- Mental Health
The Meaning and Hidden Benefits of Pessimism
Definition of Pessimism - Popular Definition
- A tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view.
- The doctrine or belief that this is the worst of all possible worlds and that all things ultimately tend toward evil.
- The doctrine or belief that the evil in the world outweighs the good.
A Case for Pessimism
Popular Western culture has led us to believe that optimism, at all costs, is a healthy outlook on life. Contrast that to pessimism, which is viewed as a depressive outlook on life, not worthy of any consideration. Suffice to say, the majority of people who have grown up in a Western popular culture would rather make friends with the devil himself than a pessimist. Pessimists have been demonized without a moment's thought. It's hard to get a job as a pessimist. It's difficult to conduct commerce as a pessimist. In most cases this has little to do with the person who is pessimistic, but mostly the reaction and perceptions other people have towards the pessimist. The discrimination can at times become unbearable.
As a pessimist myself, I will tell my fellow pessimists to take heart. Rather than waste away years, perhaps decades, training to be a "bad" optimist; I can tell you from experience the time would be better spent being a "good" pessimist.
You can become a good pessimist by helping people to truly understand the meaning of pessimism beyond what the lies sold on Oprah, infomercials, self-help books, etc. It's time the world had a good lecture on the benefits of pessimism. We'll begin this journey by entering the mind of a pessimist and analyzing their inner philosophical workings. Optimists, don't worry, I plan not to bite; nor depress you too much. . .
You Have Entered the Mind of a Pessimist. . .
A couple of strangers have come into your home and have invaded your privacy. They have overpowered you and restrained you. You try to fight your way out of this situation, but to no avail, you're restraints are fully secured. Negotiations with your abductors are futile - they're not listening. They begin to loot all of your possessions. Once they are finished helping themselves to all of your belongings, they begin to remove your clothes, and throw a garbage bag over your face. Eventually you're completely tied down and your body completely encompassed in garbage bags. You have zero visibility. In all of the commotion it's difficult to understand what your captors are saying. You hear the sound of what is the slamming of a car trunk. You hear the shimmering sound of an engine starting. Your abductors have locked you in the back trunk of their car. Where do they plan to take you? What do they plan to do with you? You don't know.
You lose consciousness until you wake up to the sound of bird cries. The sun is gleaming on your face as it's the brisk of dawn. You check your surroundings all but to find nothing but indistinguishable forests as far as the eye can see. Reality has finally hit you - you're in the middle of the woods naked - with no ideas or clues as to where you are or how to get back home.
Now here is the big question: Where do you go from here?
Immediately, I can imagine the rebuttals of the optimists echoing in the background:
"Something like this would never happen to me, why even think about it? It's too negative!"
"You must have done something wrong to end up in this position in the first place. Perhaps if you were not such a pessimist none of this would have happened?"
"I've stopped reading this article right now. It's depressing and the story is ridiculous. The author of this article should learn to cheer up and just enjoy life. I'm watching Dancing with the Stars because that makes me happy!"
"Something like this would never happen to me because I'm a good person who is positive. If other people are being bad to you; you must have attracted this behaviour with your pessimism."
To which my response to the following rebuttals are as follows: You're completely missing the point. It matters not whether you believe this will happen to you or not. It matters not how much you believe I may have exaggerated my story telling. It doesn't matter the hypothetical circumstances that may have led to the said character ending up in his/her predicament. Dear optimists, you have just learnt the first lesson entering the mind of a pessimist. That lesson is the recognition that shit happens. Not only does shit happen, but random shit happens. Positive thinking espoused by the likes of the law of attraction will not grant you a special immunity to this random shit. Random shit strikes whether you're an optimist or a pessimist. The only difference is the pessimist expects it - and is often prepared for it. The optimist never expects it - and is often unprepared for it.
So again we're brought back to the question: Where do you go from here? Obviously we've determined that "this will never happen to me" is a suicidal approach to the current situation, yet one could argue it's the most optimistic way of thinking. Contemplating how you're such a good person and how this shouldn't have happened to you is certainly a path to nowhere, except maybe the grave. Sorry, was I getting too pessimistic again?
One way to approach this situation is to simply sit tight and believe there are heroes in the world that will come to rescue you. Before you laugh too hard, I know many optimists (particularly women) who would choose to do exactly that course of action (or should I state inaction?). They believe there is much good in the world and many good people. Sure, there are good people, but how exactly will they find you? And who is to say if you were to encounter a human in the woods that they would be any different than your captors? Let's be honest with ourselves, you probably don't want to encounter many people running wild in the woods. The types you would encounter there are most likely people who wish to take a sniff of an illegal substance, escaped convicts, or a redneck hunter who might accidentally blow your head off mistaking you for an elk in the woods (remember you're naked).
You have now learnt the second benefit of pessimism - by having less faith in other people, we're less dependent on other people. Because we have less dependence on other people - we're more independent than an optimist. Don't believe me? Hang around optimists; they're always in constant need of attention, positive reinforcement, and likewise optimism. They're completely dependent on other human beings to "fill them up." The pessimist on the other hand, has no need to find people to fill them up, they'll run on exhaust fumes if they have to. . .
The dependency factor inside every optimist can also lead to an unhealthy blame game. Although the experience is anecdotal, I have noticed that optimists are always quick to blame others if they're underperforming at work. Usually the blame is directed at the pessimist who they accuse of "ruining their morale" and thus affecting the quality of their work. I should know - I'm often the recipient of such excuses. Weak leaders often fall prey to such drama - failing to realize that not only is the so called optimist not performing up to par, but the optimist is also blaming other people for their shortcomings. In the end, I usually receive some kind of "disciplinary measure" delivered by an ineffective leader. As for me, I'm a good pessimist and I'm proud of it! I don't care whether my co-workers are gossiping, crying, or throwing paper airplanes. I'm a pessimist - I just get to work. I don't let the attitudes of others define the quality of my work.
You have now learnt the third benefit of being a pessimist - we just get to work. We're an efficient bunch. No need to waste time with cheerleading sessions - we're ready and able. Most pessimists in that situation would gloomily put their heads down, walk as quickly as they can any direction through that woods, and talk to themselves how the current situation sucks. What's funny is that's exactly the best way to get ahead. In retrospect, whether the person walking through the woods in this dire situation is being optimistic or pessimistic means, for the lack of better words, dick. There's little point in calculating the odds. There's no point in polluting the mind with false hope in the name of faith. We walk through the woods, trying to find our way home, because that's what we must do.
Now you may ask, why would complaining about how the situation sucks help you in anyway work your way across the woods? Good question, my response is that by constantly describing the pain, you build certain immunity to it. It makes for a good release. You're alone in the woods, as strange as this may seem, talking to yourself makes good company and helps keep you sane.
Contrast that to an optimist, who when they finally decide it's their fate is to walk through the woods, will either not say a word to themselves or constantly preach out loud words of encouragement. So what's wrong with a little encouragement? Nothing at first, however I'm willing to bet after the third or so hour of walking through the woods with sore bear feet, the optimist may find themselves in an awkward situation of deliberately aggravating themselves. It would be aggravating to constantly lie to yourself that you're eating ice cream rather than genuinely experiencing pain. The optimist, in his or her beliefs, is oddly enough creating a lot of resistance and further pain. This is a sailing ship - go with the waves - describe the pain.
This brings us to the fourth and fifth benefits of being a pessimist. The fourth benefit is that pessimists have greater mental toughness than optimists. The optimist is in constant need of positive stimulation of some kind - if the optimist can't find such stimulation they can pursue activities that are sabotaging all for the sake of acquiring it.
The fifth benefit of pessimists is that they have the ability to go with the flow. The pessimist is cynical enough to recognize there are many cases where we have little control as a puny human. The pessimist knows that there are giant economic, political, physical, etc. systems where he or she exerts little or no influence because these systems are so far, above, and beyond the capacity of a single human who didn't grow up in a background of privilege. The optimist, on the other hand, believes he or she is in complete control of their lives. This is false; nobody has complete control over every aspect of their lives. Most times we just have to roll with the pathetic hand we're given, prepare for the worst, and consider it a bonus when we achieve the best.
Perhaps a clever optimist will accuse me of only seeing the obstacles in life. The optimist will argue that of course I'm in complete control of my life - as long as I don't focus on the obstacles and allow them to control me. At this point, our well-meaning optimist may find the pessimist rolling his or her eyes upward. Whether I believe in the obstacles or not is inconsequential - they are there regardless. In fact, I would rather choose to see as many obstacles as possible, rather than take a position of ignorance by choosing not to focus on them at all.
In our example of the trek in the woods, do you truly believe an optimist, who adopts the idea of refusing to see obstacles, has any chance for survival over our pessimist? Getting lost in the wilderness is filled with more obstacles than I could care to count. I would give the nod over someone who is alert and analyzes the obstacles; over an individual who gleefully gallops through the woods and believes they'll make it due to positive thinking. Yeah, good luck with that my friends, maybe your "positive vibrations" will keep the rain away, keep the predators at bay, and keep you from misstepping on a rather unfortunate venomous plant. I'm sure Mother Nature will go out of her way to accompany you and all of your positive thinking. So here's to the sixth benefit of being a pessimist, we're more alert!
Truth be told, a modern day new age optimist has about zero chance of survival if they were haphazardly dropped off in the woods. They're not in the right place mentally to survive over a day. While I'm confident the pessimist could survive at least a week or so at a minimum. The pessimist in this story would no doubt eventually find a river or road - leading eventually to a town.
So, one has to wonder if the claim to emotional superiority, as espoused by our popular Western culture, truly rests in the hands of optimists. After all, take away civilization and most optimists couldn't even survive a night in the woods!
Pessimism and Optimism - Refined Definitions
Seeing that this is my article, it's time for my own refined definitions and interpretations of the two words: pessimism and optimism.
- A tendency to remain alert and exercise caution, while taking calculated risks.
- Always preparing for the worst and recognizing our fate.
- A strong recognition that there's evil in the world - and that evil must be fought.
- An independent individual who doesn't seek the constant approval of others.
- An idiot who believes we can defeat evil by giving evil a hug; or believes that evil doesn't exist.
- A people pleasing person who is in constant need of positive human interactions and reinforcement - develops dependency.
- A person who believes they're in complete control - and may devolve into a control freak. Doesn't understand the notions of fate nor circumstance.
- A person who believes that being positive, for the sake of being positive, leads to solutions.
- Strong Work Ethic
- Mentally Though
The Benefits of Pessimism
- Critical Thinker
Optimism is Destroying American Business; Pessimism is the Cure
In my next article, I will explain how optimism is culturally wreaking havoc on American businesses, and how our businesses are run by optimist psychopaths who believe they're invincible - bringing us all down in a financial nuclear explosion.
I will then explain how pessimism is the cure. Stay tuned, I'm rather busy, but I hope to have the article up come sometime next week.
-Donovan D. Westhaver