There is something special about looking forward to something. Knowing that there is something good that is going to happen, or even might happen, gives us a reason to get up a bit earlier and work a bit harder. Optimism is the fuel that leads us to put our noses to the grindstone and persevere in the face of the inevitable setbacks.
Without optimism, we wind up looking at temporary setbacks as unscalable, permanent obstacles. What we might be able to overcome becomes too much to attempt. When we have no hope, we have no reason to work hard, to push forward, to try again. Instead, it is easier to give up, to give in, to make do with what is already there.
Pilgrims came to these shores in search of a better life. They must have believed that their future here was brighter than it would have been had they stayed put. Otherwise, they would not have braved the ocean voyage to come to America.
This same sense of optimism was held by our nation's founders. We could have stayed under the yoke of British rule, but our founders chose to seek liberty instead. In fact, the signers of the Declaration of Independence understood that their failure to attain liberty would result in their death.
They believed that a life of liberty was worth the risk of death in its pursuit. When we declared our independence, we structured a different form of government. We said that our rights were endowed not by a monarch like George III, but by God to individuals, and that those individuals loaned them to the government.
They believed that their actions might lead to a different future, and they were right.
Throughout our history, our most inspirational leaders have believed that our future was bright, that our foundation was different and that the American people would rise to the challenge.
President Ronald Reagan articulated this optimism about America and the American people. "Above all," he said, "we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have."
Where is this American optimism today?
"Americans remain more pessimistic than optimistic about the nation's future," according to a recent Rasmussen survey. Almost half (45 percent) believe that "America's best days are in the past." Only 37 percent still believe America's best days are in the future, with 18 percent unsure. (The poll was conducted of 1,000 likely voters, June 19-20, with 95 percent level of confidence and a sampling error of 3 percent.)
Why so little optimism? Our country still has the same basic construct. Is it the economy, the demise of morality, the dearth of religion? What makes us, as a people, less optimistic?
Possibly it's the sense of helplessness regarding our future as a nation. If we believe that our actions will not affect our outcome, then we wind up feeling helpless. Why work hard, why do anything, if actions have no consequences?
Looking forward to the rise of the next generation, we would like to believe that our children will be better off than we are. Today, only a small minority of Americans believe that their children will be better off than they are today.
According to another recent Rasmussen poll, just 16 percent of American adults "believe today's children will be better off than their parents." More than half, 66 percent, say today's children will not be better off, while another 18 percent are undecided." (This poll was of 1,000 adults, conducted June 16-17, 95 percent level of confidence, sampling error 3 percent).
These two findings make sense when looked at together. If there is little optimism, then there is little belief that something can be done, that our actions have consequences, that our lives and those of our children can be better.
Our actions do have consequences. Americans have never been helpless, and we must not believe in it now. Our actions can and must make a difference.
To change the future, we have to change our beliefs about the future and then work hard to ensure that our beliefs and dreams come true.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.