26 May Overcoming Adversity with Optimism | Helen Keller | Podcasts
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Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from the essay Optimism by Helen Keller, who despite being both deaf and blind, lived a life of unbridled optimism and accomplishment.
Could we choose our environment, and were desire in human undertakings synonymous with endowment, all people would, I suppose, be optimists. Certainly most of us regard happiness as the proper end of all earthly enterprise. The will to be happy animates every individual, no matter their profession, education, or social station. No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise we are, we feel that happiness is our indisputable right.
It is curious to observe what different ideals of happiness people cherish, and in what singular places they look for this well-spring of their life. Many look for it in the hoarding of riches, some in the pride of power, and others in the achievements of art or literature; a few seek it in the exploration of their own minds, or in the search for knowledge.
Most people measure their happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they would be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I (who cannot hear or see) have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep.
If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life—if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing. Indeed, I feel called to rise up in gladness of conviction and testify to the goodness of life.
Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came and set my soul free. Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act, and attain heaven here on earth. My life was without past or future. Death, the pessimist would say, “was a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. Night fled before the day of thought, and love and joy and hope came up in a passion of obedience to knowledge. Can anyone who has escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?
My early experience was thus a leap from bad to good. Even if I tried, I could not check the momentum of my first leap out of the dark. With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope. Darkness cannot shut me in again. I have had a glimpse of the shore, and can now live by the hope of reaching it…..