We live in an absurdly and painfully optimistic world. With advertisements and commercials using cheerfulness to sell their products. With social media injecting only the exuberant sides of other people’s lives into our retinas. We are trapped in a cesspool of glamorous expectations from the world. This surplus of optimism can only be balanced, I believe, by a healthy dose of pessimism.
Pessimism has a bad reputation, and unfairly so. There are a lot of things that a healthy pessimistic world view can offer you. It’s all about learning to disappoint yourself before the world has a chance to do it for you. There’s this quote by the French writer Chamfort which beautifully encompasses this idea.
“A man should swallow a toad every morning
to be sure of not meeting with anything more disgusting in the day ahead.”
It is obvious that there is suffering in the world. There is discomfort and pain, oftentimes quite severe. Almost all our hopes and dreams will be crushed. Statistically, most of our relationships will end up in shreds. Most of us are or will be stuck with jobs we hate. We will probably never be content with where we are. Most of the pain around us is unexplained and irredeemable. Pretty much all it takes is opening your eyes to the world around you to see how much of life is filled with blatant and unjustified suffering.
Then there is boredom. When all 7 billion of us are not curled up like fists protesting death. We are desperately reaching out, trying to find something to keep us occupied. Almost every single thing we do is a distraction to keep us from confronting the void of emptiness.
“Existence is a pendulum that oscillates between suffering and boredom”
I know that I’m casually ignoring the pleasant sides of life like the pleasure of gulping down a few chocolate bars or travelling or listening to music or spending time with family and friends. But I believe these pleasures are transient. We so easily get used to the happy aspects of life and make that our reference point. Anything not meeting those standards then becomes painful. Like a treadmill which eventually brings us right where we started leaving us as empty as ever. There’s something ultimately unsatisfying about these pleasures and therefore can not counteract the negatives in the world.
There are two ways of ensuring content. Either change reality or change your expectations. A pessimist knows which way is more practical. While the optimist’s expectations are far higher than this world can provide and hence by definition they lead to discontent.
There’s no point in diving right into pessimism, I believe. No point in screaming ‘life is malignantly useless’ into the abyss while lamenting the world in a corner of your theatrically dark room. You need to find a balance.
There are major pros and cons to each world view. Optimism helps you stay motivated and gives you hope. While Pessimism gives you comfort by reducing expectations when things are going wrong and lands you back into reality. There’s no particular reason to choose one over the other. Ofcourse pessimism and optimism are antonyms on a dictionary but they are not necessarily incompatible. I believe in becoming a philosophical hermit anyway. Camp wherever you want whenever you want. Cherry pick the philosophy which fits the situation the best.