Any tips on how to stop being a pessimist or on how to stop being pessimistic about optimism?
October 8, 2012 12:37 AM   Subscribe

Any tips on how to stop being a pessimist or on how to stop being pessimistic about optimism?

I feel like I always come here to ask fairly downer questions, and I'm sorry, but here's another one.

I feel like I lack the ability to have faith in things, especially myself. Because I don't believe that anything will work out, I have trouble getting myself to genuinely look forward to or like things. If I'm expecting something, I'm expecting it to be terrible. If I see something that, on an intellectual level, I feel I should enjoy, I'm generally stressed out or otherwise annoyed by it. "How do I know if this thing is really what it seems to be?" "How do I know this person isn't trying to trick me?" "I'll never see these things or people again, so there's no point in dealing with them." I'm not attached to or fond of this way of thinking, but thinking in any other way feels incredibly deceptive and foolish.

Because of this mentality, I feel like I have nothing to look forward to in life, and when I try to force myself to think about things that I might enjoy and live for in the future, I can't imagine anything, because I can't imagine any of it working out or being anything other than a mixed bag. I generally try to ignore these thoughts and do things for the hell of it, but whenever things get difficult and the distraction of enjoyment disappears, I have no staying power. Why bother proceeding in spite of difficulties when nothing is going to work out any way? Like I mentioned before, I don't have an underlying belief that anything I do is truly worthwhile. There's just no reason to believe that any effort I exert will bear fruit.

I'm not sure where to go with this, of how to stop being so negative. But I'm not sure that I want to stop being this way, since any other option feels like a lie. Isn't that ridiculous? I feel like I get smacked down whether I get my hopes up or not; it feels like it's better infinitely better to be prepared.

Can anyone relate to this or offer any advice on how to break this cycle? Doing anything else feels stupid (I don't totally understand the mechanics of why this is), but doing this isn't working either. Help?
posted by jumelle to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe some of these will help?

Try to live more in the moment: There can be a lot of pleasure in meeting new people or trying new things even if you never see or do them again. Chatting with a stranger at a scenic overlook, for example, where you both share anecdotes of similar experiences or express awe at the view. Taking a pottery class can be fun even if you only ever walk away with the one misshapen mug from that one class. Go on a date with someone you find attractive even if you really can't see it working out long-term.

Don't treat life as a ledger: Give yourself permission to spend time and money on things that might seem to be wasteful (as long as you can afford it, of course). It's perfectly OK to spend money and time to, for example, buy a fly-fishing outfit and tickets to Montana even if it turns out the fish laugh at your attempts to float a fly past them. That's what craigslist (to liquidate the gear) and a tip to the guide (to "forget I was even here") are for. Not every penny has to be spent "wisely."

Don't steal past happiness from yourself: Let's say you have a great relationship with someone for a year. You laugh, enjoy each other's company, converse about things large and small, have fun in the bedroom. Then they drop the news that they're seeing someone else, and are calling it off--sorry! You will feel stupid and duped, but you should also recognize that the fun you had over the prior year didn't magically not happen. The laughs you had, the pleasure you had from their company, was genuine. This goes for more trivial things like an awesome phone you buy for full price, only to find out the new model was announced the next day. Draw lines in the sand: "Even if this goes to shit tomorrow, I've enjoyed it up until now." No regrets.

Look for opportunities to do small kindnesses: Sometimes even very small things: letting obviously harried people go first at the register you both arrive at simultaneously; pay the dollar someone is short on their latte order; carry something to someone's car if their hands are full. You'll feel better and you'll make their day better, and it's surprising how doing small acts like this makes you feel better about the world in general. "My boss thinks I'm a shit, but that dude whose keys I picked up thinks I'm OK. I think I side with the dude."

Finally, everything you do is worthwhile, even answering questions on askmefi instead of working (ahem). Not everyone's lives gets to be lived on Broadway; some of us don't even get onto the stage of a small-town community theater's February filler. That's OK.
posted by maxwelton at 3:08 AM on October 8, 2012 [12 favorites]

I used to be like this, but then I read a quote from Bill Clinton of all people. He said something along the lines that of course I'm an optimist. What's the alternative? Pessimism is just an excuse for inaction.

That really clicked with me as it meshed well with issues of procrastination (which was actually just perfectionism - letting perfect become the enemy of good) that I was dealing with at the time.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 4:05 AM on October 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

Write doing the benefits of being so negative. Now write down the pitfalls/limitations of being so negative.
Now write down the benefits and pitfalls of being more optimistic. Does it still seem stupid?
posted by whalebreath at 4:20 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Martin Seligman, one of the big names in Positive Psychology, has a book called Learned Optimism which includes some exercises that are supposed to help increase optimism.
posted by amarynth at 5:12 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Spend some time in the ghetto of your nearest good-sized city--maybe a few afternoons in the public library, just observing people and their situations. You'll feel infinitely blessed and grateful for what you have and your future, compared to the people you see.
posted by Rykey at 5:18 AM on October 8, 2012


Not to be a broken record, but have you considered therapy and/or medication? The inability to feel joy, to be happy or even to think that happiness might be available to you is kind of textbook depression.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:57 AM on October 8, 2012

As your very first step, be optimistic you'll conquer pessimism.
posted by samsara at 6:00 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could focus less on 'making yourself less pessimistic' and more on 'Not giving those pessimistic thoughts that come up the full weight of your being'

One of the biggest breakthroughs i've had in my ongoing journey of self-discovery we call this life is this: Thoughts aren't necessarily true just because we happen to be thinking them.

So the next time something like this comes up in your head, maybe you could take a moment to examine it for truth, instead of blindly accepting it as such?
posted by softlord at 7:52 AM on October 8, 2012

So the next time something like this comes up in your head, maybe you could take a moment to examine it for truth, instead of blindly accepting it as such?

Or as one of my favorite bumper stickers puts it...
posted by Rykey at 10:32 AM on October 8, 2012

Learned Optimism made a big difference to me, as did Constructive Living, which basically states that you might feel a certain way, but your feelings don't have to dictate your actions. Do what needs to be done. The universe rewards action.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:51 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ok, look. Optimism is a choice. You can either choose to be optimistic, feel good about it, and occassionally get hurt, or you can choose to be pessimistic, feel like shit, and still get hurt. Get it? You're going to get hurt either way, but being pessimistic does absolutely nothing but maxmizes the amount of time that you spend in pain.

Sure, if you're pessimistic, you'll often be right about the bad outcome of events. So what? Nobody's keeping score. Nobody cares if you're right. You don't get points for being right. And it doesn't really make you any happier or stop the bad things from happening or make the pain go away. Would you rather feel good and be happy, or be right and feel shitty about it? Pick the one that's most important to you and go with it. But if you want to feel good, choose to be optimistic, because it works.

There are more practical reasons to be optimistic: optimists and positive people suffer less disease, live longer, and are more likely to be successful and well-liked. Why and how does this work? Who cares? Even if they're often wrong about things turning out well in general, typically things work out for optimists individually over the long run.. and if things don't work out, it doesn't ruin these people because they're, you know, optimisic. They have hope for the future and they keep working towards that hope. And, unsurprisingly, that usually pays off.

It's all about where you choose to place your focus. You can think about all of the times that people have let you down and decide that people are shit and look for reasons that this is true and hate people and be lonely, or you can look for reasons why people are amaing and all the ways they help you and enjoy them and not be so lonely, you know? Whatever you look for, you're going to find.

Optimistic people tend to seek out other optimists and they feed off eachother's good energy and positive vibes, making the whole group even stronger. Pessimists hanging out with eachother are always bringing each other down, making it less likely that others in the group are going to succeed/ get happier.

Optimists make people smile. When you make people smile, they like you and they don't want to dissappoint you (usually). They will try to help you and protect you from things that might harm the good energy that you bring to them. They'll be inclined to behave better, treat you better, and treat each other better when you expect them to, because people are impressionable and they a) tend to reflect back what they see and b) don't like to let each other down. If you're already miserable, some people might try to cheer you up, but many others will figure that you are already unhappy so who cares how they behave? If someone believes the best of you, you probably don't want to let them down, right? (Of course this is one hell of a generalization and it doesn't always hold true but I'm sure that you know what I mean).

Is the world a terrifying and painful place filled with cruel and indifferent creatures and events, constant dissappointments, and guaranteed pain? Yes.

Is the world a beautiful and astonishing place filled with kind and empathetic creatures and touching events, frequent excitement, and potential joys? Also yes. It's up to you to pick which one you focus on.

**disclaimer: if you struggle with depression, and it sounds like you might, there is absolutely nothing wrong with therapy and/or medication to help you choose optimism. Sometimes being sunk in depression makes it seem like an impossible task to be not-unhappy. That's totally different than choosing to wallow in pessimism, and I don't want you to feel like this is a lecture on one more impossible task if even getting out of bed takes Herculean effort. You're not obligated to be happy and it's ok if you can't do it on your own. But you asked for reasons to be optimistic, and these are my practical and pragmatic reasons for striving to make that choice in my own life.
posted by windykites at 1:11 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sorry if this is kind of lame, no idea about the details of your situation and such, but there was this clip in an episode of the show Louis CK that I really liked for the reason that it addressed the issue of comparing your life to the people around you.

The clip is pretty hilarious, I'm sure you could find it online somewhere, but basically Louis gives one daughter a mango and the other daughter declares that this is unfair. Since there is only one, Louis then has to explain about being a good neighbor and not looking in your neighbor's bowl to see if he has more than you, but to make sure that your neighbor has enough et cet. I know it's kind of trite, but at the time it really struck a chord with me and my feelings of being inadequate in my stage in life compared to my friends.

I find it very helpful for myself to let go of the feelings of inadequacy by comparing myself to the success of others, and rather to think about things I can do for myself and my own happiness and goals and ways that I can help those around me who are struggling worse than I am.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:42 PM on October 9, 2012

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