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Why Pessimism is Underrated

"Don't be so pessimistic!" Who hasn't heard that phrase? People want us to be happy and optimistic. But what's so wrong with pessimism? On the outside, it may just look like someone being sad, but there are actually some positive aspects to being pessimistic, ironically enough. Pessimism, according to Merriam-Webster, is "an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome." In simpler terms, it means acting pretty darn hopeless towards everything. I don't mean being hopeless about life, I mean expecting the worst. Pessimism prevents disappointment, and it makes the good events seem even better!

People can have ridiculously high expectations sometimes. People live for hope, as mentioned in the movie The Hunger Games by President Snow, who thought hope could be useful in keeping his people happy, therefore not rebellious, therefore repressed. We’ll get back to that in a minute. We've all hoped for something. When we get what we hoped for, it feels good. But what happens when you don't get what you hoped for, and sometimes even assumed you'd get? You're disappointed! The more you wanted something, the sadder you are if you don't get it. If you’re pessimistic about a situation, you won’t be sad if it doesn’t turn out in your favor. Let’s go back to The Hunger Games example. In case you haven’t read it, 12 districts send two kids each to fight to the death. Everyone hopes for their district to have a winner, since that will make things better for that district for a year, plus that means an innocent child they know didn’t die. “You root for your favorites, cry if they get killed,” Gale, a character in The Hunger Games says at one point during the movie. If you don’t root for your favorites, if you don’t have favorites, then you’re not disappointed when they’re killed. While we don’t have The Hunger Games going on in our lives, at least I hope not, we all have something we can compare it to, on a smaller scale, of course. Say you’re auditioning for a play. If you really want a certain part and then don’t get it, you’re crushed. However, if you don’t expect to get the part, or don’t even hope for it, you won’t be sad if you don’t get it. No hope equals no letdown.

At this point, I imagine you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “No hope? That’s a horrible idea! That means no happiness!” Does it? Okay, so I’ve discussed how pessimism can improve the outcome if things don’t go your way, but what about when things do go your way? Well, then that makes the positive outcomes that much better. If you really want something, and you hope so strongly for it, if you do get it, there’s not a sense of happiness as much as there is a sense of relief. Going back to the audition analogy, if you want a part that you end up getting, you don’t think “Yes! I can’t believe I got the part!” so much as “Phew, I got the part,” also because hope is often accompanied with worry, occasionally to borderline obsession with the topic. Pessimism isn’t worrying that things aren’t going to go your way, but instead knowing and accepting that fact. When something does happen that is beneficial to you and you’re not expecting it, it’s a surprise to you, and therefore your excitement over the outcome is heightened. It’s like the difference between a birthday party and a surprise party being thrown for you. You have the added benefit of shock, which, in good cases, is a great thing. Imagine auditioning for the part Madame Giry in Phantom of the Opera and instead getting Christine Daiie. If you’ve never seen The Phantom of the Opera, it’s like auditioning for a small part, and getting the main lead. What a great surprise!

If you look at pessimism dead-on, it doesn’t seem like a pleasant thing to live with. However, in my experience, I’ve been happier when I am pessimistic about a situation than when I am optimistic about it. Basically, what I’m saying, is don’t be pessimistic about how pessimism could actually help you. No one ever says “Don’t be so optimistic!” Well, no one except me.




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