Hope vs. Optimism


 I recently came across some old class notes with the heading: hope vs. optimism.

Are hope and optimism the same?  Or do they differ?  If so, how?

My notes tell me that optimism means “everything will work out okay.”  To me, this means that an illness will be cured, a broken relationship reconciled, or the jobless employed.  In other words, the external circumstances of life will be fixed, somehow.

Hope, my notes tell me, is different.  Hope goes deeper.  Though not everything will evolve as I want, hope teaches me that I can trust the process.  The image is that of a dimming wick: things are changing, loss is real, but a light still flickers.  I may not have chosen this loss or difficult circumstance, but perhaps I can learn something, gain insight, and mature into greater wholeness through these changes.  I may even discover some blessings–perhaps not right away, but eventually.

There have been times in my life when I clung desperately to optimism.  I held on tightly, just waiting for “everything to work out okay.”  It was as though I held my breath, trying to control an outcome by doing so!

But when things didn’t work out as I had wanted, I had to make a choice.  I could continue to hang on, usually with great fear and pain, or I could let go and embrace the life that was waiting for me.

This process of moving from optimism to hope is not easy for me.  I’m really good at holding on too tightly and too long to a situation that begs for release.  What is life-giving, I’ve learned, is to understand that when aspirations or desired outcomes no longer serve me or others, I must let go, trust the process of change, and open myself into the light—and lightness—of hope.  And who knows—I may be amazed with the surprises and blessings it brings.

How do you view the difference between optimism and hope?

“The hope that is left after all your hopes are gone–

that is pure hope, rooted in the heart.”

–David Steindl-Rast

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