The mind is a battleground. We are surrounded by circumstances, situations and decisions, asking, demanding and begging for a response. Optimism and pessimism fight for control over our response to these circumstances. Why? Because our mindset affects more than just our minds. It affects everyone around us.
Optimism versus pessimism seems to fall into the realm of good versus evil. However, there is much more under the surface of these words. Each word holds the fault of extremity within its definition.
Pessimism is “an inclination to emphasize or to expect the worst possible outcome; the doctrine that reality is essentially evil,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Negativity, expectation for the worst and ultimately discontentment, are found at the root of a pessimist. When we see life through a lens of negativity, we essentially question God’s sovereignty and goodness. Grumbling and ingratitude comes from a mind focused on what you do not have. Life is viewed as a board of evil, sadness, depravity and hopelessness.
As I have gotten older, I feel as if my tendency to expect the worst in people and circumstances has heightened. It seems that the thorns and thistles of this world turn optimistic youths into pessimistic adults. As my knowledge of the evils of this world grows, I become more saddened and disheartened by my surroundings instead of looking to my Savior and His promise of my future with Him. Do you see the difference in mindset? Does the fallen world surrounding you make you more set on pessimism and discontentment or on hope and a future perfect home? As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
I find myself depressed by the world’s depravity which dead ends in a pessimistic mindset and expectation for life. However, the truth found in Scripture tells us that no matter how dark this world seems, Jesus has already won. He has already conquered death and risen from the grave. This is the reason why an optimistic life is achievable. God does not call us to the unattainable, but gives us the ultimate source of strength for the life He calls us to. Even if every aspect of my earthly life falters, no one can take the promise of eternity with Christ from me: no matter the circumstance, no matter the pain.
Optimism, at the other extreme, is defined as: “the expectation of the best possible outcome or an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions” by Merriam-Webster. Hopefulness and expectation of a good future are good, but this mindset still experiences flaws in two factors: naivety and hope set in the wrong place. What future hope is driving your optimism? If it is optimistic hope in the future of your earthly life, you will be disappointed. But if it is optimism for the future of your heavenly home, this hope will never falter. The problem with optimism lies with where your hope comes from. Optimism also has a tendency towards naivety, the false impression and idea that the world is perfect. There is a difference between being optimistic and realistic. We must find a balance.
God does not call us to be optimistic or pessimistic when terrible things happen. Instead, he calls us to Him. I believe both optimism and pessimism can be traps of the mind. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” We are not called to naivety, but wisdom. We are not called to hope in this world, but hope in Him. These are the faults of optimism.
Until we are called to our heavenly home, we are sojourners awaiting our promised land. Will we fall into the trap of grumbling and discontentment or fix our eyes solely on the eternal promise in Christ? God is sovereign, faithful and good despite this world. We have a choice to make as we grow up: Will we become people with minds set more and more on this world or on an eternal kingdom? One leads to confusion, the other to hope.