Optimism is the attitude that accompanies hope. When we practice and cultivate being optimistic, thereby taking hope from a noun to a verb, we poise ourselves to act on our dreams.
- They only thing we have to fear is fear itself. [Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first inaugural address]
- Roosevelt relished being president. His buoyant energy and unshakable optimism transmitted itself to everyone he met. [Jean Edward Smith, FDR (Random House, 2007), p. xiii.]
Optimism is a positive attitude about what may happen in the future. Because they all look to the future, none of the values expressed in this week is an action, per se. Yet it is my impression and firm belief that an optimistic attitude, buttressed by hope, cheerfulness and our innate resilience, directed by the identification of a goal and focused by a resolve to achieve that goal, poises us to succeed.
Biographies on Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
- Jean Edward Smith, FDR (Random House, 2007).
- Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (Public Affairs, 2003).
- Alan Brinkley, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- John W. Sloan, FDR and Reagan: Transformative Presidents with Clashing Visions (University Press of Kansas, 2008).
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Crisis of the Old Order: The Age of Roosevelt, Volume I, 1919-1933 (Houghton Mifflin, 1956).
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Coming of the New Deal: The Age of Roosevelt, Volume II, 1933-1935 (Houghton Mifflin, ).
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval: The Age of Roosevelt, Volume III, 1935-1936 (Houghton Mifflin, ).
Technical and Analytical Readings
On the discipline and practice of positive psychology:
- Shane J. Lopez and C.R. Snyder, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2009).
- Alex Linley, Susan Harrington and Nicola Garcea, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Michael L. Wehmeyer, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Disability (Oxford University Press, 2013).
- Stewart I. Donaldson, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and Jeanne Nakamura, eds., Applied Positive Psychology: Improving Everyday Life, Schools, Work, and Society (Routledge, 2011).
- Alex Linley and Stephen Joseph, eds., Positive Psychology in Practice (Wiley, 2004).
- Alan Carr, Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths (Routledge, 2nd Edition, 2011).
- R. Snyder, et. al., Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths (Sage Publications, 3rd Edition, 2014).
- Christopher Peterson, Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology (Oxford University Press, 2012).
- Martin E.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (Free Press, 2002).
- Isaac Levitan, Sunny Autumn Day (1897)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- “I Can See Clearly Now”, versions by Johnny Nash, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley
- Franz Schubert (composer), “Freude der Kinderjahre” (The Joy of Childhood Years), D. 455 (1816) (lyrics)
Film and Stage
- Oklahoma!, the Broadway musicalmade into a film
- On the Town, Bernstein’s song and danceclassic
- Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan): though the film is interpreted as a spoof, it portrays the unfailing optimismof a boy-into-man
On the shadow side, Peter Greenaway has created remarkably cynical views of the human condition:
- The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, one way of looking at inventiveness
- Drowning by Numbers: murderas a family heirloom
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Robert Schumann, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97, “Rheinish” (1850) (approx. 32-36’), “was his final work in the genre which had occupied so much of his energy over the previous ten years of his career. Written around the time of his arrival as the new conductor in Düsseldorf, it is a vibrant testimony to what was to be the last truly happy time in his life.” “The nickname 'Rhenish'—having to do with the Rhine and its surroundings—quickly attached itself to the work. Although this moniker did not derive from the composer himself, Schumann wryly noted that the symphony 'perhaps reflects something of Rhenish life here and there.'” “The Rhenish Symphony, which Schumann composed between November 2 and December 9, 1850, reflects his optimism in the face of new challenges and a fresh start among a people more outgoing than any he had known and whose ebullience delighted him.” Top recorded performances are conducted by Szell in 1960, Kubelik in 1964, Sawallisch in 1973, Bernstein in 1984, Dohnányi in 1988, Skrowaczewski in 2006, Zinman in 2014, Ticciati in 2014, Nézet-Séguin in 2014, and Gardiner in 2020.
- Symphony No. 9 in C Major, Hob. I/9 (1762) (approx. 12’)
- Symphony No. 10 in D Major, Hob. I/10 (between 1757 and 1761) (approx. 14-16’)
- Symphony No. 11 in E-flat Major, Hob. I/11 (between1760 and 1762) (approx. 19-23’)
- Symphony No. 12 in E Major, Hob. I/12 (1763) (approx. 15-19’)
- Symphony No. 13 in D Major, Hob. I/13 (1763) (approx. 15-27’)
- Symphony No. 14 in A Major, Hob. I/14 (between 1761 and 1763) (approx. 15-16’)
- Symphony No. 15 in D Major, Hob. I/15 (between 1760 and 1763) (approx. 19-20’)
- Symphony No. 16 in B-flat Major, Hob. I/16 (between 1757 and 1761) (approx. 13-17’)
- Symphony No. 17 in F Major, Hob. I/17 (between 1757 and 1763) (approx. 15-20’)
- Symphony No. 18 in G Major, Hob. I/18 (between 1757 and 1764) (approx. 14-16’)
- Symphony No. 19 in D Major, Hob. I/19 (between 1757 and 1761) (approx. 11-13’)
- Symphony No. 20 in C Major, Hob. I/20 (by 1762) (approx. 14-18’)
- Symphony No. 21 in A Major, Hob. I/21 (1764) (approx. 16’)
- Symphony No. 23 in G Major, Hob. I/23 (1764) (approx. 18-20’)
- Symphony No. 24 in D Major, Hob. I/24 (1764) (approx. 16-21’)
- Symphony No. 25 in C Major, Hob. I/25 (between 1761 and, most likely, in 1763) (approx. 12-15’)
- Symphony No. 27 in G Major, Hob. I/27 (probably before 1760) (approx. 11-15’)
- Symphony No. 28 in A Major, Hob. I/28 (1765) (approx. 18-22’)
- Symphony No. 29 in E Major, Hob. I/29 (1765) (approx. 17-22’)
- Symphony No. 30 in C Major, ““Alleluia”, Hob. I/30 (1765) (approx. 13-16’)
- Symphony No. 31 in D Major, ”Hornsignal”, Hob. I/31 (1765) (approx. 20-34’)
- Symphony No. 32 in C Major, Hob. I/32 (between 1757 and 1763, probably 1760/1761) (approx. 15-20’)
- Symphony No. 33 in C Major, Hob. I/33 (1760/1761, or 1763-65) (approx. 16-22’)
- Symphony No. 35 in B-flat Major, Hob. I/35 (1767) (approx. 18-25’)
- Symphony No. 36 in E-flat Major, Hob. I/36 (first half of 1760s) (approx. 16-21’)
- Symphony No. 37 in C Major, Hob. I/37 (by 1758) (approx. 13-16’)
- Concertos for Two Lire Organizzate , Hob. VIIh/1 (approx. 14-16’)
In his early piano concerti, Nos. 5, 6 and 8, Mozart likely drew from Haydn’s example, which he added to his natural, youthful enthusiasm.
- Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major, K. 175 (1773) (22-29’)
- Piano Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, K. 238 (1776) (approx. 20-23’)
- Piano Concerto No. 8 in C Major, K. 246, “Lützow” (1776) (approx. 21-24’)
Adolphus Hailstork’s contemporary American music expresses the idyllic spirit of American optimism.
- “Shout for Joy” (1990) (approx. 13’)
- “Sonata da Chiesa” for String Orchestra (1992) (approx. 19’)
- “Seven Songs of the Rubaiyat” for Chorus (1996) (approx. 10-11’)
Other works of sunny optimism:
- Tomaso Albinoni, complete Oboe Concerti (approx. 165’): 12 Oboe concerti, Op. 7 (ca. 1715) (approx. 86’); and Op. 9 (1722) (approx. 118’)
- Christian Friedrich Witt, Flute Concerto in G Major, Op. 8 (1807) (approx. 23-24’)
- Otto Nicolai, Symphony No. 2 in D Major, WoO 99 (1835) (approx. 36-44’): “Its mixture of understatement and gestures of musical romanticism gives it a unique quality.”
- Nikolai Medtner, Vergessene Weisen (Forgotten Melodies), Opp. 38, 39 & 40: “Nikolai Medtner (1880–1951) composed three cycles of piano pieces called Vergessene Weisen (Forgotten Melodies) during 1919–20. These were difficult years for Medtner, having had to live through World War I and the Russian Revolution, yet there is an optimism and joy all through these wonderful pieces, more than half of which have the word 'Danza' in their titles.”
- Ezra Laderman, Decade (approx. 9’)
- Sonny Singh, “Chardi Kala” (2022) (38'): “Chardi Kala is the Sikh concept of revolutionary eternal optimism.” Drawing on a wide swath of musical and cultural traditions, this Brooklyn-based Sikh/Punjabi singer and trumpet player creates a remarkably unique musical experience.
From the dark side (pessimism):
- Paul May and Carolyn Hume, “Kill the Lights” (2019) (44’): “. . . they create a haunting atmosphere of cinematic interludes and tribal rhythms with settings deep in nostalgia and sadness. ‘Kill The Lights’ is a journey of sonic intimacy where stillness and release permeate the duo’s landscape.”
From the dark side (brooding):
- Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65 (1943) (approx. 61-72'): composed in the USSR during World War II, this symphony reflects “suffering on a cosmic scale.” “. . . given that the Eighth was created at the turning point in the war, its expected optimism generated huge anticipation. 2nd February 1943 saw the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad. Despite the gigantic losses suffered by the Red Army during the battle, a sense of great achievement and pride spread across the Soviet Union – Stalin had defeated the Nazis. The trouble for Shostakovich was that this was not necessarily a reason to celebrate. He feared that the victory would actually only help Stalin, whose newly acquired prestige in the West would allow him to wield even more power than he already did.” Shostakovich said: “In this work there was an attempt to express the emotional experiences of the People, to reflect the terrible tragedy of war. Composed in the summer of 1943, the Eighth Symphony is an echo of that difficult time, and in my opinion quite in the order of things.” He also wrote: “And then the war came and the sorrow became a common one. We could talk about it, we could cry openly, cry for our lost ones. People stopped fearing tears. Before the war there probably wasn’t a single family who hadn’t lost someone, a father, a brother, or if not a relative, then a close friend. Everyone had someone to cry over, but you had to cry silently, under the blanket, so no one would see. Everyone feared everyone else, and the sorrow oppressed and suffocated us. It suffocated me too. I had to write about it. I had to write a Requiem for all those who died, who had suffered. I had to describe the horrible extermination machine and express protest against it. The Seventh and Eighth Symphonies are my Requiems.” Excellent performances are conducted by Kondrashin in 1961, Previn in 1973, Svetlanov in 1979, Mravinsky in 1982 **, Haitink in 1983 **, Kurt Sanderling in 1986, Vasily Petrenko in 2010, and Gergiev in 2013.
- Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93 (1953) (approx. 50-56'): published just after Stalin’s death, this symphony “is 48 minutes of tragedy, despair, terror, and violence and two minutes of triumph.” “The pianist Tatyana Nikolaeva, one of his confidants, insisted that the symphony—and unquestionably its first movement--dates from 1951, and that the piece, like so many others, was withheld until after Stalin’s death.” Excellent recordings are conducted by Ančerl in 1955, Kurtz in 1956, Karajan in 1966, Haitink in 1977, Neeme Järvi in 1988, Jansons in 1995, Kurt Sanderling in 1996, Wigglesworth in 2000, and Vasily Petrenko in 2010 ***.
He had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.
Afloat fore’er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:
The storm–cloud dark
Above his bark,
The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,
It tinctured every passing beam—
He had his dream.
He labored hard and failed at last,
His sails too weak to bear the blast,
The raging tempests tore away
And sent his beating bark astray.
But what cared he
For wind or sea!
He said, “The tempest will be short,
My bark will come to port.”
He saw through every cloud a gleam—
He had his dream.
[Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “He Had His Dream”]
Novels and stories:
- Sarah Perry, Melmoth: A Novel (Custom House, 2018) “For all the swirling jackdaws and oppressive doom, this book has a ruddy optimism at its core.”
- Jenni Fagan, Luckenbooth: A Novel (Pegasus, 2020): “Despite its darkness, the novel is carried by jagged delight and optimism, a bright hope coming through the walls and a fundamental belief in people.”