Pessimism, optimism, and the other more helpful -ism

What’s the point of pessimism?

One might imagine that it’s the optimists who will inherit the earth, leaving the pessimists to wallow in their general lack of hope and expectation.

After all, who’d want their glass half empty rather than half full?


Let’s just stop and think about this for a second.

Imagine you and I were standing one side of a chasm.

At its foot runs a piranha-infested river, and it’s – ooh – nine metres wide, a little over 29 feet 6 inches.


Your task?

To jump to the other side.

As an eternal optimist, you might declare ‘no problem’.

‘Go for it.’

This, however, would be foolish.

In the extreme.

The world record for the men’s long jump currently stands at 8.95 metres (7.52 for the women’s) so even an Olympic athlete would end up as fish food.

The point about the confirmed pessimist is that he or she would probably shy away from the jump even if the gap was less than a metre.

But somewhere between these two extremes sits sensible behaviour, which I think we’d probably call realism.

I’m not sure about you, but on a bad day I can find myself taking a downcast view of the world, while longing to be the complete opposite, a total optimist.

Better, surely, to recognise that it’s being realistic about things which gives us the best hope of success.

4 thoughts on “Pessimism, optimism, and the other more helpful -ism

  1. The pessimist always expects the worst. However, the pessimist knows that things are never so bad that they can’t get worse (and usually do) so things are never at their worst, and therefore go better than the pessimist expected, resulting in a happy pessimist. So goes the theory of optimistic pessimism.

  2. A friend asked me recently whether I felt my glass was half empty or half full. I couldn’t really answer either way, so I simply said neither, there’s just a glass. She seemed to interpret this as a positive response. For me I wasn’t so sure, but on reflection I think it was a sign that I was observing my thoughts rather than attaching a judgement to them. Perhaps it’s not always necessary to view things either positively or negatively, but to accept them as they are.

  3. Being ‘too optimistic’ can be a bit extreme and ideas and thoughts could really be out of reach, but as you say, they may need to be ‘pulled back’ in by a pessimist.
    However without dreams and extreme views how would we even know what is possible?
    We need dreamers to often show us the way forward, don’t we?
    If you leave it up to pessimists, we might not move forward at work, at home in life or indeed, at all?

  4. I like having a clear path and realistic expectations but find myself getting over optimistic about things like a new love interest and then crashing back down when things don’t work out like I could have prevented the way things turned out. I’might learning to count on reason more and not think a new relationshiphone or possession will make me happier!

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