Is Pessimism Bad for You (And What to Do About It)?

Optimists versus pessimists is a battle as old as time itself. Is it better to be always positive or always negative? Both sides have their compelling arguments.

Lately, I read an article from The Guardian entitled Is Pessimism Really Bad for You and, once again, I heard the same usual arguments. Now I’ve written before about why I started Farley in Writing. I wanted to be a less angry, miserable person. And this blog is the perfect outlet.

But is pessimism so bad that it’s hazardous to your health?

I can’t give a concrete answer to that. What I do know is that from many years of being a pessimist it sucks.

You’re angry most of the time and it takes a lot to get you to really feel happiness. Some say that you’re more of a realist, but I don’t think you can’t be a realistic and be an optimist at the same time.

I think we need to get away from the idea that the only way to be an optimist is to be happy all the time. Yes, I say that I’m an optimist now. But do I still get angry about things? Of course I do. Do I feel like there’s no way out of a bad situation? Sometimes.

But the difference between an optimist and everyone else is that I still get on with my day. Look, I can watch the news and hear about Trump grabbing someone’s arse or I can look at the confusing Brexit process the UK’s going through right now and I could slam my fists on the table about it. However, ultimately, I can do nothing about it.

I’m a normal guy and I know what I can do and what I can’t do. I can’t change the US president tomorrow and I can’t suddenly resolve this Brexit conundrum. So I don’t beat myself up about it. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, but I refuse to let it dominate my life.

And maybe if I was a pessimist it would grind me down and it would cause me some health problems. I’ve seen enough studies that say pessimists are at a greater risk of having a heart attack.

Whether it’s true or not, I’m going to leave that to science.

That’s much too pessimistic, though, (see what I did there?!) it’s time to talk about how you can make the transition from miserable pessimistic to cautiously optimistic.

I tried a few times to be happier in my life. One of the big lessons I discovered is that it’s not tied to your life circumstances. I’ve been pessimistic after I’ve received promotions, had great holidays, and when I’ve been near clinically depressed.

Repeat after me. It’s not about where you are in life.

What I find worked for me was asking one simple question after anything that happens: “But does it REALLY matter?”

It’s a simple yet disarming question. No matter how bad the situation is I ask myself this question. So your team lost a game of football? It doesn’t really matter after a few minutes. It doesn’t impact your life, and if it does it’s not going to put you in a doorway that smells of urine at four in the morning on a cold November night.

Putting things into perspective has completely changed my outlook on life in general. It almost makes you look silly that your bus was late and you turned it into a depressing thought about the state of public services that lasts the whole day. And yet that’s the mind of the pessimist.

Does this mean you have to become insufferably happy?

I hope not, otherwise I’m failing at it. Just between you and me, a miserable sod is just as annoying as someone who never seems to be anything but in a constant state of joy.

Like with anything in life, there has to be a balance. It’s not easy to achieve and I won’t sit here and say that I’ve come close to reaching that right balance yet.

But what I can say is that balance is something we should all aspire to reach every day!