Finding Optimism

By Susan Nordenger, assistant head of school for community engagement

Optimism is the most important human trait because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.  
—Seth Godin

This unique and unimagined encounter with COVID-19 has given us all pause. What is our personal response? The teacher in me wonders what can be learned from this experience. The optimist in me looks for opportunities to use our new reality for good. My heart longs to frame this encounter in gratitude. 

I am an optimist. My parents had mastered the practice, and I grew up learning that obstacles are opportunities, and silver linings are always just around the corner. Every situation had a purpose of teaching us about ourselves or others. An affirmative response could be found in every circumstance. Above all, gratitude was constant. 

Growing up, I found it more satisfying and comforting to complain. Yet, my siblings and I were always challenged to look on the bright side. Today, I am always at my best in positive environments, surrounded by others who imagine a brighter future, embrace change and seize opportunities. The habits of a positive mindset instilled in childhood serve as a guide in challenging times. 

There are wonderful connections between optimism and gratitude. Optimism is a habit or learned behavior. Writer and editor of the Greater Good Science Center Kira M. Newman suggests that optimism is something we can cultivate by practicing gratitude. 

Psychologist Paul Baard, Ph.D., states, “Optimism often follows reflection and gratitude. A winter lull can be an opportunity to regain perspective on what really matters.”  Through quarantine and physical distancing, our community has been given a unique gift of time to reset and reflect. As a result, I have noticed remarkable creativity expressed through acts of gratitude, generosity and kindness. This disruption has served to remind us of what is important and what we value.  My fondest childhood memories have emerged as new opportunities. Phone calls are lasting a little longer. We’re writing letters and preparing meals together. Jigsaw puzzles have turned into works of art and offer hours of unplugged time. Zoom meetings with grandparents, old friends and loved ones are making lasting memories. Pets are receiving more love and attention than ever. We’re walking, connecting and sharing with neighbors from a socially acceptable six feet. The truth is we belong to a special community and long to return to the connections that sustain us and the traditions and rituals we cherish. Until we open the doors and welcome you home, continue to grow your gratitude list, help one another and focus on all that is good. 

Enjoy the little things in life. For one day, you’ll look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

Susan Nordenger
Susan Nordenger

Assistant Head of School for Community Engagement

Susan Nordenger never believed that teaching is a job but rather a calling. From the first day she stepped into her La Jolla Country Day School classroom, she knew she found the place she wanted to call home. After 10 years of teaching in the Middle School, Mrs. Nordenger worked with students to create an all-school community service program. This 19-year endeavor has been the most rewarding phase of her career.

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