Optimism, positivity and hope

Optimism and positivity are important qualities. But are these concepts fully synonymous? And do they, in fact, mean the same as hope? In publications of the Dutch Adventist Church one finds, in the last decade or so, many articles on optimism and positivity. This was also the case in the most recent issue of ADVENT, which had positivity as its over-all theme. Browsing through recent issues of ADVENT I noticed that optimism and positivity were repeatedly emphasized.

I guess I can place myself in the category of optimists. Whether that optimism is always justified is another matter. A pessimistic attitude toward life does us no good, nor is it pleasant for others around us. Optimism reflects a tendency to see things in a positive light, expecting most things to turn out well. Optimism helps us to be, and remain, motivated.

Positivity may go a step further than optimism. Not everything that defines our lives is positive, but fortunately a lot is not negative either. A predominantly positive outlook undoubtedly promotes happiness in life. However, many people, unfortunately, see everything in a negative light and this feeds dissatisfaction and unhappiness. On the other hand, there are many who often close their eyes to reality. They tend to be “cherry-picking”-i.e., taking into account only the things that fit their positive pictures. (Oddly enough, in the Corona era the term “positive” took on a different connotation: a positive test is, in fact, negative news and indicates that the virus has struck!)

Christians certainly have reason to be optimistic and positive, but optimism and positivity are not uniquely Christian virtues. They have more to do with character than with faith. That is why I rather dislike the heavy emphasis on optimism and positivity in our denominational publications. For Christians, these are rather superficial concepts, and hope is much more meaningful. Optimism and positivity have their roots in ourselves. Christian hope, on the other hand, has Jesus Christ, and what He does for us, as its reference point.

Even when there is no reason for optimism, and we are surrounded by negative circumstances, there is hope. This is the Christian assurance of the gospel that must not be diluted into optimism and positivity–however praiseworthy and pleasant these qualities may be. The hope God gives us goes far beyond this. It is not anchored in our own character traits, in who and what we are ourselves, or in people around us, but in the Person of Christ (Heb. 6:19). Biblical hope is not synonymous with the optimistic notion that everything will eventually work out, but is based on the belief that God will fulfill his promises to us–now and beyond this life. Let us never forget, in our emphasis on optimism and positivity, that Christian hope must prevail.