How could we be optimists when we get a live show of the apocalypse (or something very similar) every time we turn our TV or computer on? Good question. The majority of human history was not written by optimists, but they shaped it, for sure. In other words: most of the time humanity spent on Earth was not dominated by optimism. Because this scheme didn’t even exist.
The fundamentally optimist narrative of our life is perhaps also resulting from the fact that while the beginning and end of the life cycles of past generations took place amongst the same circumstances, in the 20th and 21st centuries, radically different circumstances built up the narratives of linearity and progression at the birth and death of people, which of course, resulted in ugly ideologies in modern political thinking most of the times, but this is not the subject of this contemplation.
If we give it a deeper though, we can justly ask the question: how could figures more depressing than the Ancient Greek or Roman thinkers build civilizations as glorious as theirs? In the case of the Greek, the father of all gods, the manifestation of time, Cronos first swallows and then throws up his children (what a plastic depiction of time), and the Romans viewed the generations coming after each other as decaying and less and less noble descendants. Why are and should we be optimists today? Let’s state right at the beginning that although there are inconvenient circumstances in today’s time, the whole story (of course the part pertaining to our personal freedom and way of life) is a cabaret compared to what went down in our grandparents’ life. #stayhome
Regardless of this, now that many of us don’t have jobs anymore, and bad things start to line up starting with more people losing their jobs and existence, we still have to find the point that helps us get through this period, and the essence of this is that we should not be looking for happiness, but meaning, goals or mission.
The past decades have been all about the pursuit of happiness, and now we are in a world where mental problems have triumphed over our welfare and nihilism seems like one of the most threatening mindsets. Happiness as a goal equals emptiness in itself, as it is only a tiny fragment of the broad spectrum of our emotions, we cannot spend our whole lives in flow either, as it wouldn’t make any sense. The other natural feelings of our life such as fear, pain or uncertainty are just as necessary as happiness, but we can only live a full life resulting from the combination of these if our actions and thoughts have a depth, goal and meaning.
The meaning that fills our thoughts, rather than having the same day everyday like in the movie Groundhog Day or in Edge of Tomorrow, gives a narrative to the process of yesterday-today-tomorrow. In fact, both works are about the protagonists having the same day everyday until they find the thing that gives meaning to their lives.
The same meaning and the narrative built from it helps give greater value to our human relationships. We can build friendships and other relationships by building on these grounds and not by building on the pursuit of happiness, which can then be apt for making each other happy.
The most important and relevant part is, however, the challenge. Challenges go hand in hand with stress, pain, sometimes discouragement and efforts, but they are still indispensable parts of our lives, the road leading to our goals and our development. That is, if we have a goal. Because if we don’t, then this pain and suffering truly don’t make any sense. Those unable to answer the why wait for the solution from others and look for happiness within themselves in vain.
The situation didn’t change much in the medieval period of historiography compared to the approach of the Greek and Roman authors (in terms of pessimism), only according to European Christianity, a certain kind of linearity became given for the world. But then this wasn’t a road to development, but to apocalypse.
Only today’s modern people desire development and whether we can achieve this really only depends on our goals. And achieving our goals can indeed make us happy. Not vice versa.
“Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what “needs to be” in the face of what is. Optimism is not uncool; it is rebellious and daring and vital.”GUILLERMO DEL TORO @ Time – THE ART OF OPTIMISM
We used Warsaw-based Michał Sawtyruk plein air illustrations in our article.