Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Positive Thinking vs Reality vs Pessimism... What's Worse?

I come from a family where admitting that you are happy or hopeful about something meant you were inviting a disaster. The way to prevent this possible disaster from striking you down was to immediately downplay the good and point out the not-so-good.

If I said: "Mom, I am really good at math!"
The response was: "Tfu, tfu, tfu over the left shoulder! Knock on wood! Now if only you could be more organized!"

If I said "Mom, I think I am going to win this competition"
The response was: "Well, okay... just don't be upset if you don't. If only you would keep your room clean..."

If I say "Mom, my daughter is doing great in school!"
The response is "Good for her! Now if only she would start eating meals like a normal person..."

My mom is a wonderful person and a very good mother. She has, however, developed a talent for seeing the worst in everything (what's the opposite of silver lining?). This eternal forced pessimism drives me mad. No matter how wonderful, how beautiful, how amazing things are - she'll find something negative. The scary thing is - I think she is actually an optimist by nature... but she trained herself to be a pessimist, she practically cocoons herself in it. She is getting worse, too. I certainly don't remember her being such a negativity-seeker when she was in her 30's and 40's.

I understand it - this magical thinking. We have so little control over the most important things in life (health, getting pregnant, life/death, to name a few) that engaging in magical thinking make one feel just a tiny bit more in control. As long as you think about bad things and point them out to everyone else, they will not happen. E is sneezing... Oh no!!!! He will surely end up with yet another ear infection! Bragging and/or feeling proud of good things means they will never happen again. Unless you somehow downplay/twist them. H is playing very nicely with C, but surely it will not last more than a couple of minutes.

I assumed that I would be so different than my mother, so much better. 

Ha.  Ha-ha.

I am just like her. I always think about the worst-case scenario (well... sometimes, it makes me feel better when I know what's the worst I can expect). I look at my husband and see faults and problems. I look at our kids and I worry about drug addiction, anorexia, and trouble of every kind (this, in turn, drives my husband nuts). 


I used to be a part-time optimist (hope for the best, prepare for the worst). Now I am not sure anymore...  All I see ahead of me is aging, piling up health problems, loss of loved ones, and death (not necessary in that order). I think this is the mid-life crisis...  


There is this truism: everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Will pessimism prepare me for failure? Because sometimes, failure is inevitable. Does pessimism make it easier to bear failure? If you expect to fail, then is your failure actually a success because you have fulfilled the expectation? You can give yourself a pat on the back and say "Yup, I knew this was going to happen! Oh well, time to move on." Sometimes, failure precedes being good at something - so unless you (pessimistically) are prepared to fail and expect to fail, you can never succeed. Twisted logic, isn't it - doesn't it make sense, though?


 I want to be too involved in my life to worry about the general outlook. I want to enjoy what I am doing and the people I am spending time with. I don't want to be pessimistic, optimistic, or realistic. I just want to be alive.


  1. LOL, this whole post rings so true with me.

    But my mother is Polish and we are Polish immigrants...

    Anyway, I think of myself as realist, yet in America many people have labeled me a pessimist. Which honestly I don't get why and I used to blame myself for it but now I think it's the so called optimists that are just stupid. Now, if you are truly an optimist by nature that is perfectly fine, but I see so many people calling themselves optimists when they can't handle reality. And when you point it out to them (or worse, when reality catches up to them), they will be the first to tell you how dare you be so pessimistic and how such and such was not their fault even though one could see it ending badly a mile back.

    Optimism is misconstrued in this country badly.

    1. There is definitely pressure from our society to think positive and be positive.

      It makes me think of the song from Monty Python's Life of Brian - "always look at the bright side of life."