Let’s not be so pessimistic about pessimism


Image courtesy: Corbis

Image courtesy: Corbis

We have all imagined or daydreamed of ourselves in ‘joyous’, ‘successful’ situations but rarely has it occurred to us to see ourselves in situations otherwise. A recent study by neuroscientist Tali Sharot and her team tells us that we are just wired to think positively or think unrealistically. While I don’t get enough clarity in everything she brings across through her research, I quite agree that we have programmed ourselves to picture everything concerning us through rose-tinted glasses. We all suffer from “It cannot happen to me” syndrome.

Personally, I believe both optimism and pessimism are necessary to give us that required push / kick in different situations. We may be automated to think positively in situations but humans do possess the ability (if they wish to use that ability) to foresee unwanted, untoward events that they may want to avoid. While optimism gives us the confidence to move ahead, pessimism keeps us mentally prepared for the worse. Studies have in fact shown that pessimism can often bring in pleasant surprises and motivation to excel further. If according to Tali Sharot, optimism is denying facts of life, then I believe pessimism sometimes helps in accepting facts of life and hence, urges us to take corrective action. You can’t be overly optimistic and still be happy by thinking “Nothing will happen to me” – if you rely on heavy doses of nicotine or take up gambling as a profession after winning a few rounds or expect to lose 10kgs in a week if you are overweight. Being a little pessimistic helps in bursting false notions and working towards something that seems difficult to achieve. Being less optimistic can often bring us closer to reality. After all, as the saying goes – A pessimist is just a well-informed optimist.

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