Thoughts & Views

Accentuate the negative



Definition of pes-s-mism (ps-mzm) n.: A tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view.

Quote about pessimism vs. optimism: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” –Oscar Wilde

Another quote about pessimism vs. optimism: “Yeah, and while you’re looking at the stars, someone will step on your face.” — Me I am a born pessimist. Every once in awhile I get into the power-of-positive-thinking mode, but it doesn’t last long. Not that I expect it to.

An anecdote: Not long ago, I was having some vision problems. I made the mistake of Googling the symptoms, and the results led me to web pages dealing with a debilitating disease.

I had not yet seen the ophthamologist, but I told a friend that I now assumed I had this affliction.

“Karen,” she said, fed up with decades of my negativity, “do me a favor and try, for just one year and just with me, to have a positive attitude. You can do that.”

And I said, “Okay, how about this? I am positive I have a debilitating disease.”

And she said: “Bitch.”

By the way, it turns out I am not disease-afflicted. Not that you care.

All of the above came to mind this week when I read a news story out of Germany. Psychological researchers there have released the results of a 10-year study of 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 96 and the subjects’ attitudes toward life.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the study “suggests that people who are overly optimistic about their future actually faced greater risk of disability or death within 10 years than did those pessimists who expected their future to be worse.”

The researchers also “hypothesized that people who were gloomy about their future may be more careful about their actions than people who anticipated a rosy future: ‘Perceiving a dark future may foster positive evaluations of the actual self and may contribute to taking improved precautions.’”

Such as, when you’re out walking, looking at the ground, lest you trip. Or looking over your shoulder. Anywhere but at the stars. Muggers hide in dark alleys waiting for the stargazers to stroll by.

In any case, if the new study is correct, there appears to be a bright side to pessimism. I’m going to have trouble dealing with that.

– Karen Zautyk

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