Monday 8 September 2014

Why Optimism Sucks

Optimism is the new dogma. You can’t turn these days without some cheesy-grinned motivator telling us all to turn that frown upside-down and look at the positives.

Keep calm and suck it up
Keep calm and suck it up!
 Pessimists, we are told, die young and lead less fulfilling lives. All your clouds must have silver linings and you glass must be half-full. If we are to believe some of the gurus, an optimistic outlook even brings success. They tell us that optimism makes us better leaders, cures cancer and makes us sexier. Rhonda Byrne, in her book The Secret tells us that just believing and wishing for good things will cause the whole Universe to realign toward their manifestation. And God help you if you don’t. Let me tell you now, ladies and gentlemen, optimism is bullshit.

A while ago, I watched a documentary in which a soldier was asked about his experiences during a 9-month hostage situation (I have spent ages trying to find it again but as yet nothing). The one comment that stuck in my mind was that it was always the optimists that broke first. They were always the first ones to look for a rope and a chair. This confused me, after all, everyone knows that looking on the bright side is the only way to be. Well, I’ve been thinking about that comment for some time and realised that it makes perfect sense.

Optimism is exhausting, you begin each day in the belief that everything is going to be hunky dory and it invariably isn't. Someone is always throwing banana peels at your feet and you are bound to come up against someone whose idea of things going well is things going wrong for you. Think about it, you want a pay-raise so you go into your boss and ask for more money. Now, his idea of a good day is to address flagging profits which is eating into his bonus or margins. Who is going to have a great day?

So what are we to do, give up? No! Well yes. I propose a new approach and I call it Constructive Pessimism. Under the rules of Constructive Pessimism you are not to assume that your day will have any success, you will assume that, as Murphy’s law so wisely states, what can go wrong, will go wrong. Now, I can already hear you jeering and you have every right to do so but hear me out.

Spot the optimist
Begin your day with a list and start with the weather, are there any clouds? It’s going to rain, take an umbrella or rain-mac. How do you get to work? Bus, car, train? There will be delays, leave early. You are already prepared. Optimists will tell you that each mishap is a lesson; bollocks! Having a raincoat is a lesson learned, being on time and keeping your job is a lesson learned. 

Optimistic spin on disaster is sign of a slow learner.

You have a big business meeting, the board will hate your proposals. What will they hate? How can you counter their objections and what will you do when they turn you down flat.
You have to budget a project. What will it cost? Wrong! It will cost much more. Sell it to the optimists at the lower amount but keep some aside for the hitches.

Optimists may help you but pessimism will save you.     

Experts tell us that pessimists suffer with stress that leads to neurosis and heart problems. They tell us that optimists take risks and succeed more. Well, I’ll tell you that the belief that every silver lining has a cloud will mean that you always have a brolly and a glass half-empty will lead you to a tap for a refill. Constructive Pessimism will keep adrenaline levels high making you more aware and ready to deal with life’s slings and arrows.

At the end of an optimistic day you will count the lessons learned and resign yourself to the good of the big picture. At the end of a pessimistic day you will be able to lock your door and count the things that didn't go tits-up, not to mention being glad you had that brolly with you.

Optimism sucks the life out of you, believing in the good nature of the universe is like willing your stocks to stop falling. The Universe does not know who you are and definitely has no great plans for you. 

Coming to terms with that may make you feel insignificant but it will put you back in the game.



  1. While I do agree with what you said about "The Secret". Indeed, hoping and believing is not enough to bring success. Without action, the only success that can come to you is only delivered by 'luck', or rather, a kind of success that happens without your efforts.

    What you said about optimism however is what I do not agree with. I feel that you may have misunderstood the paradigm it takes. Perhaps my idea of optimism and your idea of optimism is a little different.

    Optimism is not blindly clinging on to false hope, it sees the darkness and never ignores the negative omens and sign and respects it if needed. Anyone who makes radical, risky decisions even when all the warning signs points against them is not necessarily an optimist but rather an ignorant fool.

    Metaphorically speaking, No, the optimist does not walk in the rain without an umbrella, ignoring the downpour. If we do not have an umbrella, we'd be waiting out the rain without complaining about why it had to be such a bad timing. There is no time for that; we think of alternatives - can we call a cab? Is there somewhere we can borrow an umbrella? Or perhaps we could use this time to think and meditate on other affairs. Optimism is putting trust in the hope which you see possible, but being very, (and I cannot stress this enough) very ready for when things do not go well. We are ready to be hurt. We are prepared to be kicked and stabbed in the heart by the universe - and that's the source of the boldness - not some blind false hope that everything will succeed just because we believe. When things do not go well, we'd be hurt, but we do not dwell in it, we do not complain about why Murphy's Law occurred. And that's how Optimists grow. No, that's how every person grows, through mistakes, and through getting hurt, and picking their selves back up every time something knocks them down.

    It would be untrue to think that an optimist would set down the budget just from pure beliefs. That would be much more descriptive of an ignorant person. We optimists want to avoid dangers too. But equipped with mindfulness, critical thinking, and the ability to see the perspective of others, I believe an optimist is quite a reliable mindset who avoids the dangers when possible, but takes calculated risks with a heart that's prepared to be hurt and a learning attitude that's fastened to stand up again.

    Btw, long term exposure to adrenaline is bad for the body and the brain.

    1. Thanks for your comments...
      Much of the high-fiving optimism of the Herbalife ilk is ignorant. Many of the motivational cheer leaders ignore the realities of situations, this is ignorance. Optimism has been sold as cure in itself. What I think you are describing is a resolute audaciousness.
      That said, I have notice a tide turning with people like Simon Sinek challenging entitlement.
      Whatever your take on the optimism paradigm, I hope it is working for you.

  2. another pessimist8 August 2019 at 04:06

    I'm with you. fellow pessimist.


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