Balancing Optimism and Pessimism
Guest post by Diana M. Raab
I have always thought or believed that it is healthier to be an optimist than it is to be a pessimist. An article in the September 2010 issue (http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/of) of “Ode: For Intelligent Optimists,” called, “No Silver Linings, Please,” says that recently a handful of psychologists think differently about optimism and pessimism. They are saying that, in fact, healthy doses of pessimism may be an important ingredient to overcome psychological obstacles and the achievement of personal goals.
“Defensive pessimism,” can be employed when you get a book proposal rejected or when you get a cancer diagnosis twice in five years as I did—is a psychological stance that involves accepting the fact that things can go drastically wrong and being able to defensively prepare oneself for any eventuality. In other words this is an offense to achieve a positive outcome.
Thus it is suggested that we not get too elated or joyous when receiving good news. In this way there is less of a chance to be disappointed. In other words, a tinge of pessimism can be the most optimistic thing you can do.
Those living with cancer can react in two ways when given the bad news—they can treat the diagnosis with anger and resentment or turn a negative into a positive. This can be done by framing the disease as a gift to write and share stories to help and inform others in similar situations.
Creative individuals, particularly writers, are typically very hard on themselves and their creative process. They often air on the side of pessimism thinking that their work is not good enough and will be rejected by agents, editors and publishers. The positive side of this is that those who are in a negative frame of mind tend to be more alert to their surroundings compared to those who are in positive states of mind. Being alert to one’s surroundings is a vital characteristic for the writer. Perhaps in certain situations, a healthy dose of pessimism can be advantageous. In other words, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!
Diana Raab is a memoirist, essayist, poet and author of seven books and editor of two essays collections, including the latest, Writers and Their Notebooks (2010) with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. She is a journaling advocate and teaches in UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and in various conferences around the country. Her forthcoming book, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey is forthcoming from Loving Healing Press in June 2010. Visit Diana Raab.