Why Thinking Negatively Doesn’t Make Someone The Worst
The Upside of Pessimism
Have you ever met a pessimist that almost proudly believed in the validity of all of the worst case scenarios?
The kind of people that are smugly virtuous in their delivery of “I told you so’s” when bad things happen?
They don’t even call themselves pessimists, they calm themselves “realists” deeming optimism as naive, unrealistic and immature.
I’ve met several. I found them boring, predictable and sad. I went from believing I could change their minds to being sucked into their black holes over and over again until I finally decided it was time for a full-blown pessimist boycott.
At the first hint of them, I quickly labelled them as toxic people and run for the hills of sunshine, lollipops and dreams.
After years of exposure therapy through years of frontline work however, I’ve finally gained the mental flexibility and impenetrable sense of self that allows me to tolerate nearly all personalities.
Now, I finally see the value of pessimism and no longer relegate it to cold wet smelly blankets at a cuddle-party (yes these are a thing).
In the counselling dictionary (fourth edition) Pessimism is defined as:
1. A tendency to stress the negative and worst that could happen.
2. The opposite of optimism.
In psychotherapy, considering multiple perspectives is akin to having a superpower.
It takes tremendous mental fortitude, and flexibility to shift perspectives and reframe old ideas in new ways. Pessimism was one of those things for me.
On the surface it appears to be a major buzzkill. This is true, especially when this perspective is forcibly thrusted upon you by someone who lacks the social ability to read the room and reel in their big energy. It’s especially problematic when pessimism becomes a cognitive outlook on life that is potentially detrimental to helping people find resolutions to issues they may be facing.
Today however, I wholeheartedly believe that pessimism isn’t all that bad. In certain scenarios, the appropriate amount of it could prove to be an advantageous perspective shift to maximize one’s life appreciation.
The Upside 1: Pessimism as a Reminder Of Our Mortality
“We’re not making it out alive, death is upon us all”.
We’re dying. Every passing day, hour and minute brings us closer and closer to our own deaths.
Though evidentially pessimistic, remembering the inevitability of our own mortality may also be a source of encouragement to savor the precious present moments we have left.
The difference between optimal mental health and suboptimal states or mental struggles can be found in daily perspectives and mental narratives we believe about our world.
We could all benefit mentally with more gratitude, intentionality and perhaps even a touch of wonder and awe.
People are perishing every moment and you aren’t one of them, that has got to be a win right?
The Upside 2: Pessimism as a Foolproof Planning Tool
Let’s face it, blind optimism doesn’t make for good planning.
Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience.
Being underprepared for inclement weather at a camping trip is just silly at this point in my life but it didn’t stop it from occurring several times in my adult life.
I realize that optimism may not have been my issue here, and that it could’ve been my curious inability to learn from Soggy wet sleeping bags and clothing however:
Had I been more pessimistic during the planning phase, I would have at least contemplated the worst-case scenario being a possibility, despite verifying the weather online months in advance.
“Preparing for rain would be bad luck” doesn’t even make sense! But this almost childish narrative stuck with me throughout life as if the positivity of my own thoughts controlled the weather.
A dash of Pessimism could have positively motivated me to prepare a little more robustly.
The Upside 3: Pessimism as a Bullshit Detector
This job isn’t going to get better.
I’ve worked in social services for over a decade. It was very heart-centered work however, the pay was horrendous. It’s as if half of our salary was our love and passion for helping people in what we considered meaningful ways.
It took me over 10 years to realize that the so called “raise” that was just beyond my reach if only I could turn into the perfect employee, wasn’t happening.
I used to beat myself up after employee reviews that would knit-pick my human parts deeming them “flawed” or “needing improvement”, and justifying my salary stagnation. It was bullshit.
They simply lacked the funding, and frankly the balls to be honest about their struggle to stay afloat, let alone afford raises of any kind.
My pessimistic counterparts didn’t last 10 years, a few didn’t even last 6 months before sniffing out the bullshit.
I remember training a new girl that sat through one of my old bosses famous “Raises will be awarded to those that achieve it with exceptional work ethic, and performance”.
“That’s bullshit.” She automatically whispered under her breath. At the time I found it pessimistic and frankly insolent, but had I believed her, I would’ve saved myself from 10 years of sheer lies that were well-veiled by blind optimism.
In Conclusion : A Message for the Pessimists
The world needs pessimists.
If you’re a natural pessimist, I hope you realize that in the right context, pessimism can be leveraged advantageously.
For example: To create nearly foolproof plans; or remind us that we’re mere mortals that must cherish our short temporary existence. Sometimes things truly are as bad as they seem and should be called out.
Selective pessimism can be a positive thing.
May we remember death to remember to live, and prepare for the worst to experience the best.