The Online Etymology Dictionary is my friend, confirming my quasi-informed suspicions about words and their origins such as "optimism."
When I say I am optimistic, I want to know that what I think I mean is what I am really saying. Here is their take on the word:
"1782, from Fr. optimisme (1737), from Mod.L. optimum, used by Leibnitz (in Théodicée, 1710) to mean "the greatest good," from L. optimus "the best" (see optimum). The doctrine holds that the actual world is the "best of all possible worlds," in which the creator accomplishes the most good at the cost of the least evil." See the full article here
The greatest good, the least evil, the best of all possible worlds. These are lenses through which I choose to view life and goals which I have in every challenge, circumstance, and problem.
I am an optimist. A pessimist, by definition (pessimus = worst in Latin) looks for the worst. That being said, I think that there is another self-description that becomes an enemy of the optimum or best in our lives. It is being a minimalist.
I am not making a value judgment about art or design here. There is a value to minimalism, especially with regards to consumption and excess. I am talking about the potential of every situation. I am referring to the outlook of a person on life and growth especially with regard to the call to overcome our obstacles and to become all that we can be in life.
Two people can exist in the same milieu of circumstances, suffer the same limitations, face the same challenges, and be buffeted with equal opposition and one will succeed while the other fails. There may be any number of factors involved in these outcomes, but one thing we know given the scenario is that they are internal and volitional. In other words, they involve the choices that each person makes.
Of course there is no way to duplicate identical circumstances, but we can approximate them. Each of us is imbued with our own distinct mixes of gifts, strengths, weaknesses, genetic predispositions, family backgrounds, and belief systems, but even with those, we all have choices.
I think that one of the great deciding factors in our lives is in our choices to believe the best, the worst, or the least about where we are and where we are going. Brain science, behavioral research, and the worlds of business and performance motivation fall into line with anecdotal illustrations of the power of belief and attitude to determine what will be made of the "givens" in our lives.
These fall into alliance with the scriptures as recorded in such passages as Proverbs 23:7, " For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he ..."
Optimism is not fantasizing about a desired future. It is believing in its possibility and rallying our thoughts, prayers, and actions toward the realization of that future. It is acting on what we believe in and pray for. Proverbs 28:19 (NLB) distinguishes between wishful thinking and positive thinking resulting in positive actions:
"A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty."
In order to work the field, the farmer must believe that the process can and, most likely will, bring results. In order to have any validity to his beliefs, he must do the work. The two go hand in hand and both exist with the realm of the knowledge of God's sovereignty and love.
For those who like acronyms on which to hang their rhetorical hats, here is one for the optimist:
O - Over the top thinking as opposed to under the circumstances thinking.
P - Positive about the possibilities of proactive beliefs and action.
T - Truth - The optimist is not hiding his head in the sand, but standing in the sand and seeing beyond.
I - Inspired and inspiring to others.
M - Makes the best of things rather than surrendering to the worst or the minimum.
I - Initiative-taking rather than waiting for things to work out.
S - Sacred values are important to the optimist who stakes everything on them.
T - Time expended and energy invested are what it costs and what is multiplied in a true optimist.
It is your choice. I get a little shaky sometimes, I must confess, but in the end, I always choose optimism because anything less is simply unacceptable.