Am I Optimistic?

You know I am but I will write at length anyway 🙂

Whenever I meet someone I will work with or spend time with, I quickly get a sense of their world view. Are they happy or grumpy? Perky or subdued? Cautious or daring? Open or resistant to change? Eventually I end up categorizing everyone as an optimist or a pessimist.

Optimists expect favourable outcomes, and pessimists expect unfavourable outcomes.

xkcd

I always find it funny when I overhear a discussion about it. People I label as pessimists always say “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” To me this implies that if you face reality, you will be disappointed – thereby confirming they are pessimists!

Meanwhile, we optimists are accused of being Pollyannas who refuse to face reality.

Taken to its logical conclusion, life is suffering and ends in death, so optimism is unfounded.

Chickens

When something “of concern” happens, optimists say things like:

  • It will all work out
  • It will blow over
  • Let’s look on the bright side

Pessimists say things like:

  • It figures
  • I could have told you
  • Nothing good will come of it

In both cases, they’re generalizing about their own experiences and projecting them into the future. I find it interesting that when someone gives an opinion of a future event, they rarely encourage anyone to take action:

“We lost the Smith account.”

  • Optimist: Oh, too bad. It will all work out in the long run, though.
  • Pessimist: I could have told you that would happen.

Why not, “I’m going to call Chris right this minute and see if I can change her mind” or “Let’s meet now to discuss changes in how we pursue the Nguyen account.”

I am action-oriented and solutions-oriented in that way, which I think makes me an optimist and a realist. It’s not always helpful, though. If a friend tells me their mom has cancer, the first words out of my mouth might be, “Oh, what’s happening treatment-wise?” rather than saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and just being present.

It comes down to the reason for the conversation. A lot of the time, we talk to reassure each other, or simply reflect back what someone has said.

“I didn’t get the job.”

  • Pessimist: It figures. You know they only hire their golf buddies.
  • Optimist: Don’t worry. You’re the perfect candidate for the posting that’s up now.

Isn’t it funny that either one of those might make us feel better? Some people feel best being motivated, while others feel best when someone commiserates with them!

When we’re trying to make a decision or create a plan, it’s always appropriate to consider positive and negative outcomes. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to. Every project needs its SWOT analysis! Here, pessimists can shine as “devil’s advocates,” putting forth worst-case scenarios. What would disaster planning be without them?

Our world view comes from our culture, our family, and our life experiences. There’s even an old world / new world split between fate and self-determination. How much influence do you have over what happens to you? Is it all part of a master plan? Did your upbringing make success impossible for you? Did you try your best and get beaten down over and over? Are you just plain lucky? Did you work hard and it paid off? Do you keep bouncing back no matter what?

My life experiences have shown me that whenever I get knocked down, I get right back up again. I know I project that onto others and assume the same of them – or think that’s how they should be. That makes me a judgmental optimist!

Glass

No matter where we are on the half-full/half-empty spectrum, I hope we can all be both realists and idealists when it counts.

  • In an emergency, I want to see (or make) a plan spring into action – I don’t want to listen to opposing factions say “We’re doomed” or “We’ll all just wait to be saved.”
  • When time is abundant (the deadline is six months away), there’s plenty of time to work through the doomsday scenarios AND to put our rose-coloured glasses on.
  • But mostly we just want to comfort each other in the way that comes most naturally to us.

Do you like to give/get pep talks or have a good grumble? What do you think made you an optimist or a pessimist?

Part of an irregular series containing (so far) Am I Honest, Cultured, Athletic, Musical and Crafty.

20 comments

  1. This is cool! Thanks. 🙂 Super interesting.

  2. I think I’m going to have to read this through again Dar. You certainly take things to pieces when you ‘examine’ something. We definitely learn things about you every now and again – aren’t you afraid of baring your true self to the world?
    When things don’t go to plan these days I just say ‘what the heck’ nothing is worth worrying that much over – not sure what that makes ‘cept easier to live with lol

    • No, only about 5 people I know in real life read this, and all of them know me well enough that there would be few surprises for them! For everybody else, my blog is mostly-anonymous.

      I do my fair share of worrying but I spend most of the time mulling over what actions to take because it makes me feel better!

  3. Juhli

    Oh, I do love the concept of “judgmental optimist” as I think that describes me perfectly. I’m really going to think about that and the idea that pessimists (my brother in particular) don’t really want encouragement or another more positive perspective but rather acknowledgment of their feelings. Hmmm, my phone calls with him my go better if I rein in my judgmental optimism and simply do some active listening. Will see if I can change a lifetime of response patterns with him LOL.

    • HI Juhli, You will have to let me know how it goes! I have improved my listening and can occasionally chat with a pessimist and not always insist on changing their entire world view 🙂 I try to remember that pessimism must serve a real purpose for them (such as preparing for hard times or reigning in disappointment).

      • EcoCatLady

        “I try to remember that pessimism must serve a real purpose for them…”

        I think you hit the nail on the head. Speaking for myself, I suffered a big painful experience as a very young child, and it hit me completely out of the blue. I think that subconsciously I made a decision that I was never going to let that happen again. So in a twisted way, thinking the worst is like an insurance policy for me – it ensures that I can’t get hurt like that again. Of course, this is utter nonsense – when something hurts, it hurts – whether you saw it coming or not. But illogical as it may be, I always felt “protected” by my catastrophizing, and trying to “un-learn” that approach is, well… downright terrifying.

        That’s my take, anyhow.

      • I do think that pessimism is meant to be protective.

  4. Fiona

    I think the thing about true pessimism is that it has an element of fatalism: there is a sense that there are real limitations to what can be done to improve and that they are valid and reasonable.

    My husband tells me I am definitely a pessimist but it makes me bristle! I had some difficult childhood circumstances but I always believed I was fated to beat the odds / rise above / work my way out (and I did!) To me that spells ‘optimism’ (albeit a tempered optimism.)

    I always wonder if my husband’s high levels of optimism would have lasted the distance in less favourable circumstances…but perhaps that makes me more of a ‘high-functioning’ pessimist than an optimist?!

    • I agree completely about the link with fatalism. I suppose we believe we can change the world (or our own world) or it isn’t possible. Yeah, it’s easy to be optimistic when everything has gone right for you. But I find equal numbers of optimists among people who have faced a lot of hardships (job loss, illness, diminished abilities, etc.) I think a lot of it is due to a belief that human beings are basically good and life is worth living. I think “tempered optimism” is a good approach. No need for an ant/grasshopper-type split!

  5. OK, I studied engineering, so I always think that a problem can be fixed, and I do not like to give up. I love puzzles, but I also believe there are many right answers or solutions to problems – and that some are better than others – and you have to decide how much time and energy you want to expend to get the outcome. I also prefer to tinker with what I have rather than start over again.

    I’d call myself a realistic optimist (I’m a turtle not a rabbit), I don’t believe in miracles or hail mary passes. I believe that if you do the work honestly and with a good attitude, you will get results and recognition. I give pep talks, but I also tell people to stop whining and get back to work (this made me a popular boss with hard workers and an unpopular boss with deadwood).

  6. Such a weird thing this optimism vs pessimism. I am an optimist for sure, but also a realist too! I am not some crazy ‘everything will be wonderfull 100% of the time’. Because I know that is not true. But I do tend to jump feetfirst into things in the hope that everything will work out. I am not cautious. There are things I can be pessimistic about..world peace is one, an end to animal cruelty is another – but does that stop me from trying? No! This was a really interesting dissection.

    • Thanks. I am not a pie-in-the-sky person and I don’t necessarily jump right in either. But like Jamie Ray said, I believe if you plan and work you are likely to get good results.

  7. EcoCatLady

    Thank you for this post. I fear I tend to land in the cheeseburger category:

    Alas, my many efforts over a lifetime to alter my viewpoint have been… well… not entirely successful. And when CatMan says things to cheer me up, it often just makes me angry – he says “don’t worry, it will be OK” but I hear “just shut up and stop your whining.” But perhaps I just need to see it through a different lens. He’s not trying to discount my feelings, he’s just being optimistic. Hmmm… much food for thought.

    • Ha ha! Temperaments run deep and I have no idea whether people can be trained out of them. It’s interesting what we “hear” when someone else speaks – all the innuendo and imaginings!

  8. I tend to be a pessimist when it comes to myself. I tend to be an optimist when it comes to individuals and humans.

  9. I think I’m pretty optimistic. But – I do want people to commiserate or offer sympathy when I have bad news, not just offer solutions. For instance, I applied for a job, was asked to interview, everything went well, and then I wasn’t offered the position. The response I appreciated most when sharing that news was the people who said things like, “Sorry to hear that, what a bummer. I know you were excited about it.” I like to wallow a bit! Get all the disappointment out. Then I can say things like, “Hopefully I get this other job I applied for,” and truly mean it or listen to their advice without stewing.

  10. Pingback: Kinky Boots + Big Hero 6 Reviews + Hedonistic NYC

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