The Floundering No
Dear panel of judges, I am here to propose the motion that the paradoxical Happy Pessimist exists. Why? Because I’m pretty certain I’m one and if I exist…need I say more? You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about this at all. Someone I’ve known for a few years recently told me that I can be a bit difficult and tend to say no a lot and therefore I must be unhappy. Difficult, check. Say no a lot, check. Unhappy, not at all! I’ve always felt the need to stop and assess everything put to me before saying yes and I do not apologise for this as I feel my success in life is a testament to the decisions I have made in my “pessimistic” frame of mind. But I thought it was a huge leap to conclude that I must be unhappy because I say no or do not agree with everything that everyone proposes all the time. I have always been an extremely cheery person (I giggle far too much for an adult) and don’t need too much to make me happy (good health, fresh air and the love of my family for emotional happiness and good food, a warm room and a good book/TV program to keep that smile on my face), so does my continual analysis of situations before applying myself to them make me unhappy? I never thought so. Seeing the glass half empty or half full is surely not a measure of happiness. Can’t a person be pessimistic and happy?
If you take the dictionary meaning of what a pessimist is, you’ll probably not agree with my views. According to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pessimist, a pessimist is a person who expects the worst and pessimism is a tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view. Wow! Sounds bleak! But what if you work back from this? Expecting the worst doesn’t mean accepting the worst. It might simply be what drives a person to achieve more. Surely there are millions of people in the world who expect the worst but go on to achieve the best. Our motivations in life are all different and some people need to solve problems to be happy, need to have obstacles to overcome (however trivial) to be happy. The opposite of pessimism is optimism, described as a tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation. I’m pretty sure that the disappointment that arises from having things not go according to plan in the real world would cause more harm than good to my disposition. It is a lovely idea to want to see the best possible outcome of everything but seriously, how realistic is that?
Last year when I read “The Optimist: One Man’s Search for the Brighter Side of Life” by Laurence Shorter in which the writer roamed the world looking for the true meaning of optimism, I was happy to note that when he interviewed Desmond Tutu, the retired Archbishop told him not to be optimistic but to be hopeful as hope is not dependent on reality. In his words “Hope says that good will ultimately triumph over evil.” I won’t go into the whole “good” and “evil” discussion here but my understanding of the interview was that optimism and pessimism are too closely invested in material expectations to be helpful to people. When I read this, I thought, okay, maybe I am not such a weirdo after all. Maybe I am just a hopeful person. Or maybe I’m actually just a realist (a person who is aware of and accepts the physical universe, events, etc., as they are). But that takes away from my motion of the Happy Pessimist. Maybe the Happy Pessimist is simply just a realist.
I thought I’d end with the definition of happiness – a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Contentment, check. Immense joy, check. Everything in-between, check. Yep, based on that, I’m pretty sure I’m happy. Maybe I’ll leave out the -isms and just carry on being happy. Sounds like a good idea to me.