Pessimism Is Not always Deep / Optimism Is Not Always Dumb


I very much like this Alain de Botton / Anthony Burrill poster which can be bought here.

I have to say I have been guilty of seeing pessimists as deep – those long melancholy conversations over bottles of red wine and marlborough lights at Uni, those friends I longed to meet for hours of complaining and moaning about the world and our lives. We were all cynics, liked drum n’ bass and old man’s pubs, and thought we were incredibly cool.  Maybe we were then? Although I had my nose pierced and was known to wear both a bindi and tie dye. Hmmm.

Anyway, this blog has been a lesson for me personally in trying to be positive, to realise that optimism and being nice do not make me dull or naive or stupid. US happiness gurus and self help books have a lot to answer for in expousing an over-the-top optimism (“everything is awesome yeehah!”) that is off-putting to many. Life isn’t really like that, especially for grumpy Londoners who have to get the Northern Line. Life is ups and downs and highs and lows, heartache and grief and mindblowing joy – its all part of the experience, all to be savoured and understood and worked through.

I’ve discovered through this blog that optimism is something you can learn, teach yourself, to shake off the bad shit a bit faster, and appreciate the good stuff more. Its about counting your blessings and accepting the bad things that happen to all of us. Life isn’t fair at times and things can really suck, but there is, most of the time, a silver lining.

Being optimistic seems to make life happier and better, what’s so dumb about that?

7 responses to “Pessimism Is Not always Deep / Optimism Is Not Always Dumb

  1. Optimism is HARD WORK. But I think you’re right. Anything that can help us to shake off the bad shit faster really has to be good for our mental health. And anything that reduces the world’s collective rage/despair is also, well, helpful.
    Pessimism has got this surprisingly sexy image – as you say, the red wine and marlboro lights effect. Is it because cynicism and pessimism can make us seem more worldly (or world-weary)? Maybe that’s why it was such an appealing attitude when we were younger? I dunno. The scary thing is when that sourness becomes our default setting. Then it takes a lot of work to shake it off.

  2. David Westcott

    ‘optimism is something you can learn, teach yourself, to shake off the bad shit a bit faster, and appreciate the good stuff more. Its about counting your blessings and accepting the bad things that happen to all of us’

    Couldn’t agree more, especially when you’re healthy, have a lovely supportive family and a varied and satisfying life….

  3. It’s good to see someone ‘fess up to holding that belief that pessimists are somehow more intellectual, deeper thinkers than optimists.

    It’s a viewpoint that I find incomprehensible, frankly.

    It seems to be that people are drawn towards a view of the world, whether it’s pessimist or optimist or, occasionally, rather neutral and this is almost part of their personality… they can be shy or gregarious, intellectual or not at all, physically active or sedentary, and a thousand more differences besides and none of those really influence, in my opinion, their general outlook on life.

    Certainly, I have had many “deep and meaningfuls” throughout the years, with friends and strangers both, about “life, the universe and everything” and love these explorations of my own thoughts and those of others.

    And yet, I remain resolutely a happy optimist and some seem to be sad or see no hope, whatever the situation.

    I’m not delusional, I don’t wear rose-tinted glasses, there are many things about life and the world that upset or anger me hugely, and I’m hugely cynical about all manner of things.

    But that doesn’t stop me feeling happy most of the time, feeling hopeful about so much, and being an optimist by nature.

    I’m lucky too that I have a selective memory, not consciously so, but I only rarely remember the negatives, whether that’s shitty holidays and hotels or inedible meals or bad service or much worse. But the highs, those memories stick with me and give me joy and sustain my happiness, even when I’m going through a (usually short and sweet) spot of negativity.

    I don’t know whether natural pessimists can train themselves through practice to be more positive. I’d like to hope so – most things can be learned with practice, can’t they?

    An interesting post…

  4. Gosh this is such an interesting topic. I’m definitely a pessimist by nature. I spend hours and hours trying to see things more optimistically or differently to my ‘natural bent’ but no matter how hard I try I find it almost impossible.

    I don’t know whether or not it is down to brain chemistry, nurture, inherent personality traits or life experiences even though I treasure the good stuff I just can’t seem to have the hope and positive outlook that some people do.

    Although I’ll admit I do sometimes look down on ‘foolish’ optimists I also find it quite intriguing that some people seem to easily live out a world view that seems so impossible to me.

    I think it is best to accept whichever side of the scale one is on, and try not to denigrate others who see life through spectacles of a different tint.

    • Hmmm. Maybe when you have a bit of shit happen to you in your life you tend to see the worst that can happen. But I do think its a personality trait. I’m definitely a glass is half empty person, and I tend to think the worst before it has even happened, but my sister isn’t like that so its something I was born with. Its a blessing to know optimism is a habit that can be learned though! x

  5. Great post. Agree 100%. Also agree with Ashleigh – optimism and positivity in general are incredibly difficult mindsets to maintain in a predominantly pessimistic society. I think even the self-proclaimed most optimistic people occasionally sink into cynical thinking. Hey, it’s an ego thing.

    It’s also a great example of how we are oftentimes at the mercy of our own emotions, despite how rational we’d all like to think we are. When you actually detach yourself and juxtapose the two and really analyse their effects, as I’m sure you have done, then you will realise that optimism is the superior mindset in many many ways. It is better for your health, better for your decision making, better for the human race.

    The average person would argue that blind hope will get you killed in the process, but, if you look at the average person, you can’t really say that they’re even living in the first place.

  6. Pingback: There’s no easy way out, vol. 1: The absence of doing hard things is…still hard – Protecting Beloved Gifts

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