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Perspective: Tragic optimism is just the ticket

Nathan Dumlao

While some folks believe that luck has everything to do with good fortune in life, I think that attitude helps us make our own good luck. For instance, are you an optimist or a pessimist? I’m generally pretty optimistic about life, but there are days when the world grows heavy, shadows fall, and worries creep in.

Then I find myself repeating a “mixed blessing” kind of saying that my mother used a lot, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, and you’ll never be disappointed.”

Today, my kids ask me why I’m so pessimistic when I verbalize that bit of wisdom when they’re prepping for a big test or a job interview. To be honest, I never thought it sounded particularly pessimistic, as I self-identify as a born-and-bred optimist.

So when I stumbled across research related to toxic positivity and tragic optimism, I felt my heart pound as new awareness blossomed!

Promising my kids that everything would come up roses – even without effort – would be “toxic positivity.” Encouraging optimism and hope in the face of potential loss or disappointment, though, is “tragically optimistic.” And that’s not a bad message to share.

Tragic optimism is about maintaining hope and finding meaning in both the joy and the suffering experienced in life. It’s about recognizing the truth in life -- the pain, the loss, and the downright messiness we go through – and finding meaning in these moments and making them a part of our stories.

Life is never “all good” or “all bad,” so when feeling overwhelmed by the chaos in life, don’t curse your luck, instead learn from your challenges.

I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my tragically optimistic perspective.

Chair and Professor - NIU counseling and higher education