Need for ‘Tragic Optimism’ in a Post-COVID World
1 B.A.(H) Applied Psychology Student, Ramanujan College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India
*Author of Correspondence: Kashish Uppal, E-mail: k firstname.lastname@example.org
Covid-19 has been called a black swan, that turned into a pandemic and took the whole world by storm. This has deeply affected the mental health of each and every individual, infected or not, our lives changed and we struggle to find a new normal. But as Viktor Frankl put it, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” This letter aims to shed light on the necessity for adopting principles like Tragic Optimism in order to cope healthily and navigate using principles of positive psychology in this pandemic.
Keywords: Tragic Optimism, Positive Psychology, Viktor Frankl, Positivity, Pandemic, Covid-19
As Paul Wong rightly said, “I can hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Such tragic optimism is the most realistic and strongest type of optimism”, in this pandemic such an observation can be of great value. We often see that some people are broken by crisis while others emerge stronger than before. It is a clear distinction between people who are crippled under fear due to the uncertainty of the circumstance and those who still manage to remain optimistic and find the light at the end of the tunnel. The key difference between these kinds of individuals is that they have cultivated a sense of ‘Tragic Optimism ‘(term coined by Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor & psychiatrist from Vienna) is “it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the ‘tragic triad’ (pain, guilt and death).” Viktor Frankl then added a postscript to this well renowned book-Man’s Search for Meaning – titled ‘tragic optimism’ which goes on to add “saying yes to life in spite of everything,” assumes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are extremely devastating.
A condition like this which has cast a dark shadow on the entire world screams a need to develop a sense of tragic optimism, assuming that every human has an ability to turn around a situation of dismay creatively for the better in order to cope. As Viktor Frankl(1983) put it,” turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment;  deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and deriving from life’s transistorizes an incentive to take responsible action.” By the first step, we can understand that it’s possible to do more than just cope, suffering in times like this pandemic can actually be an opportunity for individuals to emerge as leaders for the community and society. One must also leave behind the guilt in order to make advances to learn and improve, to take back the control of their lives away from the pandemic and back into their own hands. This process of using this time creatively can be done by changing one’s mindset from being ‘stuck’ at home to being ‘safe’ at home. By accepting that this is a black swan no one could have predicted and has changed the course of all our lives but it is upto us to give it direction now in a Post-COVID world. Frankl called it “capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive.” Naturally some people are more hopeful than others yet by focusing on the positives one can train themselves to be more optimistic. This can be easily evident by meaning-centered psychotherapy, developed by Dr. William Breitbart and his colleagues to help terminal patients cope with death which depicts that even in the most devastating situations people have the ability to find purpose in life even in a crisis. Using this time creatively, improving our relationships, self-growth and skill enhancement is how to deal effectively under lockdown to avoid being a nervous, anxious wreck and deal poorly with the circumstance we are in.
Through this letter, I aim to create awareness and urge everyone to cultivate tragic optimism in the face of this pandemic as our lives as we know it may never be the same in a post-COVID world and we must deal with this effectively. So, it is my humble request that you publish this letter highlighting this issue in your esteemed Journal to create an awakening about the same amongst the youth and the public as a powerful tool of change. I hope everyone reading this remains in good health physically and mentally and that you will consider this request.
- Frankl V. Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York Simon & Schuster: Simon & Schuster;1984.
- Smith E. Opinion | On Coronavirus Lockdown? Look for Meaning, Not Happiness [Internet]. Nytimes.com. 2020 [cited 12 May 2020].Available from:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/07/oipnion/coronavirus-mental-health.html
- Von Devivere B. Meaningful work: Viktor Frankl’s legacy for the 21st century. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2018
- Summary of Viktor Frankl on “Tragic Optimism” [Internet]. Reason and Meaning. 2020 [cited 12 May 2020]. Available from:https://reasonandmeaning.com/2017/03/03/summary-of-victor-frankls-tragic-optimism/
- Pruyser Maintaining hope in adversity. Pastoral Psychology. 1986;35(2):120-131.