pessimism

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When I watch pessimists in action, I'm amazed at just how little potential and possibility they see in the world.  I'm saddened by just how little hope they show that things will turn out well or that other people will do good things for them and for other people.  When I'm with a pessimist it's very draining for me--it takes an awful lot of energy to maintain a positive perspective and to continue to see that many, many good things are happening in life all the time.

One of the most important--and consistent--rules of life is that life gives to us what we give to life.  Emerson said, "We find in life exactly what we put into it."  Many others have noticed the same dynamic and have documented its truth very well.  If this is the case, then the pessimist is involved in thoughts and behavior that almost guarantees his or her misery.  If I'm sure that I'm not going to get a certain job, for example, that's going to affect the way that I interview and thus lower my chances of actually getting it.  If I think a person is going to hurt me, then I'll subtly treat that person differently, and guess what?  That person is going to do something (perhaps avoid me), thus "proving" that my pessimism was justified!  Of course, I won't stop to think that my own actions that resulted from my thoughts actually caused the reaction from the other person.

We usually pair the concept of pessimism with that of optimism in order to compare them, as if they're two opposites.

Rather than seeing them as "opposites," though, it may be helpful to see them simply as two different ways of thinking, just as walking and riding a bike are two different ways of getting to a destination.  The major difference is the quality of the journey--the optimist goes through life creating, filled with and surrounded by positive energy, while the pessimist tends to create negative energy that fills his or her life and keeps the person focused on the negative.

The pessimist will argue that he or she isn't a pessimist, but a "realist."  After all, many negative things happen in life, and this person thinks that it's justified to focus on the bad as a way of life, as a way to shape and form his or her own perspective on life.  Their version of reality, though, includes only a very small portion of what truly goes on in the world and ignores all the positive things done every day.  Pessimists view the good in life as exceptions rather than the norm, and by maintaining this perspective, they guarantee that they will continue to be pessimists.

Pessimists remind me of people who do only enough research to prove their own points, using only sources who will support them.  They can read a 200-page book on the joys of life, and focus only on one sentence that might say, "Yes, there are bad things in life."  This kind of research, though, is universally condemned as invalid and self-serving, and it's never accepted as valuable research in any field.

If you wish to create many negative experiences for yourself in life, then by all means, adopt pessimism as a way to look at the world.  Be aware, though, that your perspective will be anything but realistic, and that many of the negative things that happen will occur because your perspective actually caused them.  Nobody's saying that everyone should be outgoing optimists, but it is true that an optimistic outlook on life helps us to meet more optimistic people and to encounter more positive experiences--and recognize them for what they are when we do encounter them.

  
No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars,
or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.


Helen Keller
   

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You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you
will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses,
and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain and
learn to accept it, not as a curse or punishment but as
a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
  

Pessimists are the people who have no hope for themselves
or for others.  Pessimists are also people who think
the human race is beneath their notice, that they're
better than other human beings.

James Baldwin

  

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all
possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.

James Branch Cabell

  

An optimist may see a light where there is none,
but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?

Michel de Saint-Pierre

A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his or her opportunities;
an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his or her difficulties.

Reginald B. Mansell

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows
of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old,
even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up to catch the waves
of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

Samuel Ullman

  
Pessimists see only the dark side of the clouds, and mope;
philosophers see both sides, and shrug; optimists
don't see the clouds at all--they're walking on them.

Leonard Louis Levinson
  

In the long run the pessimist may be proved right,
but the optimist has a better time on the trip.

Daniel L. Reardon

   

How many pessimists end up by desiring the things
they fear, in order to prove that they are right?

Robert Mallett

   
Articles and book excerpts on pessimism:

Preventing Pessimism      Nita Jackson

   

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I've learned that next to the atomic bomb, the greatest danger is
defeatism, despair, and inadequate awareness of what human beings
possess.  I feel that any problem that can be defined is capable of
being resolved.  Out of this has come my conviction that
no person knows enough to be a pessimist.

Norman Cousins
  

To the question of whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer
that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic.

Albert Schweitzer

   

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