One of the most incredible things about world travel is the ongoing discovery of fresh perspectives, ideas, and worldviews. Immersing yourself in a new culture can introduce you to a great diversity of thought. Yet, it can also highlight how much we all have in common.
Optimism, the simple art of positive thinking, is an inherent human capability that transcends language, national borders, and cultural divides. It is one of the few ideas that continues to prove a universal and connecting element of the human experience.
Around the world and throughout time, across every medium available, the same idea continues to resonate. There is immense power in big ideas and a positive attitude.
12 Quotes About Optimism
1. Don’t Let Your Feet Hold You Down
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” — Frida Kahlo
Optimism often relies on overcoming limiting beliefs. Sometimes, accepting circumstances by default can lead you to miss greater possibilities. Sometimes, even when something appears to get the job done, it could be distracting you from something that could work even better.
The path that you follow to your goals is up to you. Yes, you have feet in your shoes, and they may well take you to the places you want to go. But what might happen if you think bigger, choose optimism, and see where your wings can take you?
2. The Power of Interpretation
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare
There are many reasons we still celebrate and teach Shakespeare’s works even centuries after his death. For instance, his masterful use of the English language to poetic effect and how effectively his plays keep high school students bored out of their minds. More importantly than any of that, though, is the profound wisdom and deep human insight that linger in his writing.
This quote from Hamlet holds one such piece of wisdom. It reminds us how much the world around us is up to our interpretation. The claim here is that nothing is inherently good or bad. It is all open to interpretation. Therefore, it is up to us to choose happiness.
3. Turning the Bad Things Into Good Things
“There is just no getting around that turning bad things into good things is up to you.” — Deepak Chopra
Echoing our Shakespeare quote above, Deepak Chopra reminds us that we often have the choice between focusing on the positive or the negative. Critically, Chopra takes this point and drives home the ultimate responsibility we each have in the situation.
I cannot tell you if you will have a good day today or tomorrow. However, I can tell you that your choices will play a significant role in your life’s journey. This sort of mindfulness can strongly influence your overall well-being.
Positive self-talk can help you stay positive even when you feel the situation pulling you in another direction. You can let your negative emotions shape your experience, or you can use them as a motivational tool to make meaningful changes to your situation.
4. You, Too, Can Move Mountains
Few can claim to understand the power of positive thinking as well as David Schwartz, author of “The Magic of Thinking Big”:
“Those who believe they can move mountains do. Those who believe they can’t, cannot.” ― David Schwartz
Many people misunderstand optimism. They think it is not simply a passive way to feel better about what happens to you. However, thinking positively also has several documented, practical benefits. For instance, an optimistic mindset can create new possibilities and pathways to new outcomes.
What you believe shapes what you can achieve. If you determine that you will be able to find a way to reach a particular goal, odds are you will find one in time. On the other hand, if you convince yourself that you can’t do it, you have most likely created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
5. Suffering Yields Strong Souls
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Khalil Gibran
Many of these optimistic quotes have focused on defining (or redefining) what is good and what is not. While we each have a great deal of influence over how we experience things, there is no denying that there will always be some experiences that hurt. The good news is that painful experiences are essential to human growth.
You can endure and acknowledge difficult experiences and still think positively. Part of that process is to realize that struggle is helping you grow and develop. Even coping through a dark chapter can be part of a beautiful story.
6. Quit Making Lemonade
Since we’re already exploring so many unique corners of the world for meaningful quotes about optimism, why not take a brief foray into a fictional world? In this case, one from a video game:
“When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons. What the hell am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager!” — Cave Johnson in “Portal 2”
It may seem like a somewhat off-putting thought at first. After all, isn’t making lemonade when life gives you lemons the thing that all optimists do? Not necessarily.
Some would say that when life gives you lemons, you don’t have to make lemonade.
Imagine it like this: When life gives you lemons (that is, a situation you don’t want), one option is to make lemonade (accept the circumstances and move on). Alternatively, you may be able to reject some of these lemons entirely while fighting for a more positive outcome.
7. The Seed of a Greater Benefit
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” — Napoleon Hill
It has become quite common among entrepreneurs, self-help personalities, and industry leaders to see failure as valuable. No longer synonymous with defeat, many now treat failure as an essential component of learning and progress.
While this notion of gratitude for the process is relatively mainstream today, at least one person was ready to be optimistic about failure nearly 100 years ago: Napoleon Hill. In the above quotation, Hill illustrates how even our most challenging experiences can all contribute to our progress.
8. Infinite Possibilities
How better to travel the world of optimism than by looking at how your optimism can affect the world?
“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence… In a gentle way, you can shake the world” — Mahatma Gandhi
Many of the positive quotes on this list focus primarily on outcomes. That is to say, the speakers we’ve looked at so far have primarily focused on how staying positive can lead to more favorable results for you.
Gandhi, however, offers us a wholly different way to be happy. He gives us a way to channel our optimism into the common good.
This form of optimism relies on faith in people. When you see the people around you as generally good, you are more likely to treat them better. Plus, studies have shown a direct link between kindness and happiness. So try sharing this form of positive energy, and inspire others to pass it on.
9. Choosing Optimism Through Effort
“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”― Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci here offers a sobering reminder that although we are all born with a negativity bias, we still have the option to be optimistic.
In other words, we have a natural talent for negative thinking, but that doesn’t mean we’re bound to be unhappy.
If you look for reasons to be pessimistic and hold onto a negative attitude, you will undoubtedly find many difficult things. The more you learn about this world, the more opportunities you may find for negativity and pessimism. At the same time, you will have as many opportunities to see the good in this world and overcome the natural pull toward negative thoughts.
10. Heading in the Right Direction
“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.” — Nelson Mandela
As some of the quotes above have shown us, to live a positive life isn’t necessarily to live a life of nothing but happiness and positive emotions. Hardship and struggle are a natural part of the process.
A common mistake among budding optimists is to ignore (or even outright deny) these stressful aspects of life. Unfortunately, this “glass half full,” “look on the bright side” attitude often leads a person to spread toxic positivity unknowingly. However, being positive in a productive way is more than that.
As Nelson Mandela outlines here, healthy optimism means taking it all — the exciting, the difficult, and the scary — and choosing to keep your head up and your feet moving anyway. Negative self-talk may come up, but it doesn’t have to cancel out your positive thoughts.
11. Be Brave and Take Risks
Continuing to build on the “failure is progress,” “difficulty is worthwhile” theme, here is one of the more inspirational quotes about optimism on this list:
“Be brave. Take Risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” — Paulo Coelho
It takes an optimistic person to be willing to take the most critical risks in life. Leaps of faith are pathways to some of the most extraordinary highs in life.
Pessimists tend to avoid these risks. They are risks, after all, and that means they might not work out the way you’re hoping. There are always things that can go wrong. Positive people know that they’ll deal with it if something goes wrong, and it’s worth taking the chance to change your life anyway.
12. What Else Is There?
We are going to close out our journey through quotes about optimism from around the world with one of the most quotable figures of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill:
“For myself, I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.” ― Winston Churchill
It’s as simple as that. What else is there? If you can choose happiness, progress, joy, and growth, or whatever else comes along instead, what will you choose?
There will always be negative people, demanding situations, and painful emotions. It is up to you whether to let those negative things define your experience or if you will process those emotions and let go. Each day is a new chance to embody an upbeat, optimistic attitude and feel happier.
Optimism isn’t the only option, but time will continue to tell if it’s much use to be anything else.
Optimism is not a new idea. It is not an idea unique to any one person or culture. On the contrary, positive thinking is an essential element of the human experience, one of those precious few links that connect us all.
As you’ve seen here, great minds from across five continents (Sorry, Oceania. You too, Antarctica), several centuries, and at least one fictional world all agree: it pays to develop a good attitude and a positive outlook.
Sam is the founder of the personal finance and self-improvement blog Smarter and Harder. His mission is to start exciting new conversations that empower people to improve their work, lives, and money, and hopefully have a fantastic time doing it. In all things, he strives to lead with positivity, understanding, and more than a bit of enthusiasm.