at solving problems. So far, we’ve done a pretty good job at avoiding the apocalypse, and I imagine that will continue for some time to come.

Now, of course, there are times when I’m negative. This whole optimism as a default setting thing is a work in progress. As a result of being human, I have times where I’m down, where I’m cynical, where I question people’s intentions and wonder if things are getting worse.

But I try to maintain optimism. I remind myself of it every day. It’s why I talk to really interesting people and travel and try to imagine others complexly and with empathy. I think back to that word sonder, the idea that everyone has a story and is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. That helps.

 

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