It is December 10th and the holiday season is in full swing. My only grandchild – a beautiful, feisty little girl who is almost 3 – just experienced the full wonder of the season by riding The Polar Express with her parents and meeting Santa Claus. The joy and wonder she felt was palpable and infectious. Meanwhile, other dear friends – family really – just welcomed their first child, also a girl, whose one-month birthday was marked by a family outing to cut down the perfect Christmas tree. Both of these families are finding the joys of the season through the creating and sustaining of wonderful memories and traditions. The hope and heart of Christmas is embedded in their actions.
Both sets of parents are in their early 30s. I look at them and yearn for that optimism and zest for life that I held when I was that age, for at age 62 I find that my optimism has been buffeted and battered by the realities of life. The harsh global realities that I see – especially with respect to climate change and politics – have me humming that less than joyful line “and in despair I hung my head, there is no peace on earth I said” from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. I love these families and these children, and I fear for their future.
I yearn for faith, hope and optimism but I find it difficult to latch on to. Less difficult to latch onto are Christmas cookies, which I tend to mindlessly chow down on in front of escapist television. As I fall into sugar and gluten comas, I know that this approach is neither reflective of the optimism and sense of rebirth that are hallmarks of the season, nor is it helping me to foster the optimism that will fuel my own growth and renewal in the months and years ahead.
So I have two choices. One is to stop growing, in effect give up on living, by wallowing in despair. The other is to adapt to life’s circumstances in a healthy, courageous way – by seeing and accepting the realities, challenges and uncertainties of life for what they are – while at the same time balancing that against my own positive vision for what’s possible in my Third Age. I need to work on holding the paradoxical principle of “realistic optimism”, having a practical, eyes-open understanding of the current realities of my world, while focusing on a long term view that is open to the best possibilities.
Developing and holding realistic optimism, however, isn’t a passive activity; it’s not going to happen with a mouth full of Spritz cookies!! Instead, it requires that I (a) set an inspiring vision of positive possibilities for myself, AND (b) be courageous and practical in facing current realities. To do that, there are some exercises and practical techniques in our Grower’s Guide I can implement, such as:
- Consider my dreams, interests, and passions and look for opportunities. Mold these into an inspiring vision.
- Make plans, take actions, and stay focused on something meaningful in my control;
- Stay aware of my self-talk and the degree to which it supports or undermines my plans;
- Embrace the presence and support of my family and friends; and
- Find humor, recognizing its power to contain any sense of overwhelm or despair.
So I think I’ll start with crafting that vision. I recall a recent outing with my granddaughter as we went out to play during a snowstorm. We spent a lot of time making snow angels, figuratively hiding behind trees to stay safe from bears, and cooking imaginary s’mores over snowy “firepits”. Time spent with her gets my creative and visionary juices flowing – not to mention keeps me laughing! While my love for her triggers my despair, it seems she may also be my secret weapon in developing my realistic optimism.
May you find your own source of joy and optimism this holiday season. I wish you Peace.