“TRAGIC OPTIMISM”, HAPPY MEDIUM TO FIND MEANING AMID CHAOS
by Ilio Masprone – Publisher – Knight of the Principality of Monaco for cultural merit
MONACO. For some, positivity has been essential to coping with the time spent in isolation. Many have relished a chance to slow down and re-evaluate, felt grateful to still have a job or kept the good things in perspective. Of course, staying upbeat and expressing gratitude are hardly adverse practices, but research shows that this unrelenting optimism suppressing negative emotions don’t make sadness, fear or anxiety dissipate, can actually make us feel worse. It is known as ‘toxic positivity’ in contrast with another mindset approach that boasts a more realistic framing, known as ‘Tragic optimism’. First defined by Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl in 1985, proponents of tragic optimism maintain there is space to experience both the good and the bad, and that we can grow from each. There is hope and meaning to be found in life while also acknowledging the existence of loss, pain and suffering. Experts suggest that this kind of philosophy may be exactly what we need to cope as we’re still trudging through the pandemic – and may help us once we’re on the other side, too. A cornerstone of the philosophy is the ability to find meaning and purpose amid challenges and setbacks. Tragic optimism is useful to find meaning amid chaos. It offers a perspective on adversity that helps people weather crises with more resilience and grow as a result of them. It acknowledges the difficulties and the pain and the suffering of what’s going on, and at the same time, the ability to maintain hope. Instead of letting these negative feelings overwhelm us – or ignoring them completely, as is par for the course in toxic positivity – embracing tragic optimism means making a daily effort to feel comfortable with loneliness or anxiety. In these moments, we may learn we enjoy solitude, that we highly value community or discover who we want to be on the other side of the pandemic. So, although it may feel tempting just to grin and bear it, taking the slightly more uncomfortable route of a tragic optimist may actually help us see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – and help us take a breath as we wait to reach it.