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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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Daily Meditations, Year One - Year Two - Year Three - Year Four

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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

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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Many people are pessimistic because they see no consistency
or relationship between what people call the dry, dreary drudgery
of life and the idea that life was intended to be a joy, a perpetual
delight.  They cannot see any relation between a perpetual delight
and hard work, disagreeable duties.  They are unable, unlike the
bee, to extract honey from the bitter flowers of life.  To them labor,
everything that seems a drudgery, is a curse.

Orison Swett Marden
The Joys of Living

Pessimists dismiss optimism as ungrounded and unrealistic.  And while it is true
that optimists, by definition, have high hopes and lofty dreams, these hopes and
dreams can become self-fulfilling prophecies:  Over time they can become real.
A pessimistic outlook makes it more likely that the future will turn out gloomy;
a hopeful disposition is likely to bring about success and well-being.  If optimism
and hope are grounded, they can improve the quality of our relationships, bring
about success at work, help us overcome adversity, and provide an important
foundation for making our dreams come true.  To a great extent, my expectations
of myself or others, and of situations, determine my reality.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Choose the Life You Want



Yes, life can be mysterious and confusing--but there's much of life that's actually rather dependable and reliable.  Some principles apply to life in so many different contexts that they can truly be called universal--and learning what they are and how to approach them and use them can teach us some of the most important lessons that we've ever learned.
My doctorate is in Teaching and Learning.  I use it a lot when I teach at school, but I also do my best to apply what I've learned to the life I'm living, and to observe how others live their lives.  What makes them happy or unhappy, stressed or peaceful, selfish or generous, compassionate or arrogant?  In this book, I've done my best to pass on to you what I've learned from people in my life, writers whose works I've read, and stories that I've heard.  Perhaps these principles can be a positive part of your life, too!
Universal Principles of Living Life Fully.  Awareness of these principles can explain a lot and take much of the frustration out of the lives we lead.



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