[NOTE: Here’s another encouraging post from my friend, Landon Saunders. There’s a link at the end to sign up for his email, if you wish.]
I first came across the phrase “tragic optimism” years ago in the writings of Viktor Frankl who wrote the book entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it, he recounts how finding meaning helped him and others survive the concentration camps.
Recently, I came upon the term again in a New York Times column by Emily Esfahani Smith. She described it this way: “Tragic optimism is the ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its inescapable pain, loss and suffering.”
In crisis, finding meaning each day may bring calmness, a sense of peace and reassurance in spite of the upheaval we experience. Finding meaning keeps us in closest touch with joy.
As I’ve aged—with the inevitable change that brings—I’ve increased my attention to doing things each day that bring meaning to my life. Sometimes, that meaning is reflected in simple rituals that I also find helpful in our current crisis. Each day I ask: “What can I intentionally do today that will bring a bit of meaning to my life?”
For example, I’ve found that getting presentably dressed each morning, even if I’m staying home and likely to see no one, is helpful and meaningful to my sense of self. And so, as I’ve aged and as I’m experiencing this current crisis, I keep this routine each morning. It helps keep me in touch, yes, even with a bit of joy.
Weather permitting, I make a point of going outside for a few moments of sunshine. It’s helpful to soak up the rays. This morning I shared the sun with the first goldfinches of the season! Those moments, however few, help keep me in touch with myself, and yes, to a bit of meaning.
I set aside a specific time, preferably in late afternoon or early evening, for a kind of “Happy Hour.” I do this whether I’m alone or with others. Whatever it might be, create a special moment you can look forward to all day. This can add meaning and joy to our lives.
Each day I think intentionally of something that would make me feel good and something that would add meaning to my day. I might think of someone I’ve known in years past but haven’t been in touch with for a while. I might send a note of remembrance, of appreciation, or something else I could do for others that I hadn’t thought of before. It might even be cleaning out a closet or sorting through the pantry! Be creative and you might surprise yourself with all the things you can think of that could bring you and those around you a little bit of meaning and a bit of joy.
We are in one of the rarest moments in all the history of the world. We do a good thing when we find meaning, each day, in such a time as this. And, in our finding meaning, we give a special gift to others. And we touch the joy that is priceless to our sense of well-being.
Yes, this can be called “tragic optimism.”