Beware of Pessimism: Hal Green Column

It is easier to be a pessimist than an optimist, safer to assume the worst. But it is one thing to prepare for the worse, just in case it happens, and another to take the position that the worse will happen. And that is what a pessimist does, assumes that if things can get worse, they are going to. In the midst of plenty, a pessimist looks toward potential poverty, as if inviting it in. And if things do get worse, if poverty replaces plenty, a pessimist can say: “There, I told you so! I warned you that this would happen.”

I’ve never met a pessimist who enjoyed being one, or who enjoyed life. Pessimists are usually people who have been wounded, who have suffered serious disappointments in life. They seem to have decided that they would rather suffer most anything else, including their own daily negativity and its impact on their health and relationships, than to experience possible future disappointments. Pessimists seem to have decided that it is better not to believe than to be disillusioned, not to love than to lose in loving.

One problem is their very lack of belief prevents others from proving them wrong. Negativity has difficulty accepting anything but itself, anything but negative outcomes. Pessimists find it problematic to believe in life’s positive potential, in the possibility of actual goodness and success. Thus they have trouble even seeing such things should they present themselves. Their negativity propels them to refuse any evidence to the contrary. Pessimists are too busy expecting the bad to look for or recognize or trust in the good.

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Pessimists typically like to spread their pessimism around. It’s as if they are not really satisfied unless others share their tainted viewpoint. Perhaps it is true that misery loves company, especially the pessimist’s self-induced brand of misery, the misery that seems to require the justifying and sustaining fuel of others who share it. Perhaps others feeling the same way pessimists do it validates their viewpoint as true. Perhaps others sharing their feelings means they are not crazy, and not so alone.

Another reason pessimists seek others to join them in their negativity is as simple as it is diabolic: if they can succeed at making others miserable, then they don’t have to look on at the happiness of others, which might make them feel all the more miserable and alone.

Once pessimism has set root in the soul, it is about as difficult to eradicate as weeds in the soil of a garden. But there are some effective herbicides. Chief among them is the mounting fatigue which comes from being negative, the pained realization of the personal and social cost of pessimism. Second is the desire for a more positive way of living, together with the longing for inner peace and life satisfaction which require a positive viewpoint to bring about.

To alleviate pessimism, practice looking for the good in things daily, even hourly. Begin each morning by visualizing positive outcomes, and by convincing yourself that satisfying encounters with others will likely occur during that day. Decide what good thing you can believe in for that day, then believe in it all day. Determine what you can be thankful for, then be thankful. Believe in positive cycles: good thoughts usually lead to good results, which confirm those good thoughts. And let your positive outlook produce some joy. Then trust that you will meet others only too glad to share your joy with you.

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