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Why I’m an Optimist

Pessimists are the people who always focus on the negative in a situation. The antonym of pessimism is optimism, which is the total opposite: always focusing on the positive in a situation. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression before: a pessimist sees the glass as being half-empty, and the optimist sees the glass as being half-full. It all seems like an enormous cliche by this point, but that expression really is true.

From an objective point, whether you yourself are a pessimist or an optimist (or whatever in between), it stands to reason that optimism and pessimism in large amounts is a bad thing. Being overly optimistic will only lead to your being naive, and being overly pessimistic will only lead to… well, depression. Who would have thought that seeing the world in shades of brown would make one depressed?

The optimal point is somewhere between the two extremes. Being able to see the bad in a situation without ignoring the (incredibly trite at times) silver lining. But how does one do that? Well, let’s backpedal for a moment.

My pessimism started around the eighth grade — roughly four years ago. I had an agressively depressing math teacher then, who, due to the fact that the eighth grade is the worst grade ever, happened to be my favourite teacher. He was the only teacher I actually liked at all back then purely because of how depressing and detached he was. I felt like I could trust him. (Purely my fault, by the way; I’m stupid, not the math teacher.)

One bit of advice I remember him giving me ran thus:

If you’re an optimist, every time something goes wrong you will be disappointed. But if you’re a pessimist, every time something goes right, you will be pleasantly surprised. So what would you rather: to be disappointed, or to be pleasantly surprised?

This little quotation was stuck in my head from that point on: my mantra. It’s something I thought about every day, in every little situation, when I was making decisions on how I should feel about something. Consciously or otherwise, I would always hold things up to this standard:

Would I rather be disappointed, or pleasantly surprised?

So I went through my life trying to keep my expectations low. Low. When I started Ryan and Bran I figured, “No one will ever like this.” When I started this blog, I figured the same thing. I expected everything to fail, even when I knew it was illogical to do so. I forced myself to do it anyway.

Was I right to do this? The funny thing is, most of my expectations were spot on! Ryan and Bran has continued to go nowhere, and this blog has almost no readership at all. My low expectations were completely accurate, and not just in those situations; they were right in almost every situation! Pessimism was the way to go!

But in all my excitement to be “right” about everything, I forgot the important part of my math teacher’s statement: being pleasantly surprised. And I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I was surprised pretty well, but not pleasantly. In fact, being surprised was downright depressing, because it meant that my low expectations were wrong. I couldn’t stand to be wrong – but being right meant that I had to deal with the depression of failing, thus nullifying the effects of being right in the first place.

Whoops. Talk about a lose/lose situation.

This went on until roughly two and a half months ago: December 2009. That’s when I realized that I had been wrong about being right. It took me about four years to realize it, but it finally hit me sometime that month: by expecting the worst out of everything, I was only making myself depressed. And it was so subtle that I didn’t even notice it happening — slowly, ever since grade eight.

Last December I made a choice to stop being a pessimist. I’d had enough. I wanted to be an optimist. I wanted to see the world in a better light like I was able to do when I was in primary school. I longed for the days when I could be happy with the most minor of accomplishments.

I remember, back in grade four, how ecstatic I was when I won fourth place in a county fair. The fact that there were barely four people in the county fair didn’t matter to me. Yet in 2008 when I won first place in an essay-writing contest, I shrugged off every congratulations because it was “just a regional thing”, confined to my city.

The fact of the matter is, both of these accomplishments were equally terrible. My reaction to the latter may have been more realistic, but my reaction to the former is the one I remember fondly. That’s the one that made me happy.

There’s a school of thought known as depressive realism which postulates that one’s view of the world during depression is more realistic than the elevated view we have in our natural state. Basically, depressive realism admits that the world is crap.

My counter: who gives a shit?

Yes, the world is crap. Depressed people probably have everything right in that regard. Why should I care? What does depression do for you? What does “having everything right” do for you? It makes you depressed, obviously.

Bad things are happening all the time, and the “good” things we perceive are usually pretty meaningless. Think about the things you do for fun, like watching a movie with some friends, or going out to Pizza Hut or wherever. These are the most meaningless things in existence, but they get put on a pedestal simply because they’re fun. Now think about the bad things that can happen to you. You could die, for one. People you love could die. Your favourite writer on your favourite blog could die (God forbid).

It’s like the second law of thermodynamics: it’s easier to go down than it is to go up, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. If you think about it, you’re just going to get depressed. Your life is totally pointless, really. Now that you’re alive, very few people truly care about you. When you’re dead, everyone will forget you were ever there, given enough time. What’s the point of trying?

The point is to have fun.

I decided last December that I wanted to be an optimist. I wanted to be an optimist so I could be happy, I wanted to be happy so I could have fun, and I wanted to have fun so I could have fun. My entire goal in life is to have fun, and to help other people have fun: maximize the fun! And if you screw something up, try not to dwell on it needlessly; that wouldn’t be fun.

Pessimism creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect something to turn out badly, it’ll probably turn out badly. It’s your fault for having zero confidence in yourself. Make an effort to do everything to your full potential, and give life all you’ve got. Life is all you’ve got, after all. You aren’t guaranteed an afterlife; it might exist, but there’s hardly a guarantee.

This is all just my roundabout way of saying this:

Choose to be happy.

Life is crap, and you’re going to have to do crappy things sometimes. You might have to take a job that you hate to get enough money to live in a house that you hate, with neighbours that you hate, and no future that you don’t hate. I know it’s hard, but you have to pull through and make an effort to see the light at the end of your crappy tunnel. It’s literally all you can do.

I know it’s stupid. I’m fully aware that everything I’ve said in this article is just wishy-washy feel-good bullshit. That’s fine. If bullshit makes you happy, go ahead and pile up more bullshit. Choose to be happy.

Written by Likes to Ramble

3 Comments

  1. Kingsley · November 3, 2010

    People like being around happy people. I have naturally spent less time with pessimistic people. I don’t mean to, but I feel down after hanging around people who only see the worst and only expect the worst. So another motive for choosing to be happy is that it’s for the public good. If, by being ridiculously optimistic, I can get someone else to crack a smile, then I have served a purpose with my life.

  2. Bran Rainey · March 3, 2010

    My biggest fear is that one of my eighth-grade teachers will read this article…

  3. Mike · March 3, 2010

    That sounds pretty reasonable to me: dont’ take life advice from morose people. Heh. But it’s also worth remembering that the flipside of cheap cynicism is usually just equally cheap sentimentality.

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