In Uncertain Times, We Could All Use More Optimism

During the difficulties of her divorce, Maggie Smith was shocked by her perspective.

How to stay optimistic, according to author Maggie Smith
Photo: Sanny Van Loon/Shop Around

Something unexpected—and, frankly, life-altering—happened when my marriage ended: I realized that I could no longer afford to be a pessimist. I could no longer allow my worst thoughts to gather twigs and ribbons, and make a permanent home in my mind.

I realized that pessimism wasn't going to get me out of bed, or get the coffee made, or pack the kids' lunches, or do the laundry, or make any deadlines. Pessimism wasn't going to help me or my children. And so, in a very dark time, it occurred to me that being optimistic moment by moment was a gift I could give myself. Even if whatever I'm hoping for doesn't materialize, I am feeding my spirit in the meantime. I am not poisoning the present with worry or despair or defeatist thinking.

Today I think of myself as a "recovering pessimist." I know that optimism is not at odds with wisdom. It's quite the opposite. I think of cynicism as cool but lazy, while hope is desperately uncool—it has sweaty palms and an earnest smile on its face. What I know to be true is that one hopeful person will accomplish more than a hundred cynics. Why? Because the hopeful person will try.

Maggie Smith is an award-winning author who wrote the viral poem "Good Bones." This essay is excerpted from Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change ($24;, which will be published in October by One Signal, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2020 by Maggie Smith.

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