"How do you become a happy pessimist? I just don't know how to think positively."
Dear Kerry, A few perspectives come to mind, most concerning definitions. Let's look at what we might mean with the various terms, and matters usually become clearer.
The terms pessimist and optimist are usually associated with happy and unhappy, likewise with positive and negative. However this is not actually accurate. Positivity, and optimism especially are typically associated with an unrealistic skewed perspective on life. A belief that optimists distort reality in some way and fool themselves into thinking life will be better or is better than it is.
While there are some people who do this, optimism or positivity is nothing but having an expectation that things will work out better, or good. Since predicting the future is a tricky business, mostly how we choose to believe in the future is a matter of choice.
So let's get real. What will be, can be anything. If we look back, since we can look back, this means we are still here, thus the worst has not happened. We have survived. If, like for some, it has been and maybe still is a rough ride, we can take some solace in the fact that we somehow manage, somehow get through things, somehow survive. We can bolster ourselves with the knowledge that we are survivors.
In a more general view, if we ignore the noise of the present, and zoom out a bit, and look at actual statistics of life on earth, we see that things are measurably and significantly better now than they have ever been. Even within the lifetimes of most. This is the Realistic view.
Our issue is how to convert pessimism. How to Use it, how to extract Value out of it. Despite things generally getting better on average, this does not mean the improvements will apply to us personally, We might be the exception. Or we might not. One constant we can bank on in Life is Change. Even if change does not come to us, we can always institute change ourselves. Always we have that option. Even if changing our circumstances is impossible, changing perspective is always and option.
Let's assume an honest and realistic assessment of circumstances, and if the probabilities do not look good, resulting in a pessimistic appraisal, how can we turn this to our advantage?
Let's look at the benefits. For one, we actually have that assessment, which means we are in touch with our lives, our circumstances, ourselves, and where we are in relation to it all. This means we are Aware of what's happening and going on in our lives. This alone, just the Awareness alone is a tremendous Value. Once we are Aware of a problem, we can start to deliberately do something about it.
If we can't, at least we are aware, we can prepare, we won't be taken by surprise. Our realistic appraisal, which happens to not have a particularly good view nevertheless has Value and Usefulness to us. This we can be happy about. Especially if we see that things are the way they are, and there's little to be done about it. Well, we may as well be happy. Why not? Is there anything we can do? No. So, it's not up to us how things work out, thus we may as well be happy.
What do we have to be happy about. We can be happy about knowing what's going on, happy about being Aware and happy about being prepared. Happy that we have identified potential problems, happy about doing whatever we can, and happy that we have done what we can if that applies. We can be happy about the fact that we are Realists, seeing the world accurately.
Here we can make a shift. Pessimism is taking an unjustified negative view of things. If we are realists however, and it just so happens that things are negative or likely to be, well, then, that's just life. All we can do is Make the Best of It All. Understanding that a negative view is not necessarily pessimism, but can be Realism makes all the difference.
One key aspect of all this is to be Aware of Emphasis, focus, and the resulting immersion. All of these creates bubbles of perception. Look what happens to people who lose their temper. They disconnect temporarily from the larger world, and exist inside this small bubble. Same thing happens when we have sex, or watch a movie. The world briefly changes. All depends on our Attention.
What we place our Attention on changes how we perceive the World. There's just too much detail for us to focus on everything, like the internet, So we have to filter all that information and detail. Our Attention, what we focus on, and especially what we Emphasise is such a filter, causing us to be more Aware of, and notice more sharply that which we place our Attention or focus on.
What most people unfortunately do not know, is that when we Emphasise anything, it literally changes the brain. I mean physically changes the brain. When we Emphasise, we enlarge and grow the brain nodes associated with what we are Emphasising. This causes those nodes to connect more to other similar nodes, which leads to us noticing more of the same or similar. This is how our bubbles-of-perception change. It's a powerful knowledge and makes a huge difference to how we can approach life.
Knowing this now, but still being in the habit maybe of having a pessimistic view, how do we change matters. We start by separating Good and nice. Good is not always nice. They tend to get confused, but are not the same. if you have to choose for your children between what is good for them and what's nice, what do you choose? We have to choose good over nice, always.
Applying this to our pessimism, we can make the effort to look at what Good we can extract from whatever situation we are in. Good such as learning. Or maybe the good of having an opportunity to grow, to practice and apply what we have learned, a chance to extend ourselves. Or perhaps the Good of the negative circumstances is that it IS unpleasant, thus forcing us to do something about it, or suffer. The good of negativity is often that it's a good motivator. Getting us off our areses when otherwise we might not be bothered.
In any situation thus there is some Good we can extract. That's the key, we have to make that bit of effort to make that extraction. This is how we apply Positivity. Being Positive is making that effort to find the good. There's always some good somewhere, we just have to look for it.
In all of this shifting of Perspective, the re-focusing, most of it has been to seeing the Good, finding the Good, extracting Good, and thus Emphasising Good. Now we get to the key shift of all of this. We need to connect Goodness to happiness. That's where the difference lies, Goodness IS something to be happy about. Even Goodness that is maybe not particularly nice. We can still be happy about the fact that it is Good. By Emphasising the Good, and associating that Emphasised Good with happiness, we place Emphasis on the happiness we are finding and now creating. Because of the way the brain works, this changes how we perceive things.
In this way, by finding the Good in our pessimistic (but realistic) perceptions we get Value and Usefulness, both of which are Positive. Here is where we can leverage our pessimism, by transforming it to realism, and connecting the realism to Goodness, goodness to positivity, we then can connect to happiness. Because we have extracted benefit for ourselves via our pessimism. Or more accurately, our "pessimism." As it has now changed.
Through shifting our perspective, through making a different kind of effort, through leveraging what is, how we see it all, how we relate to it, how we use it, we get usefulness out of it all, and that usefulness is Valuable, and this we can be happy about.
Bottom line of it all, our happiness is connected to our beliefs. Simply believing that pessimism means being unhappy usually results in that belief being self-fulfilling. Like almost everything, seldom is something one way or another. As we have seen, pessimism can be positive, if used that way via realism and connecting to Value and Usefulness. Thus pessimism can be used to make us happy. It's useful here to keep in mind that these are words. Words are meanings we give to things, and those meanings are flexible. How we assign meaning is up to us. Same as how we choose to perceive, and it's especially up to us the Perspective we choose.
We can choose to have any Perspective we like on anything at all. It is our Perspective that determines what we get, and thus determines our happiness or not. To become a happy pessimist simply entails redefining what you mean, how you view matters.
Ask Biella is a Gateway Gazette Feature Column provided by a Contemporary Philosopher and Writer. The purpose and intent of this feature is to provide readers with an opportunity to ask a wide variety of life-based questions. Think "Dear Abby," but with more emphasis on life than just relationships.
Biella is an amalgam of two Beings - Contemporary Philosophers and Writers, who exercises glorious intellectual minds which are most admirable for their profundity and sharpness. Often offering multiple sides of an issue, and provoking self-introspection. Their aim is to uncover Appropriateness, Awareness, Attention, Application, Attunement, and more, with a unique, high-level understanding of the profound intricacies that interlace these concepts.