Let’s Celebrate Optimism
O is for Optimism, the joy in life.
The Optimism of Hope
Suddenly they were unable to see. Thick dust not only blocked the artificial light but irritated and burned their eyes for hours. It was shortly after lunch when the routine of the day changed—and so has the story of history.
On August 5, 2010, a rockfall in the Chilean Copiapó copper mine trapped 33 miners 2,300 feet underground. Uppermost in their minds was the need to survive and escape. The shift leader, Luis Urzúa, immediately took charge and organized the men into a team that made all their decisions on a democratic basis; majority votes carried each action and plan. Their two- to three-day emergency supplies were stretched to last two weeks. Careful rationing, strict discipline, social support, and camaraderie all came into play.
On August 22, using a drill, rescuers bored their eighth hole and broke into a shaft close to where the trapped miners anxiously anticipated rescue. For days the miners had heard the drills and prepared notes to attach to the drill bit. The now-famous paper was attached with the words: “We are well in the shelter, the 33.” Joy and excitement broke out both above and below ground level; however, there was uncertainty as to how the rescue would be executed, and concern that it could take many months to complete.
During this time a tent city sprang up in the desert near the mine entrance. At first, family and friends slept in cars and waited and prayed. Friends then brought tents and other supplies to help those keeping vigil to survive the hostile desert environment. The settlement was appropriately named Campamento Esperanza (Camp Hope).
Multicultural collaboration, engineering ingenuity, careful planning, and dogged determination led to the miners emerging one by one, safe and alive, 69 days after being trapped. The date: October 13, 2010.
Genuine laughter shows significant benefits to health, including an increased pain tolerance.
What kept the men going? Social support, leadership, collaboration, discipline, a sense of humor—all these played vital roles. Most important, however, were optimism and hope.
Many words are related to optimism: “happiness,” “hope,” “joyfulness,” “positive attitude,” “high spirits,” and “cheerfulness,” among others. Optimism has been defined as an enduring tendency to expect good personal outcomes in the future. This fits with the Oxford dictionary definition, which describes optimism as an inclination to “hopefulness and confidence.”
Optimism is the face of our faith, and it is built on hope and trust in God and the belief that He can work things out for our best (see Rom. 8:28 and 1 Cor. 10:13).
Optimists may have peace and even joy when things do not turn out the way they wanted. In this life we experience brokenness, sickness, even death; yet through all this we may know an equanimity and peace that are beyond human understanding or expectation. By exercising the choice to be optimistic, we can enjoy wholeness even in our human brokenness.
Hope Without Healing
Particularly under difficult circumstances, such as not being healed from a disease, many of us need help making the choice to be optimistic. Family and other social support are essential in this process. Pessimists tend to believe that bad events will last a long time, and they often relinquish the idea that situations will improve. The approach of optimists, on the other hand, is to view a negative event as a temporary setback and be spurred on to try harder. Sometimes the realistic approach, which takes challenges and problems into account, may be viewed as pessimism; at the same time, a realistic optimist nurtures hope and perseverance, choosing to believe and work toward the improvement of circumstances and situations.
Research demonstrates that hope and optimism are associated with better mental and physical health and more effective coping mechanisms.1
Laughter Is Good Medicine
Much research has focused on the positive effects of genuine, relaxing laughter showing significant benefits to health, including an increased pain tolerance.2 Laughter triggers an uptake of endorphins, one of the brain chemicals responsible for the feeling of well-being as well as reducing pain.
No wonder the Bible says: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22).
We can especially be happy and experience genuine laughter when we completely trust God, knowing that He is in control of our lives no matter the circumstances. Other studies have shown that nurturing positive thoughts and emotions about people and situations impacts our own personal well-being.3
Summing Up Optimism
We may choose to be optimistic, especially as we recall the wonderful promises of Scripture, such as Lamentations 3:21-23: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
With such assurance we may celebrate life and enjoy wholeness, even in our present brokenness. Optimism and hope are truly the joy in life!
This article is a condensed chapter taken from the GC Health Ministries book CELEBRATIONS (healthministries.com).
- Harold G. Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, David B. Larson, Handbook of Religion and Health (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 207.
- R.I.M. Dunbar, Rebecca Baron, et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279, no. 1731 (Mar. 22, 2012): 1161-1167.
- C. Conversano, A. Rotondo, et al., Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 6 (May 14, 2010): 25-29.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.