No doubt you’ve encountered or even read numerous blogs, articles, and/or books that extoll the virtues of optimism. Some research has shown that optimists tend to have better relationships, happier lives, and greater accomplishments. Some authors suggest that you can never be too optimistic and that, by implication, you should worry if you tend toward the pessimistic side of things.
I suppose I should be concerned about all of this hoopla over optimism. You see, as my wife will readily verify, I rather often take a different approach. It’s something that Dr. Julie Norem calls “defensive pessimism.” Sounds sort of awful doesn’t it? Does this mean that I walk around morose and glum and project nothing but doom and gloom? Not at all.
However, I do frequently imagine “worst case scenarios.” I run various “what if” scenarios through my mind such as:
- What if the publisher hates our latest book proposal?
- What if the stock market tanks our 401K retirement account?
- What if the audience hates our workshop?
You get the idea. You may think that this sort of thinking could be ruinous and cause me to feel horribly anxious, if not depressed. Au contraire! I find it quite useful to ponder pessimistic possibilities. But when I do so, I also carefully work through how I would cope with each and every one of them. In other words, I end up feeling much better by realizing I could actually cope with just about anything bad that could happen. I also inwardly realize that these worst case scenarios aren’t particularly likely to happen.
So to all of you optimists out there: I’m glad you’re optimistic and that you find it helpful. Just don’t tell me that I should be more optimistic; it feels annoying when you do. And be careful that you don’t let your optimism run wild into unrealistic territory—you’re likely to encounter trouble and make poor decisions if you do.
And to pessimists everywhere: Don’t feel defensive about your pessimism! Just be sure that you don’t overdo it and use it productively. Dwelling on possible negative outcomes can be useful, but only if you productively problem-solve what your mind comes up with.
On the other hand, perhaps my wife has a point. Expressing a little more of the optimism that I have stored inside would probably feel better to her. So maybe I’ll try it out and see…
Smiley face photo available from Shutterstock.