General Question

nikipedia's avatar

Optimism or pessimism?

Asked by nikipedia (28071points) July 26th, 2008

Do you think it’s worth being optimistic about people and situations as a general rule, even if it means you have to go through life with a healthy dose of denial?

(Do you have to have a sprinkling of denial, or is that my innate cynicism showing through?)

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12 Answers

Magnus's avatar

I’m a realism… wait, what?

hearkat's avatar

I was always cynical and pessemistic, but made a concerted effort to change, by always looking for things to be grateful for, or at the very least, for what lesson there is for me within each experience. And I tend to be very realistic and pragmatic, so I don’t think that denial is a necessary part of true optimism… denial applies more to the saying that “ignorance is bliss.”

wildflower's avatar

How about cynical optimism? Knowing there’s always a chance people and situations will disappoint – in fact most will, but hopefully with good intentions. On the other hand, if I didn’t at least try to take an optimistic view, I don’t think I’d appreciate any good that comes from people or situations, because I’d still be waiting for the “inevitable negative” stuff.
I’m not delusional and think nothing bad can happen, but I won’t worry about it until (if) it happens.

tinyfaery's avatar

My wife is always telling me that am such a negative thinker, but I’m rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised.

In regards to what wildflower posted, negative thinking doesn’t necessarily mean worrying about something. I don’t worry something bad will happen and I don’t really expect it, I just acknowledge the negatives in a situation and assume that the negative is more likely to occur than the positive.

But I really am very fun to be around, honest.

nikipedia's avatar

Let me give two examples. I finally watched Randy Pausch’s ‘Last Lecture’, in which he says that people inevitably surprise and impress you. My experience has been the opposite—people are more often disappointing. But it almost seems better to me to put your head in the sand and go the Randy Pausch route than to learn from existing data and expect most people to suck.

Similarly, a friend was talking about auditioning for performances, and how her tendency toward self-criticism was ruining her auditions. My gut reaction is that it’s best to be critical of yourself so that you can improve, but if it really is ruining her auditions, then some denial and optimism might be the way to go. Or is it?

wildflower's avatar

It’s probably good to be critical, as long as you’re equally reassuring or motivating (or whatever the opposite would be). Make sure you look for both strengths and weaknesses. Otherwise you’ll either be blind to your areas to develop or you’ll kill your motivation because there’s nothing but areas to develop.

aidje's avatar

active pessimism FTW (ala Jacques Ellul)

jlm11f's avatar

I love that speech (Randy Pausch’s last lecture). I would like to think that I am optimistic, but the truth is that I am a little bit of both. It also depends on the person/people I am surrounded with at the moment. When I am around optimistic people, the pessimist and cynicism in me comes out while pessimistic people bring out the optimist in me. I guess it’s a good way to balance each other out?

In general, being either of the two (in extreme) is annoying and detrimental.

loser's avatar

pessimist. Then I can be pleasantly suprised if I’m wrong.

Harp's avatar

I find that people, as a general rule, try to live up to high expectations.

Most people want to be well thought of. If, by my words and body language, I demonstrate that I assume them to be mature, decent and well-meaning human beings, more often than not they will go out of their way to not tarnish that image.

I apply this philosophy constantly in teaching my culinary school classes. I’ve known other instructors in the same school who begin their classes with all kinds of stern warnings about bad behavior and attempt to establish a strict disciplinary framework from the beginning. Then I hear them constantly complaining about the hooligans in their classes and the stolen tools, etc. I have never once had the slightest discipline problem from my students, and I’m convinced that it’s because they want to show that my high opinion of them is justified.

syz's avatar

I am a pessimist. If it turns out that I was right, I’m vindicated. If I was wrong, I’m pleasantly surprised.

jrpowell's avatar

I’m with syz on this one. I don’t like to expect the worst, I just like to plan for it.

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