Optimism – officially sanctioned ignorance?

I’m not an optimist, and optimists seem to take offence at what they view as a negative outlook on life. However, it’s only negative because their view is eternally optimistic. If you believe tomorrow you’ll win the lottery and I tell you that it’s really unlikely and that in fact, if I put a bet on it, I’d probably win the bet and I’d be richer than you. You’ll think I was being negative, I’ll think I was being realistic. If I’m right and you don’t win you’ll say ‘oh well, maybe tomorrow’. I’ll say ‘that’s not very likely’ and you’ll get all angry again about how negative I am.

How can that be healthy?

And yet being ‘negative’ is usually heavily criticised. I understand why, there’s no surprise, being negative (or as I would describe it, being realistic) can get in the way of feeling good, having something to look forward to is great and sometimes you need to be optimistic to believe that thing will happen and hence be able to look forward to it.

If you’re a realist, you don’t expect to win the lottery, and so you can’t look forward to doing so.

That leads to another thing about this dynamic, optimists don’t understand why those of us who are realists or negative keep going things. Back to our lottery example, I play the lottery. Every week I buy two tickets (by direct debit no less) and I’m in a syndicate at work with some friends. I can simultaneously have no expectation at all of winning the lottery and yet I can still play it. I don’t need the optimistic belief that I’ll win to drive me to play. This extends into every aspect of being optimistic or negative.

I’ve been saying from a very early age that expecting to fail isn’t a good reason not to try – sometimes you’re wrong. I guess that’s actually an optimistic view with negative overtones. But it’s worked for me, sometimes I look at something and think yep – no chance in hell of succeeding. But it doesn’t stop me trying, which I guess is a human trait. An underlying blind optimism that runs through most of us. What I don’t do, is relay that optimism verbally or mentally. I don’t need to hide the truth or the facts or the chances, in order to get myself to try something.

The real kicker is when people (mostly optimists) get upset on my behalf because of my reality based / negative view of things. Here’s a classic example conversation,

Them: “Do you want to buy a lottery ticket?”
Me: “Hmm, 1 in 14 million chance of winning, not very likely is it? But yeh what the hell I’ll buy a ticket.”
Them: “Man if you’re going to be so negative about it why do you bother?”
Me: “Well, I might be wrong?”
Them: “God! How do you cope with being so negative?”
Me: “I’m a realist actually.”
Them: “Oh, is that what you call it? I call it pessimism.” storms off
Me: “But, my ticket?”
Them: shouting from distance “If you’re going to be so negative I’m not going to sell you one and make you even more unhappy.”
Me: “But, I’m not unhappy?”

Optimists are trying to save me from my reality based view of the world. And yet, I find the irony that it is they who have a false view of how things are tantalisingly sweet.

The good thing of course is you can never really upset an optimist long term.

Them: “Hey, I came back, I thought what the hell, even if you don’t believe you can win, I’ll believe for you. So here you go.”
Me: “Oh, thanks, yes, very nice of you.”

For clarity, here are the ways to work out if you’re an optimist, realist or pessimist.

It’s raining. Ask yourself ‘what will the weather be like tomorrow?’

Optimist: Could be sunny, you never know!
Realist: Probably rain.
Pessimist: Probably rain.

It’s sunny. Ask yourself ‘what will the weather be like tomorrow?’

Optimist: Gonna be the hottest day this year, I can feel it!
Realist: Probably sunny.
Pessimist: Probably rain.

I’m not a pessimist. I’m a realist.

2 thoughts on “Optimism – officially sanctioned ignorance?”

  1. Stop it. You’re quite obviously in my mind and quoting me.

    Yes, I’m just the same. And, yes, I buy a (single) lottery ticket each week by Direct Debit. You’ll never win if you don’t take part but the realist knows what the chances are (more chance, apparently, of being hit by a meteorite).

    Besides, taking the realistic/pessimistic views means you’ll more often be surprised and delighted by the out-turn 😉

  2. I agree.

    I find that the majority of British people are cautious in expressing their feelings / views.

    For example:

    Brit1: Morning, how are you today?
    Brit2: Not bad.

    Very rare that you hear anyone admit to being fine or, God forbid, splendid.

Comments are closed.