Wisdom of seeing the glass half empty

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.


7 thoughts on “Wisdom of seeing the glass half empty

  1. Beautifully written Rohan! Really made me think why I was right when I never apologized to myself for being a Pessimist at times when it took a lot to keep the optimism in me alive. Because I knew in my heart I was being a fairly balanced pessimist. You are so right, optimism and pessimism may be antonyms but need not be incompatible . One has to find a healthy balance between the two. I also agree that the decision regarding which one tilts the balance is often situational. Great job Rohan!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One thing comes to mind….when interacting with an over optimistic person , you tend to admire the positive attitude with barely a thought about what that person goes through when his/her optimism meets with disappointment …I am sure the fall can be pretty hard. Whereas when interacting with an over pessimistic person, the negative attitude is all that one notices with little regard for the situation the person is dealing with. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that the person is too much of a pessimist but we never ever judge an optimist with maybe having too much optimism. Why don’t we also consider being over optimistic as a not too positive trait just like we do for an over pessimistic person? The right balance is the key .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully Written Rohan. Am I Glad, there was a time we chilled together. Either way, consider this. I get your point. A balance is key -to an existence without confusion or anxiety or depression over things that are trivial and stupid. But that’s what right! It’s all a matter of perception, what might be good for you, might be Crazy Hurtful to me or the other way ’round. The balance between Optimism and Pessimism is, in my opinion, rather an effect of Actually understanding the nature of existence and The infamous “Why?” and that is a true realisation of Cause and Effect. Every action does truly have an effect, some perceivable, others not so much.
    But choosing a philosophy which fits your situation is NOT at all the way, Have an Outline and DONT waver from your Ideals and Principles. One is No more than his thoughts, Events on the outside are all privy to our perceptions so Trying getting that in hand is much more important than setting ourselves a comfy niche in issues. Niches help, only a long way.
    Either way, Best of Luck. Keep up the Inquisitiveness and Take Care.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Rohan – you have beautifully expressed some truths of life and living.

    These days I see the glsss half empty…not a bad thing after all!


  5. Hi Rohan,

    Eloquent writing! I agree, healthy pessimism is the perfect balance to the unrealistic material excesses of commercial media and exuberant self indulgence of social media. But that’s where I think the role of pessimism ends.

    I can’t condone citing the existence of pain and suffering to justify healthy pessimism. Yes, pain is real and there is nothing unrealistic about suffering. But upholding pessimism, healthy or otherwise, in fighting this reality was is what often ends up leading to the state you describe so beautifully as “curled up like fists protesting death”.

    And then there’s dreams. Unlike pain, dreams are not real. Is “unreality” a qualifier for employing pessimism? Once again, I argue against citing the fatal eventuality of crushed dreams and unfulfilled aspirations to justify healthy pessimism. Partaking in a dose of healthy pessimism could likely steer you away from your dreams, or worse, diminish them. Letting go or compromising on dreams could plunge you into an existence of perpetual boredom and fling you into the depths of what you refer to as the dreaded “void of emptiness”.

    As for pleasures, they are transient, and so are disappointments, whether they are self inflicted, like Chamfort suggests, or imposed by the world. And equally transient is the desire to be content.

    To Schopenhauer I say:

    Existence is a continuum (not a pendulum) between accomplishment and boredom. A continuum between dreams and apathy. Suffering, disappointment, pleasure, and distractions are mere stops on the way that try to change the direction of your journey.

    So I say, be a philosophical hermit. And cherry pick your philosophy. But don’t make your choice of philosophical position based merely on the transient stop you encounter on the continuum. Whether that transient stop is counteracting media bombardment, or seeking pleasure, or avoiding disappointment, or being content. Juxtapose each situation against your life state continuum, evaluate it individually and choose the response by cherry picking the philosophy that moves you towards your desired state on the continuum.

    As you rightly said, when you encounter the unrealistic optimism of media portrayal, choose healthy pessimism. However, when you encounter disappointment, your only ally is optimism – healthy or otherwise – (I’ll take it any which way), and a willingness to persevere. Every step towards your dream, takes you away from the void of emptiness, and every compromise you make in the face of disappointment, moves you towards mediocrity.

    Dream on Rohan!!! And don’t ever kill your curiosity and your wondrous preponderance of life. But most of all, never diminish your dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Massi <3.
      I completely agree with you on pretty much everything you said. Maybe the difference in opinion that you see is a sum of me not being clear enough in my writing and the contrasting definitions of pessimism we are using.
      The pessimism that I had in mind when I was writing this closely resembles utilitarian defensive pessimism. Which basically is a way of preparing you for the worst and comforting you when you are anxious. Although I do agree that you should not start any endeavor with pessimism in your mind, no matter what the definition is.
      Your analogy on existence was marvelous. However, I would love to hear your views on these few ideas that may challenge the analogy. I feel like in the grand scheme of things we are not going anywhere. Anything and everything we do will never make even a dent on the fabric of the universe. So in the cosmic perspective: our lives feel more like a pendulum, which goes nowhere, than a continuum.
      No matter how much I wish to disagree with Albert Camus in his essay Myth of Sisyphus (which I would really recommend if you haven't already read it. It's just a few pages long), I just can not. Sisyphus was condemned to eternally push a boulder over a mountain only to watch it roll back down again, over and over. Our lives have a little more terrain (for lack of a better word) and it is harder to see the pointlessness but it does feel similar to Sisyphus' plight. There are a few ways in which people respond when they accept this reality, according to Camus. Suicide, denial, depression or rebellion/acceptance. Rebellion is what he is asking us to pick. Accept the Absurd and rebel against the Absurdness by making art, poetry etc. Find your passion, Love, and smile even though the world wants you to frown and survive through this fruitless existence.
      I see this point of view working perfectly to keep me motivated since I'm rebelling against the universe and also relieves me from the pressure of expectations.


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