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  • Writer's pictureBarry Shirley


Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Hi Guys. In this August 2020 blog (Issue 9). I would like to contemplate the subject of hope and optimism.

As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. These blog posts are designed to only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there.

What is hope? Chambers Concise Dictionary indicates that: hope is a desire (that something good will happen), with some expectation of success or fulfilment……... A light at the end of the tunnel perhaps?

What is optimism? The same dictionary indicates that: optimism is a belief that everything is ordered for the best; a disposition to take a bright hopeful view of things……… A glass half full perhaps?

Also, are hope and optimism different things? It appears that they are at the least intertwined.

During this present COVID-19 crisis, quite understandably, there is an enormous amount of unease, anxiety, stress and fear out there. There is also a lot of discussion on ‘mindfulness’ and how it may help during this time. However, what do we really understand about our attitudes and mindsets to give us any meaningful, hopeful or optimistic outlook?

Mindsets (i.e. a person’s world view or philosophy on life) are quite interesting in this regard and various descriptors of them have been around for a while (e.g. growth mindset vs fixed mindset). A new approach by Peter H. Diamandis MD is quite interesting (checkout his posts @peterdiamandis on Instagram). He states that if you are watching negative news/noise every day, it will negatively affect you, and your brain, through neuroplasticity,

will adapt to that.

He advises that an exponential and abundance mindset might be better where, instead of the normal news cycle, you might follow all the positive news and wonderful changes/advances in technology, science, business models and research etc. He now follows to get positive and future-forward news stories on the topics he is interested in. He indicates that it has positively changed his thought processes and his overall positive awareness.

Also, for an abundance of good news stories, check out the Good News Network at: -

Try to get away from an ordinary (binary) mindset as this will lead you into further anxiousness or unease about the world (i.e. try to let go of things outside your immediate sphere of control). For normal mental health you may need to adopt a positive mindset (which, in turn, should cycle you through positive feelings of optimism and hope).

The following is a great set of words which perhaps illustrates how you could move towards the right focus on your life philosophy; - Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny. These great words and variations on them have been variously ascribed to the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Gandhi and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (i.e. basically meaning; you are what you think).

Remember to focus on the present moment – it is all you have (i.e. the past is history and the future is a mystery) – accept all situations (both good and bad) and let go of things that no longer serve you well.

Optimism then, is possibly more about an overall positive attitude to life but is perhaps more passive as to how it will turn out. For example, the lyrics out of the Monty Python song in the ‘Life of Brian’ may be relevant – i.e. “Always look on the bright side of life - always look on the light side of life - If life seems jolly rotten there’s something you’ve forgotten - And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing - When you’re feeling in the dumps - Don’t be silly chumps - Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing” etc…

According to a study published in the Clinical Psychology Review, optimism is closely linked to resilience. “Optimism has been shown to create physical and mental resilience for people, even those who have been through extraordinarily traumatic life circumstances or medical situations,” - (See Optimism – Clinical Psychology Review 2010 Nov. by Carver, Scheier & Segerstrom) and Behaviour; Finding Happiness: Cajole Your Brain to Lean to the Left By Daniel Goleman Feb. 4, 2003 – The New York Times).

More than five decades of research have found that optimism is a potent health tonic. Optimistic people remain healthier and live longer. They have better cardiovascular health even after risk factors are controlled for, stronger immune function, and lower levels of stress and pain (see - posted - 31 July 2016 by Utpal Dholakia Ph.D.)

On the other hand, is the concept of hope more spiritual in its nature (i.e. resilience) or just a can-do attitude in achieving something? Consider the story of Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor of the Nazi concentration camps (WW2) – his wife and other relatives ultimately died in the ‘death camps’. He later founded “logotherapy”, a form of existential analysis which is very influential in the discipline of psychotherapy.

Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, was published in 1959 and chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his method for finding meaning in all forms of existence, thereby finding a reason to continue living.

Some points that he made were;

  • “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” “(Prisoners at the camps who gave up on life, who had lost all hope for a future were inevitably the first to die – they died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for).”

  • “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” (originally cited by Nietzsche) - (i.e. by having a clear ‘why’ we can face the ‘how’ questions of life).

  • “Have courage at all times in adversity – (do not be a prisoner of circumstance – the meaning of your life is not asked it is felt from moment to moment).”

He cited that there was some kindness from certain guards at the camp. And was also deeply committed to the idea that even a vile Nazi criminal or a seemingly hopeless madman has the potential to transcend evil or insanity by making responsible choices.

Nelson Mandela (former President of the Republic of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 – lawyer, apartheid revolutionary and political leader) also wrote about hope and humanity. He was imprisoned by the Apartheid regime and spend 27 years in prison. The following excerpt was from one of hundreds of letters he wrote during this time: -

“I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. 

Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps for just a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

The wonderful Jennifer Nettles, American singer/song writer, summed it all up with the lyrics of her song, ‘I Can Do Hard Things’:

“I know where I end and where I start - And sometimes it’s all way too heavy - And I’m way more than the sum of all my parts - I know it’s a lot to look at all that I got - It’s a lot to see who I am and am not - But I can laugh and I can love and I can dream - I can win or I can lose, it’s all the same - I still dance, and I’ll sing in the pain And I can do hard things”.

In conclusion, I think that hope is more of a spiritual, inner resource that can be tapped into in a time of need and optimism a positive attitude or skill to be achieved.

By the way, if you happen to be a pessimist, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article – so optimistically, I haven’t covered that subject (perhaps there is hope for you?).


  • “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – (Michelle Obama – former First Lady to the US 44th President – Barack Obama).

  • "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” – (Emily Dickinson – American Poet - 1830 - 1886).

  • “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” – (Jonas Salk American Virologist, medical researcher – developed one of the first successful polio vaccines - 1914 - 1995).

  • “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”– (Thich Nhat Hanh – Zen Buddhist Monk).

  • “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – (Martin Luther King, Jr. – African American minister and civil rights activist – 1929 - 1968).

  • “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – (Desmond Tutu – South African Anglican cleric and apartheid/human rights activist)

  • “I think it’s a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one’s self.” – (Arthur Miller – American playwright – 1915 - 2005).


  • If you are not naturally optimistic – try to change your attitude - learn the skill of optimism – it will be good for your health.

  • Hope is deeply embedded in the psyche as a spiritual resource that can also trigger the showing of humanity.

  • Gratitude - practice, practice and practice again!

  • Try meditation, try yoga.

  • Contemplate what your spiritual ‘insides’ are - discover your true nature – the higher self – hope is inside there if you need it – you are stronger than you think.

Compiled by Baz Shirley. Contact:

*See also:

Instagram: @ bazabstractart

Facebook: Barry Shirley

And all the previous posts on:

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