A true optimist doesn't sugarcoat reality or pretend everything is okay when it's not. Optimists aren't delusional. They don't insist that everyone mask their feelings, they don't encourage you to "fake it 'til you make it," they don't tell you to "grin and bear it."
True optimists aren't ashamed to grieve. They do not consider talking about the real, raw aspects of life to be a sign of weakness. Instead they know that hiding these things and sweeping them under the rug and pretending everything is ok when it's not is a sign of pessimism because pessimism is defined by fear.
Optimists know that people and places and things change and that there are lessons to be learned. Optimists know that whatever is currently happening can be redeemed.
Looking on the bright side doesn't mean ignoring reality. Looking on the bright side means insisting that what is right now is not the end. Looking on the bright side means moving forward in a way that believes people are not defined by their circumstances.
The mantra to "put on a happy face" in the name of "positivity" is not optimism. Saying "this totally sucks right now but it's not forever and we're in this together" is.
True optimists know what real passion often looks like and that it's not always sis-boom-bah.
When it comes down to it, optimists are defined by hope. Hope is hard and it is messy. It sometimes doesn't feel all that great. It is "the long hard stupid way."
It is the better way.
Originally published January 2013