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Pessimism A Defense of Pessimism

I am not a positive thinker. Never have been, never will be. Some people call this line of thinking “defeatist,” or “nihilistic,”  but I don’t agree, because these people are  head-in-the-clouds dreamers who refuse to acknowledge that bad stuff happens all the time and that it’s not going to change ever no matter how hard you wish on a star. Being a pessimist from the day I was born has served me well the vast majority of the time; I am almost never disappointed because I don’t expect things to go as planned anyway. I am a pessimist; being prepared for the worst is what sort of I do.

It turns out I’m correct in touting the benefits of pessimism as a life ideology. In 2012,  German researchers conducted a study of elderly citizens and concluded that pessimists are often happier in the end. The study reveals that “understanding that although things are fine right now,  they might get worse” seems to have “a positive effect” on their quality of life. The study notes that pessimistic people can actually benefit from a this outlook.  The researching psychologists acknowledge that while the results “fly in the face of ‘positive psychology””  the results make sense because being pessimistic helps you prepare for bad things, even if they never come. I agree completely. Pessimism is at the heart of why we contribute to retirement plans, build well-stocked pantries, make us wear sunscreen. I dread the hard times, but dreading them makes me think about them and thinking about them makes me DO something. A dreamer – a true dreamer -doesn’t worry about these things too much, instead choosing to spend energy on other pursuits like making wildflower bouquets and starting mason jar Pinterest boards.

But don’t cry for me, optimists! While I will never be a member of your club, I may come to your annual picnic if I’m invited. I’ll be the one with a rain cover, bug spray, poison ivy cream, and extra water bottles. Who’s going to be okay when the skies open up and killer bees hunt you down on your nature walk? Me, that’s who! Because I knew these things were likely and I made provisions for them. I’ll be dry and bite-free while you’re trying to sooth your itchy, hungry children with songs about magical fairies who shit jelly beans.

Pessimists constantly have to defend their ideology. I’ve had the negative/positive ying/yang debate more times than I can count and because life is what is it (which is not not great sometimes,) I fell in love with a an wonderful, positive thinking idealist. This, I believe, is my punishment for my one day of positive thinking back in 1992. He’s a wonderful, caring, slightly-delusional dreamer of a man and I’ve explained to him several times that pessimism is often borne of a need to protect oneself. If nothing good is likely to happen, then nothing is lost in the process. When something good occurs (but it probably won’t) then that’s a bonus. I call this outlook “conversation without expectation,” and it hasn’t failed me yet. But I will be ready when it does. He sometimes lovingly calls me things like “dream-suck” and “spirit-killer,” which I’m currently having an optimist of a friends cross-stitch onto a pillow for me.

The horrible, inconvenient truth is that life sucks – it sucks hard, and it sucks hard a lot. Pessimists know this and there is no hiding from this cold-hard fact. But we are not all joyless, defeated suckholes. I have a great deal of joy in my life and every day holds good. I can laugh at almost everything and my very dark sense of humor is a  gift that I’ve found most pessimists have. I appreciate this immensely because life demands you tolerate a a lot of bullshit and if we couldn’t laugh at it we’d all be in a lot of trouble.

Being a pessimist is not for lazy hacks, either. This outlook isn’t chosen for ease or for the sake of just being able to simply dismiss notions of good, thereby ensuring a cocoon of “I told you so.” Pessimism requires effort and tenacity. It demands attention and it criticism. You can’t lay on the couch watching porn with a trough full of Cool-Ranch Doritos if you’re going to call yourself a true pessimist. Those nacho-munchers are poseurs; they’re pessimoseurs. True, authentic, unadulterated  pessimism requires and inspires action. Troops aren’t called into battle because “Eh, probably nothing bad will happen.” Armies are formed and trained under the possibility of worst case scenarios and this is how wars are won. Pessimists – to borrow a line from Tina Fey  – get shit done. While you optimists are seeing everything through rose-colored glasses and  building your dream house “vision board,” we’re laying figurative sandbags in preparation for the impending storm.

So lovers and dreamers, chill the fuck out and stop telling me to think positively. Instead, why don’t you come over to “the dark side” and join us on the pessimist bench? We’re wearing black t-shirts and talking about silicone window caulking, because it looks like a storm is coming.



  • Chantal

    Ha: “So lovers and dreamers, chill the fuck out and stop telling me to think positively. ” — THIS….

    If I have to read one more inspirational message on FB, I will lose it.

    I don’t see it as pessimism however. I see it as realism. I can enjoy the good things when they happen, but I DON’T walk around with rose tinted glasses. And thanks to that realism, I can weather the storms I’ve had to weather recently with relative grace. At least, I hope so ;)

  • Aileen

    Exactly what Chantal said – it’s not pessimism, it’s realism. I always say “why does the glass have to half full or half empty? It’s half a glass of water.”

    • Sheryl

      Aileen & Chantal– I’m right there with you! Either drink the water, or fill it up if it is bothering you ;)

  • http://www.danielletodd.com Danielle

    Realism. Exactly.

    My optimistic friends always suffer the most when life doesn’t go the way they plan. I’m a realist, and I’m always prepared for life to suck, but grateful when it doesn’t.

  • Sheryl

    Oh Jeni, I’ve been waiting to have you write a post like this for soooo longgg! I am pretty much exactly the same way, and get tired of defending it. Those who ask me to ‘smile more’ or ‘stop being so serious’ just simply don’t get it. I’m mentally building walls out of sandbags daily, and have the biceps to prove it.

  • http://remodelingpurgatory.wordpewss.com Janelle

    I prefer to think of myself as a realist and yes, we’re always prepared. Love the blog title.

  • http://www.jackstrawlane.com Katja

    I don’t know what I am. All I know is that I don’t like Cool Ranch Doritos and I’m all for forming armies.

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  • Ra-chan

    I think I’m somewhere in between true optimists and pessimists. I know that bad things happen and I take pains to plan for those things but my general outlook on life is pretty good. I mean, when I got married, I told me soon-to-be-husband that I knew things would not always be easy, that we would fight and not agree on things. But I knew that because I expected that, we’d work through it. I was really positive about our marriage because I wasn’t going to let the occasional fuck-up ruin things for us.

    I don’t try to point out pessimistic ideas to other people but I think about them for myself. I don’t know what that makes me but I’m okay with being the way I am. :D

  • http://injaynesworld.blogspot.com injaynesworld

    For many a decade my mantra was, “Life sucks and then you die.” (Whine) The guy I want doesn’t want me. (Whine) I don’t have the job I want. (Whine) I’m broke and in debt… What a self-involved little twit, I was. All the time, there was a world out there where people were experiencing real suffering on the scale I could not even imagine. It took to well into my 40s to realize how hugely blessed I was. Sure, shit happens — much of the time to good people who don’t deserve it — but I could never say now that life sucks. Maybe it’s because I’m now in my 60s and can see the “exit” sign ahead, but I think life rocks. And the more I give thanks, the more good I expect in my life, the better it gets. It took a long time to get here, but I gotta say, “I’m a card-carrying optimist.” Although, I do carry bug spray and wear sunscreen. :)

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