Optimism: a form of courage in a world of uncertainty and fear

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If someone had met me 12 years ago, he or she would have encountered a shy, quiet 8-year-old who believed anything bad that could happen would happen to her. I even had some gray hair, thanks to my frequent worrying about failing tests I knew I had studied for and a fear of car crashes. I would not go so far as to say I was a pessimist, but I was a worrier. It was not healthy, and I was plagued by it.

Then I watched a show called “Shaman King,” which taught me about optimism. Based on the manga of the same name by Hiroyuki Takei, “Shaman King” is about shamans, people who are born with the ability to call on ghosts to aid them in battle. Each one chooses a ghost to be his or her “guardian ghost.”  With their guardian ghosts, they participate in the Shaman Tournament, where they battle each other until there is one winner, who is crowned the Shaman King.

Protagonist Yoh Asakura, a shaman who has trained his whole life to be in the tournament, is an optimist to the point of annoying his friends. Yoh thinks everything will work out in the end if he believes it will. However, in volume six of the manga, Yoh’s optimism fails him when he loses in a battle, risking his chance to make it in the tournament.

He has a breakdown over his failure until his guardian ghost explains that while his optimism cannot keep him from feeling pain, its purpose is to keep him going.

“Everyone has fears and anxieties,” he said. “What matters is how you deal with them. Your motto is ‘everything will work out.’ That too is a form of courage.”

Something in me changed when I read that line. It was such a simple concept, but it was completely new to me. Yoh’s optimism did not make the fear go away. It just kept it from consuming him, the way fear often consumed me. It was his form of bravery. And I decided that day to make it mine.

Optimism is defined by Google as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something,” but I have often heard people describe it as being “naïve” or “ignorant.”

Pessimists and cynics think of being optimistic as being blind to the horribleness in the world. They think optimism is damaging. However, being optimistic has several psychological benefits.

Psychologist Martin Seligman told the website psychologytoday.com that pessimists are not as productive as optimists because they tend to give up more easily.

Psychologist Suzanne Sergerstorm explains in her book, “Breaking Murphy’s Law: How Optimists Get What They Want From Life—and Pessimists Can Too,” that optimism is about feeling motivated and persistent, not just positive.

Optimists also deal with problems head-on rather than walking away, so they are more productive than pessimists.

While pessimists may shut down after a failure, optimists tend to learn from a negative experience and apply what they have learned to their life.

The way I see it, pessimists are not progressive or productive because, in their minds, they have failed before they have even begun. With this mind set, they do not have any motivation to begin a project or make changes to their life.

It boggles my mind that these same people think optimists are “naïve.”

Changing one’s mindset is never easy. It took me a long time to completely embrace the optimism concept. The trick was reminding myself that the bad outcome of a situation oftentimes is not the one that happens. Bit by bit, it became easier to become optimistic. It can be difficult when other people are filled with so much negativity, but I do not let it tear me down. I know that pessimism does not foster growth or awards.

Believing that things will work out for the best is why I joined the newspaper in high school, why I went on to study journalism in college and why I can continue to face my fears.

I know that there is horrible crime in this city. I know that ISIS is causing chaos. I know Ebola has killed thousands in Africa. I am not ignoring what I claim could be worse. I am not being naïve when I say there are solutions, and the world will find them.

What I am not doing is letting these tragedies make life meaningless. I am not letting the problems turn me into a coward. Whining, moaning and claiming that the sky is falling will not fix any of it.

What will fix problems is the motivation and persistence that optimists clearly have.

Optimism is not about being ignorant, avoiding facts or being naïve. It is about seeing the world for what it is and saying, “I can do better. Everyone can do better. There is a chance, and it will all work out.”

This form of courage makes change not only possible, but practical.

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