When you encounter a difficult or stressful situation, and someone advises you to: "Think Positive!" or "Look on the Bright Side!" do you:
(a) Smile and say "of course!" because it wouldn't occur to you to view life any other way?
Or do you:
(b) Barely stifle the urge to bop the optimist over the head with an umbrella, which you happen to have with you because it's pretty damn cloudy and the skies could break open at any minute?
Some folks are die-hard optimists and some are resolute pessimists and most of us fall somewhere in between. Personally, I think of myself right in the middle as a "realist," but given the general tendency of American culture to favor optimism, I know I probably fall much further down on the optimism scale--say somewhere around "party pooper."
Pessimism has a bad reputation. According to various studies, which I won't cite because they're annoying, we pessimists are supposedly less happy and less fun to be around blah blah blah.
(But we're also a hell of a lot less likely to lose our shirts when we gamble).
I'm not, in my own mind, overly pessimistic. When some important life event comes up I enjoy fantasizing about best-case scenarios. But I also imagine the worst case ones and I plan for them. I'm never late to the airport or an important meeting, for example, because I find it easy to visualize the multitude of things that could go wrong and make me horrendously late. (And yes, as a result, I'm always really freakin' early for everything).
As it turns out, if you are a somewhat anxious person, there is a psychology professor at Wellesley College, Julie K. Norem, who says: screw the optimism. Optimism isn't the best strategy for everyone. Defensive Pessimism, in which you allow yourself to imagine worst case scenarios, is a perfectly good strategy too. In fact, if you try to "think positively" just because everyone around you says "Turn that frown upside down!" it can just make you more anxious. (There is even a Defensive Pessimism quiz, if you want to find out if you are one. And yeah, I am.)
However, I also think it's possible to be a Very Happy Pessimist, if you do it right. Pessimism isn't something you should have to apologize for, especially if in using it properly you find yourself every bit as happy as one of those perky optimists.
So what's the trick to embracing your negative thinking and Loving Life as a Pessimist? It's actually really easy:
Anticipate the negative, but appreciate the hell out of the positive when it happens. Bonus: the more pessimistic you are, the more often you're pleasantly surprised!
Just think of it as delayed gratification. All those optimists celebrate early, assuming everything will go right. When it doesn't, they either have to cope with disappointment or ignore reality and pretend they never had such high expectations in the first place.
Happy pessimists, however, get the disappointment part over with early. We plan in case things go wrong, so if they do, we're prepared. But here's the difference between a Happy and an Unhappy pessimist: the unhappy one doesn't stop to appreciate that the Bad Things didn't happen.
Don't skip this step, this is the fun part of pessimism. Bask in relief and gratitude that things worked out nicely!
Unhappy pessimists go right on to worrying about the next thing. This, in my opinion, is a big mistake--unless you actually enjoy worrying. Which as it happens, some people do.
Note: I haven't read Professor Norem's book yet, so I could be getting the whole concept of Defensive Pessimism horribly wrong, and have just completely embarrassed myself and driven readers away from Cranky Fitness in droves.
Oh, wait, you're still here? Hooray!
So what sort of outlook do you folks have? Optimist? Pessimist? Somewhere in between? And do you think Crabby is Crazy in thinking there's such thing as a Happy Pessimist?