By some definitions, pessimism is a perspective of the world devoid of hope, where evil outweighs good and all things eventually turn bad. For many people, however, a milder definition of pessimism is more accurate. Dictionary.com defines pessimism as “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.” So identifying oneself as a pessimist can simply be an acknowledgment that your default pattern is to expect the worst.
Often a pessimistic outlook can be used as a defense mechanism, as in: “If I prepare myself for the worst, then I can’t be disappointed.” Anxiety also serves as a conduit, since an anxious mind is always preparing itself for the worst. But while pessimism may be the default framework for some of us, we can choose to embrace hope.
Neurological research shows that the brains of pessimists and optimists are in fact, hardwired differently, yet they also possess plasticity for change. Elaine Fox, author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, writes, “Neurons, and connections of neurons, respond to the things we do and even the things we think, resulting in real changes in the way that brain circuits operate.” She believes an optimist’s brain is rooted in seeking pleasure, while a pessimist’s brain focuses on fear of danger. These different operating systems affect how we experience life, and a healthy balance between the two is ideal.
As Christians, our faith can serve as a crucial tool for cultivating a more hopeful, optimistic outlook. As Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out alright.”
God provides a multitude of examples in the Bible of people responding to negative events with hope. Mary and Joseph embraced their new, unplanned roles of parenthood. David accepted the challenge of Goliath, Daniel faced a den full of lions, and countless sick people approached Jesus with the hope of being healed. In Matthew 9:20-21, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up to Jesus to touch his clothes. “She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’” What incredible faith, to maintain hope despite over a decade of sickness! In times that feel hopeless, remember God’s power and promise to help us.
Jesus’ parables, stories meant to teach us how to live, also brim with hope. In the parable of the prodigal son, the irresponsible son who made countless mistakes is forgiven (Luke 15:11-32). The parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similarly remind us that with loss comes redemption, from sadness springs joy. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a man beaten up by robbers on his way to Jericho is rescued with grace and compassion (Luke 10:25-37). Bad things can and will happen, but in every moment of crisis, there are people who offer compassion and help.
Fred Rogers (also known as Mr. Rogers) famously said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This is true in every crisis, but we have to adjust our focus to look for this positive slant. It’s so easy to find the negative.
The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that even the smallest grain of faith has the potential to grow and blossom. Hope, too, can grow in this way. When we shift our focus towards the positive, we cultivate hope and optimism.
A healthy spiritual life can provide many opportunities for pessimists to nurture a more optimistic outlook. Prayer allows us to relieve our mental burdens, and ask God to help us adjust our perspective. When we shift our focus toward the positive, we cultivate hope and optimism.
Ernest Holmes said, “Where your mind goes, energy flows.” Meditation is another great tool to relieve worry and anxiety. Simply sit in quiet and room and try to clear your mind of worries. Focus on a meaningful Scripture verse. Thoughts will come, but let them pass by like leaves down a river. This time alone with God, apart from the busy-ness and obligations of life, creates space for gratitude, peace, and yes, hope.
A Prayer for Hope
Heavenly Father, help me cultivate a more hopeful, positive outlook. Help me see the good in every tragedy, the light in every darkness, the joy in every sadness. Please grant me patience to sit in stillness, discipline to study your Word, and humility to ask for your help. Thank you, God. Amen.
Maria Cheshire lives in Centreville, Virginia. In addition to writing, she enjoys running, teaching, and painting. Check out her summer blog here: https://summeradventurez.blogspot.com
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