Without a doubt, I’m an optimist. From arguing in favor of the Bursley-Baits bus to arguing for an explicit expansion of our vocabulary, I try my best to see the light in every situation. But the silver lining is often elusive, and sometimes involves extensive searching. This search, in and of itself, is an art. Unlike most arts, though, optimism has a unique faculty and disposition toward improving all that it touches. While it’s not always easy to remain optimistic, the belief we have in the world correlates with how much we believe in ourselves.
Belief is embodied and emboldened by optimism. I’m not an optimist because I choose to be, but because that’s what the world requires. Optimism is the kindling for the fire of change, and the means to overcoming struggle.
On countless occasions, it’s been proven that there are multiple discernible psychological and physiological benefits to “seeing the glass half full.” Multiple studies have found a correlation between optimism and a decrease in different health issues, such as heart failure and strokes, and optimists are even reported to recover faster after undergoing intensive surgery. People who haven’t integrated optimism into their lifestyles often have higher levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone.
Optimism has also been found to have a high correlation with overall life satisfaction. In a 1990 study, college freshmen who were predisposed toward optimism were found to be less stressed, lonely and depressed than other students. These benefits, albeit numerous and clear, are not indicative of the true effect of optimism. The physiological and psychological benefits seen because of optimism are themselves effects — effects of optimism’s unique ability to alter the way we view the world and help us confront and overcome our struggles.
Struggle is one of the few universal human experiences, making its mark on each individual’s life in some way at some point in their lives. While not all struggles are created equal, they all require at least some amount of tenacity, patience and work to overcome. Whether you’re studying for a University of Michigan math exam or attempting to bring down a systemic bias, optimism is necessary.
The art of optimism is a power that can help in overcoming any sort of struggle, no matter if that struggle is constant or temporary, immense or small. It is a way of thinking that takes a hold of the future and refuses to relinquish it into the hands of defeat.
To anyone who’s facing some sort of hardship, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” can ring a cynical bell. It can sound like complacency to an unfair and unjust present, a consolation that tries to prescribe meaning to a meaningless circumstantial situation. However, therein lies the phrase’s power. By defining meaning in hardship, we take hold of how it affects us. Optimism allows us to take a hard time and make it worth something, making experience our currency. The power to take control of our own future lies within our own perception of our current circumstances.
In giving meaning to the struggles we face, we give ourselves meaning and purpose to carry on. The meaning that we can find in different struggles can vary. A failed exam could be motivation to study harder, a lesson in accepting failure or a push toward switching majors. These experiences can make us stronger when facing a similar battle in the future, or they can teach us valuable lessons so that we may grow as people.
Undoubtedly, optimism requires a lot of courage. Getting past the face of despair and defeat to see the bigger picture is not an easy task. It feels like the world works to bring us down to its reality, to simply accept that struggle is an immovable facet of life and that it has no point. The only time we can have courage, though, is when we stand in front of the valley of despair. The only time we can overcome it is when we are at risk of being conquered. Hope is as courageous an endeavor as any.
It’s also important to note that optimism might not always be “right.” Many times, an optimist will find the outcomes that they’ve sought out are different from reality. But the differences between what we seek and what we have do not invalidate the use of optimism.
Even if we are wrong in believing the best, we can at least believe that we could be right. At the end of the day, what matters less than the outcome is the process. When we feel that the world is worth believing in, we find our souls emboldened by the positivity and spirit that overcomes our perspective. In finding something redeemable around us, we can believe that there is something redeemable within ourselves, as we are a part of the greater system.
We face many problems as a society. Climate change, political polarization and injustice paint dark brush strokes on the canvas of humanity. To change the world, we must believe that it can be changed. To overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, we must alter our perspective and see that pandemonium only defines our identity in an extremely clear way. To make tangible progress in the communities that we are a part of, we must hold on to optimism and use it to carry us through the valleys of stagnation. Optimism and hope are the kindling to the flames that can extinguish struggle. It is this hope — the indomitable human spirit — that gives us the strength to carry on.
I rely on the strength of my optimism to carry on even when things seem bleak. This unique tool is the first step to real, tangible change, at any level. I am an optimist not because I choose to be, but because I need to be.
Hailing from the great city of Northville, Michigan, Zhane Yamin is a Senior Opinion Editor writing mainly about campus culture and student sentiment for The Daily. He can be reached by carrier pigeon or, more easily, at email@example.com.