Is the glass half full or half empty? Everyone has a different way of seeing the world; no particular view point is supreme to the other. The issue here is not whether you are a pessimist or an optimist, but instead how you cope with things and the actions you ultimately decide to take.
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People often view pessimism in a negative light, and optimism and positivity as the ideal. Does “Why are you so pessimistic? Lighten up a little!” sound familiar?
A pessimist is often associated with gloom and doom, and viewed as having nothing positive to contribute. They are the naysayers who voice their apprehension about every other idea and criticise or point out the flaws in suggestions. Conversely, optimists are perceived to be able to find a silver lining in every situation. Even during adversities, they are the embodiment of the sunshine itself, and we can always seek inspiration from them to remain positive when times are trying.
But consider this, is having a negative outlook entirely undesirable? Or is constantly seeing things in a positive light really the way to live your life?
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“Anything that can go wrong, will — at the worst possible moment.“ ― Finagle’s Law
Contrary to popular belief, being a pessimist does not necessarily entail shrouding oneself in negativity. Rather, it just means that you are a sceptic; seeking proof before accepting an idea. In this sense, having a pessimistic outlook on life might have surprisingly beneficial effects on our physical and mental well-being. Now, what do I mean by that?
According to a study published in the journal Psychology and Aging, lead author, Frieder R. Lang revealed that being pessimistic about the future may lead to a longer, healthier life. He reasoned that having a darker outlook on the future is often more realistic, and thus prevents us from overestimating our future level of satisfaction and helps us cope with bad news more readily.
Admittedly, being a pessimist myself, I often anticipate the uglier aspect of things and believe that the worst will happen, preventing me from being too comfortable with the status quo. I stress over the tests I take, regardless of how well-prepared I am. I think about how different assignments might potentially botch my GPA. I worry about how I would have to make up for that lackluster grade in my other exams. However, it is this self-doubt, despite my preparations and efforts, which spurs me to focus on the next test and helps me deal with accepting disappointments in life.
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“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Optimism in reasonable doses is no doubt beneficial as it allows you to find the motivation to press on, to keep trying even when all odds are stacked against you. However, in extreme cases, having a rosy outlook on life might suggest denial and naivety. Being too positive might in fact backfire. That is the case of “blinding optimism”, whereby one simply sweep all harsh realities under the rug.
Wearing rose-tinted glasses might sometimes cause one to overlook real and existing problems that urgently need to be addressed. Optimism might create the illusion of control over a situation, thus fostering a sense of complacency that the best possible outcome can be easily attained. However, when the situation pans out negatively, the lack of realism becomes fatal as one would not be able to accept the tragedy that has occurred.
We live in a society that encourages optimism. Regardless whether you are in school, at the workplace, or at home, we are told to cheer up and stay positive. No doubt optimism is helpful when people are battling inevitable negative outcomes, such as terminal illnesses. However, instead of being too negative or too positive, it might in fact be wiser to strike a balance between both perspectives so as to maintain
a healthy mental well-being.
Striking a Balance
Both optimism and pessimism are necessities in our lives. As the proverb “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” aptly puts it, we should all be reasonably optimistic, yet, be ready to counter troubles and difficulties whenever they arise. Understandably, finding a middle ground is easier said than done. However, by attempting to lower our expectations and considering all the possible negative outcomes, we can prepare ourselves for any nasty surprises that might happen and allow us to brace ourselves. By adopting a more balanced and wholesome view of the matter, we are able to prepare ourselves to cope with situations by formulating action plans for the different outcomes.
The Art of Being a Realist
A realist is someone who tends to view or present things as they really are at this moment in time. They work and live in the moment. Interestingly, pessimists tend to view them as optimists, and optimists often view them as pessimists. They are the ones who adopt a balanced outlook on life; remaining clear headed and not allowing their perspective to be distorted by a certain perspective. Therefore, they tend to be more action-oriented as they remain forward looking by not being overly pre-occupied with situations they cannot change.
Ultimately, our perspective is highly dependent and shaped by our environment. When we soldier on through tough times, we find ourselves anticipating a bleak future. Conversely, when things take a positive turn, we tend to be more upbeat, and look forward to favorable outcomes. Regardless of which direction our lives take, que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be). Ultimately, it is more important to maintain a healthy mindset and adopt a rational way of coping with things.