Most everyone has heard of “the optimism of youth”, but how many are aware that the young don’t have a monopoly on this healthy perspective? I’m not denying that, as we age, we accumulate more responsibilities and stress in our lives. These can easily drain our emotional and physical batteries, until we want to plunge down a rabbit hole of TV and ice cream. Everyone’s rabbit hole is different, but mine always involves ice cream. Deep in the darkness of those creamy, delicious warrens, a person can feel downright old and worn thin. Optimism can seem like that dim sunlight above, but it’s there, and it’s warm, and you can still take your spoon with you, in case there’s more ice cream out there.
I spent far too much time in my twenties mired in negativity. I was broke. I was lonely. I struggled to find a place where I fit in. My family was far away, and I had far too much pride to let them know how unhappy and exhausted I felt. After all, I had chosen to move hundreds of miles away from everything and everyone I had known, so I could try to make a living. But I wasn’t living. I was just surviving, barely. It never occurred to me that this struggle was a gift. This decade of my life was full of the freedom to learn and explore and take chances, something later years wouldn’t offer me nearly as easily. This should have been one of the most optimistic periods of my life.
It’s easy to look back twenty years and declare what you should have done differently. I should have given myself a little time for introspection and self-evaluation. Back then, I had plenty of time to do that, to figure out what little things I could do to make my life incrementally better and more positive. It does take time, something that seems to be far less available as we get older, but it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming quest. The little positive steps glom together into a snowball, and they can accumulate into something big enough to crush the urge to flee into that hole, maybe even enough to squash the ice cream cravings.
It might start with giving yourself something fun or relaxing to anticipate: a walk in the sun, a good book, a cup of coffee with a friend. Before you know it, you’re appreciating that little slice of optimism pie (a la mode), and your elevated mood may push you in a direction that will only increase your momentum: exercise, a salsa class, volunteer opportunities. As the optimism snowball rushes on, that rabbit hole starts to disappear in the background, the years seem to drop away like a heavy winter coat discarded in the spring. You’re in the sun, and there’s no reason not to bask in it.
Optimism is making you young.