Monday, 26 September 2011

Optimism vs Pessimism

One of the all time cliched questions is are you an optimist or a pessimist - a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person? Whereupon we think and then readily declare ourselves on one side or the other. Furthermore, we also know when asked this question that really there is only one currently acceptable response. All together - TA DA!  POSITIVE! Well today I would like to introduce the idea that to declare yourself one thing or the other is unrealistic. Surely to experience moments of both optimism and pessimism is the norm? To sometimes feel euphoric and sometimes feel sad and perhaps some of the time to feel nothing in particular?

One of the worst things that pervades western society currently in my opinion is the idea that we should be happy every single minute of our waking lives. My question is what for? It's as if we all want to be in some sort of Brave New World where no one ages or feels pain. Of course disease and the effect of age were eliminated in Huxley's novel by a contracted death but I don't think that would catch on do you?  Instead it feels as if we all want to live to the age of Methuselah whilst looking about twenty five. This reminds me of someone I worked with who wanted counselling because she couldn't stand the idea of developing facial lines and she was all of 28!  but I digress. Of course without the pain where is the pleasure. This is not an advertisement for S & M but a reasoned response suggesting that part of life is about experiencing pain, pleasure, deep emotions. How can you do all of that and remain in a permanent state of optimism?

It is possible I think to view life in an optimistic way. By that I mean being aware that things happen outside our control but that we have the wherewithal to cope and that eventually we can overcome. To put it another way shit happens but what matters is how we deal with it. In fact in my opinion that is about all we can be sure of?



  1. I try and live optimistically, one of the ways I deal with the frequent bouts of depression I get is to make plans for the future.

    Sometimes I have to force myself, it might be a little thing, like tomorrow I WILL make chutney, or a larger project, like making a quilt or learning to carriage drive. I have a list of things I want to achieve, and whenever I feel in danger of serious wallowing, I try and tackle one of these things.

    I am prone to pessimism though, and this was amplified when I was told I had breast cancer 3 years ago. The prognosis was 80% chance of surviving 5 years. As prognosis's go, this is a pretty optimistic one - and the odds look good.

    Very rapidly on a bad day though, this same statistic can take on a very negative and pessimistic characteristics, and becomes 'I have a 1 in 5 chance of being dead by 2013.' Same fact, different perspective. When I think this way, I tend to also think 'what's the point'. Other experiences have taught me that there can be two sides to every situation. As a result of having had the type of breast cancer I had it was decided that it would be a good idea if I had my ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix removed. This resulted in my undergoing major abdominal surgery last year. I had to ways to perceive this.

    My first though was I was neutered, my already flagging body image as a result of the surgery I had undergone for breast surgery, was about to become challenged in the extreme. One of the first thoughts that entered my head was 'I wont be a women any more'. Coupled with this, such surgery throws your body into hormone turmoil, and invokes what they call surgical menopause. I wasn't permitted HRT because of the cancer, so I just had to grit my teeth and live through it.

    Pessimism and 'What is the point' frequently enters my head, but now I am practised in telling myself, without the ovaries et al producing hormones for cancer cells to feed on, my chances of surviving this are much better - an optimistic slant on it instead.

    I don't think we should be optimistic all the time, but by the same token, I think pessimism is unhealthy for your mental well being, so I try and counter this by looking at alternative ways to see a situation, and making the best of things. I know that sounds clichéd, but it really has helped me cope with what has been a difficult time.

    I think in some circles they would call this Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and for the most part changing my way of thinking about things, gets me through most challenges

  2. Thank you Zoe for sharing your experience and your thoughts - you have obviously learned to cope with life's vicissitudes in a useful way. I applaud your resilience x

  3. Another point in favour of occasional pessimism: if one is always optimistic, they reduce their chances of being pleasantly surprised, which can feel so much better than just getting what you hoped for.

  4. interesting observation cat - cat and thanks for reading and commenting :)

  5. Well said, there are definitely times when you look forward to something and there are other times when that feeling is replaced with dread.
    As you said try and remain positive and learn to cope with whatever life throws at you - I'm a cynic and I know that things go wrong but I must stop looking for "Why" something has gone right! x

  6. I'm all for exploring what made something a positive or a negative experience. I think it's normal to experience negative feelings sometimes. Then dust yourself off etc 

  7. Should I put the cat among the pigeons again? This is such a minefield and what you observe about present attitudes to seeming to be happy all the time is something that jars with me too. However, I honestly believe that people can't help being what they are, and I am naturally a sunny side of the street person, just because I don' tolerate shade! For along time I surroundered myself with gloomy people, because I thought it was my mission in life to cheer them up, but what happened was that they made me miserable and I hated it. I do believe that some people are like taps and some of them are like drains. Being around negative people drains me, so I have learned to avoid them if I can. I have come to realise that they don't change, and it isn't my place to get them to change either. 
    Yes, there have been times when I've been down and depressed and the way I manage it is to say that I will be unhappy for a few minutes, and wallow, then I get on with it. I have come to realise that depression is not a natural state for me, but that it seems to be for some people and that's ok- but just don't drag me down. So much energy is wasted on worrying about things you can't change and I just think life is too damned short to waste it on moaning. That's me- rant over! 

  8. Thank you Mary. I don't feel that you have 'put the cat among the pigeons'. I think you've just told me what you think. If we don't entirely agree that's fine. I give my opinion which is to be one or the other isn't a natural state. Then I've been lucky you've engaged and commented. Bring it on girl!