On Pessimism and Social Change.
For most of my life, my natural inclination has been pessimism. If you don’t get your hopes up, you won’t be disappointed. In general, this viewpoint has served me relatively well. I’ve basically accepted that life goes wrong, and imperfections are inevitable.
I do think optimism is useful occasionally, because focusing on the negative aspects of life all the time will only get you depressed. It’s important to imagine a better world, and to put negativity out of your focus for a while.
According to psychologist William James, happiness is expectations over reality. Optimists have a warped sense of reality. They possess a sort of ignorance, a naivety that might be accompanied by a sense of bliss, however false.
The pessimist has lowered expectations. They are aware that In a world where happiness is fleeting and one anxiety is inevitably replaced by the next, having realistic expectations about things like love, career, and happiness can only serve to improve life. If they’re wrong, they’ll be pleasantly surprised, while if the optimist is wrong it could send them into a tailspin.
Happiness as we know it lasts for a really short period of time, and it’s consistently used as a marketing tactic- “you’ll be happy if you just buy this product.” Once you solve one problem in your life, another crops up. Wishing for a life without work, without struggle is delusion. One improvement to the state of the world only makes us more aware of more inequality, more horrors. There will always be a fly in the ointment.
The most you can hope for is a sense of peace that comes with an acceptance that long-lasting happiness and utopia, a happily ever after, doesn’t exist. This doesn’t mean that you just give up on improving the world, it means that you accept that what you’re envisioning won’t happen within your lifetime, or even at all. It doesn’t stop you from getting as close as possible to that ideal.