Our mental image of life always seems better than the concrete events themselves. Camping in the woods sounds fun! Smores’, tents, bonding, and nature! What could go wrong? The answer is everything. There’s loud humans nearby, loud animals nearby, annoying small insects biting you and sucking you dry, no one knows what they’re doing or everyone does at the same time, and even the “fun” part doesn’t seem to have a huge pay off. On one hand, maybe camping isn’t for everyone. On the other hand, we tend to do this a lot. We have big dreams and the physical outcome is lacking.
However, there’s another perspective. If we expect incredible things and get something ordinary, we’re disappointed. If we expect ordinary things and get ordinary things, there’s not much to be excited for, and there are few instances in which we expect incredible things and get incredible things. The key then, is being able to look past the ordinary, messy problems. Life isn’t some happy-go-lucky commercial, there’s ugliness and conflict of every sort no matter where you go. However, there’s also those good, pretty bits too.
There is a kind of line between being delusional and being optimistic. The optimistic person doesn’t think everything is going to be perfectly fine and that everything’s okay; you have to be at least some way insane to believe that. Things aren’t okay. Life isn’t perfect and we shouldn’t pretend like it is. Optimism isn’t about lying to yourself, it’s about having hope and seeing the potential in what’s around you. Maybe it’s wearing rose-tinted glasses, but the glasses are still translucent. It’s going camping and realizing that everyone close enough to be able to yell at each other when the other puts up the tent in a non-traditional fashion. Maybe the smoke from the fire keeps getting in your eyes, but there’s no bugs, and being around the fire with those you love trumps the pain. Bugs are still gross, it’s still uncomfortable to argue, and smoke can really hurt your eyes. Optimism is being able to take a few hits in comfort to do something that matters.