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Pessimism: On the Bright Side…

Concluding a late night’s session of distracted lurking and learning online, I happened to chance across pages and pages of self-help articles where I was the villain.

“Stay away from Pessimists!” The writers advised (always happy and healthy yoga enthusiasts with aligned chakras, ugh), “Negative people suck away your spiritual energy! They’ll destroy your hard-earned positivity and drag you into the depths of darkness and gloom with them and they have nothing nice to say! So avoid them like the plague and have a lovely day, my beautiful Optimists! :) :) :) :) ”




“I do nothing of the sort!” I snarled at the screen, “Just because you’re a privileged hipster with no sense of reality that lives in a disillusioned bubble of…….oh.”

Scanning more of these articles, I began to see a trend: The writers, all advocates for optimism, not only condemned pessimism as a whole but demonized it to such an extent that by the end of one blog post you’d believe that people who just happened to have a negative outlook on life also went around crushing puppies under their vehicles for pure entertainment. According to the surprisingly vehement online Optimists, Pessimists were the walking epitome of every sin denounced by every religion. They laughed at violence, danced on graves and would videotape your last screams of agony for their viewing pleasure later.




After this passionate condemnation, it was recommended that readers shun such parasitic entities and focus on cultivating the happiness of their own existence instead. 

I lay back in my chair, slack-jawed.

I’ve noticed that in today’s style of carrying out discourse of any sort, there’s a tendency to raise one side of the debate to a practically seraphic level, while dropping the other into the cesspools of hell and doing the same to the people who choose one stance or the other. This happens regardless of whether the topic at hand is politics, culture, ethics or even discussing one’s feelings towards cats and babies (spoiler alert: I’m not a fan of either.) 

Shutting off the computer, I began to contemplate the question. Are pessimists truly so terrible?

More specifically, am I such a distasteful person? As a pessimist, I’m aware that I have many faults: I’m critical, lose hope easily, always anticipate the worst and have a limit of three sincere smiles per month. Articles and books about positivity are constantly being shoved in my face, friends physically restrain me from jumping to the worst of conclusions, and I run screaming from self-styled spiritualists who want to draw out ‘my bad energy’. Yet I give up my train seat to elderly grandmothers without grudge, compliment people’s makeup with true admiration and try my hardest to cheer up someone who’s suffered a setback. 

That’s the complexity of the situation that most optimists don’t do full justice to, in my opinion. 

My not-so-hopeful perspective on life is one I keep to myself since I know that not everyone subscribes to my ideology, much like in the case of religion. Pessimists don’t go to the birthday parties of squealing children and tell them to stop looking so happy because they’re now a year closer to death. They may think that, of course, but thoughts can’t be censored, that statement is a fact, and at the end of the day, a good pessimist comes to the party wearing a bright smile and holding a present just like everyone else. That’s why it’s often a surprise to even the friends and family of hardcore pessimists that their dear one is constantly anticipating the destruction of everything around them even if they’re not looking forward to it.

So, pessimists don’t always play double-roles alongside Sadists and Nihilists. Agreed?

But that aside, can pessimism actually be used….for good? Oh, the horror!

Let’s appropriate a certain method the Optimists consider sacred, just to drive them a little insane: Let’s make a list of positives!

Here goes:

  • Pessimism keeps you safe: Expecting the worst means that at some level, you’re prepared to face it. (Here’s proof: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2285719/Why-negative-good-health-Pessimists-likely-live-longer.html)
  • Pessimism drives you to improve: The burning need to correct an unpleasant situation is more powerful than the incentive of reaching a superior goal from an already acceptable position, making pessimists into more driven problem solvers than their optimistic counter-parts. Apart from that, when you’re handed a tentative idea and immediately notice half a dozen flaws within it that can be corrected, you’re not ruining everyone’s day. You have a valuable life skill.
  • Pessimists are more grounded in reality: Those who don’t bother to “hope for the best” and coat their guesses with a dose of optimism are ultimately less surprised and better prepared for disasters, be they natural or political. 
  • Pessimists are easier to make happier: Expecting the worst from everyone and everything ultimately means you’re more pleasantly surprised when things don’t go completely wrong. And in the long run, that makes one happier than an optimist who’s usually set up for disappointment time and again after setting their expectations too high.

To end….it’s terribly rainy weather today and it’s probably going to be tomorrow as well. Might as well stick that umbrella into my bag because even if there’s no hurricane later, it might be useful to stab something annoying with. Tomorrow’s that blasted exam as well, so I’m off to review the hardest chapter out of the whole textbook because I’m certain that’s what we’ll get for the essay. After all, teachers are human and humans are inherently inclined towards acts of evil. I’m not the brightest ray of sunshine out there, agreed, but I and countless other pessimists in the world at this instant are more likely to have a better day than the hopefuls who leave their umbrella at home and pray the teacher won’t test them on what they dreaded to study. 

Pessimism is not a mourning world of eternal night where cold rainstorms are made of human tears, just as Optimism isn’t always a dimension of sunshine, kittens and rainbows. It’s all right to crack a few harmless jokes at each other’s expense, while being open minded enough to appreciate the unfathomable depths of diversity contained within the human personality. Your optimistic friend can help you develop that electric spark in your energy, while a pessimist can encourage you to confront a fear you’ve always avoided. There is no ideal and there is nothing to ‘repair’. Optimism and Pessimism are simply tools that allow each of us to travel through our individual lives in countless unique ways.

You probably didn’t enjoy reading this woeful article, but if you did, do tell us what your preferred method of operation is. 




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Waseda '22

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