Optimism – An Essay by Helen Keller (1903)

OptimismWhen looking at world news it is easy to get depressed about the future. More conflict, more environmental damage, widening disparities in wealth and opportunity.  Where is the good news?

Fact is, there is plenty of it if you look for it.

In 2009 I was searching for some inspiration I came across this wonderful essay by Helen Keller. And, it was just the right medicine. Deaf, dumb and blind…and still an optimist! After reading it I was reminded I have no real problems, only a bruised ego now and again. And I’ve read this every year since…so I don’t forget it!

So, time to dust ourselves off, stop any whining, get excited and do something about it!

What follows are some of my favorite quotes from the essay with a few comments thrown in:


  • 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. (We could stop right there!)
  • It is a mistake always to contemplate the good and ignore the evil, because by making people neglectful it lets in disaster. There is a dangerous optimism of ignorance and indifference. (Being an optimist doesn’t mean taking foolish risks.)
  • I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women.
  • I proclaim the world good, and facts range themselves to prove my proclamation overwhelmingly true.
  • Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend. (I love it…“timid” imagination”)
  • The desire and will to work is optimism itself. (And those who can’t or won’t are easily dis-contented)
  • Up, up! Whatsoever the hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. (Quoting Carlyle.)
  • I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.
  • He (referring to the philosopher Spinoza) loved the good for its own sake. Like many great spirits he accepted his place in the world, and confided himself childlike to a higher power, believing that it worked through his hands and predominated in his being. He trusted implicitly, and that is what I do. Deep, solemn optimism, it seems to me, should spring from this firm belief in the presence of God in the individual; not a remote, unapproachable governor of the universe, but a God who is very near every one of use, who is present not only in earth, sea and sky, but also in every pure and noble impulse of our hearts, “the source and center of all minds, their point of rest.”
  • Though with my hand I grasp only a small part of the universe, with my spirit I see the whole, and in my thought I can compass the beneficent laws by which it is governed. (She was very “New Age”)
  • Rome, too, left the world a rich inheritance. Through the vicissitudes of history her laws and ordered government have stood a majestic object-lesson for the ages. But when the stern, frugal character of her people ceased to be the bone and sinew of her civilization, Rome fell. (A lesson for all Americans and their weak politicians.)
  • The highest result of education is tolerance….Tolerance is the finest principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think.
  • To be an American is to be an optimist. (At least it was in 1903.)
  • Since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.
  • The optimist cannot fall back, cannot falter; for he knows his neighbor will be hindered by his failure to keep in line. (Our life is not our own)
  • No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.
  • Thus the optimist believes, attempts, achieves. He stands always in the sunlight. Some day the wonderful, the inexpressible, arrives and shines upon him, and he is there to welcome it. His soul meets his own and beats a glad march to every new discovery, every fresh victory over difficulties, every addition to human knowledge and happiness.
  • Shakespeare is the prince of optimists.
  • Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.
  • If you are born blind, search the treasures of darkness. (My favorite quote.)
  • Christmas Day is the festival of optimism.
  • Optimism is the harmony between man’s spirit and the spirit of God pronouncing His works good.


If it were my company or household I would make sure everybody reads this essay. You can download it for free by going to http://www.archive.org/details/optimismessay00kelliala

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Optimistic New Year,

don phin

Don Phin, (an eternal optimist!)