Let’s Get Real: The Benefits of Healthy Pessimism

We currently live overwhelmed by the literature of “Be positive” or “Focus on the positive”. It seems to the modern New Age Movement (which does not share the same foundation/ideals as the original New Age Movement) the solution to every problem in life is to “just look at the positive”. Self help books with similar ideas; and which promote faint promises of a better life without much work needed; tend to fly off the shelves.

We live in a society so addicted to instant gratification that such conduct of being has extended not just to how we deal with our desires, but also how we perceive life and to our mental and physical health. After all, this “quick fix” does not require people to face their life as is; instead one can just chant, pray or repeat mantras while making new goals and plans to build a “new you”. In other words build a foundation on shaky rotten ground, I am no engineer but I am pretty certain how that will turn out. How can you build or create a new you when you don’t even have a clue what moves the you, you are currently experiencing?

Positivism coaches often point out to the current state of affairs and blame it on society as a whole; because we just were too pessimistic. They assure us this terrible and dark times could have been solved and can be solved by “focusing on the positive”; forget educating one self to better understand our own mind and the world around us, forget the fact that history is full of misfortunes of all kinds, plagues, epidemics, wars and natural catastrophes. They would also like us to forget what ancients and life itself has taught us, most of these things are the result of natural life cycles; cycles which have been taking place since the beginning of time. To the deluded positivist, none of that matters, it is our fault, we are guilty because we did not choose to imagine rainbows and unicorns.

Am I missing something? For it seems to me, their movement has taken off with far more strength than before (people are always eager to run from themselves), yet our society is currently in a detrimental state. I could easily turn the tables and use their own shaky rationale and blame them for all the challenges we are currently facing; after all, people are becoming more and more incapable of relating to anyone from a heart place, they seem to champion for any superficial cause, so long as it does not require of them to look at their own bullshit.

I am not advocating for pessimism; what I am advocating for, is realism over delusion. Let’s teach people the benefits of utilizing a healthy level of pessimism (something ancient Stoics tried to teach us). To make it easier to swallow past our skewed understanding of the word; if you need to; just rephrase it by saying “let’s learn to value a healthy level of skepticism”.

Far from what the extremist positive movement wants us to believe, a healthy level of pessimism isn’t bad. It doesn’t mean we are to live in an apocalyptic scenario, nor hold a perpetual attitude of surrender or depressed mood. On the contrary, correctly understood pessimism can give people permission to acknowledge their own shortcomings and work to heal themselves vs simply putting a band aid on.

Not to be cruel by saying this out loud, but reality is, the more this new age movement of false positivism has taken off, the more people feel judged, they are scare of not fitting in, and the number of suicides and drug addictions have risen dramatically. Of course they don’t show us that, they still want to blame these things on the fact we have not “eradicated” negativism from our lives. They don’t seem to understand a positive attitude is very different than a delusional one. Let me give you an metaphor of what this new movement looks like. Imagine, I were to enter a room which has been left unattended for far too long. The floor is broken and covered by garbage and the curtains are shut. Now imagine if my solution were to simply put a very large carpet over it, place a lamp, and spray some scented air freshener. Of course that solution would be much easier than it would be to actually clean, repair and let fresh air and natural light in; that would just be too much work, after all the first solution looks pleasing from afar (probably even Instagram worthy🤷‍♀️) you just got to make sure no one gets too close to look at the mess being covered up.

A healthy level of pessimism or skepticism, is an invitation to use our critical mind and to dare to feel that which most want to avoid. It invites us to conquer our demons and to create a realistic world, where we are aware adversities will always be part of life, and we will always have the opportunity to work to rise over them.

Here are some of the reasons why I advocate for healthy pessimism or skepticism over delusion:

Every great thought, as well as every great scientific advance has risen in the shadow of great disasters. Uncertainty and challenges may sting but also create room to face self/circumstances and develop active thinking and committed action.

The harmful doctrine of “happiness” within most self help books, tend to deny suffering, pain and fail to even acknowledge the sometimes serious consequences of catastrophes or traumas faced. Such doctrine often leaves those who are serious about healing, as if they are inadequate, yet those who are ready to ran from their own shadow are happy to regurgitate quotes without understanding the meaning of them nor actually putting them into practice. Just like too much sugar is bad for you, a large amount of positivism falsifies reality, and turns us into sheep who keep waiting for a Sheppard or Big Brother to absolve and rescue, and for Kind Providence to solve everything; the old lesson of thought + action=results is not really part of their equation. Worst yet, often they sit on high altars; looking down at the poor miserable skeptics who have not drank the cool aid; considering themselves forgiving and illuminated yet they are often arrogant and passive aggressive, a natural result of not facing life’s reality…light and shadow.

A healthy pessimist or skeptic tends to take into account his own misfortune and that of others which leads him to be empathetic rather than sympathetic; in other words, he remains humane. The healthy pessimist does not want to forget what challenges or traumas felt like…they want to heal from it. Once they get to that point, they are able to look at life with a little bit more wisdom, strength, kindness, and the healthy ability to know when to stand up and when to flow.

Physically, psychologically and emotionally; having known helplessness; the healthy pessimist understands what it is to try to create meaning within life, something he knows, cannot be granted by state or religion but has to be found within.

Contrary to popular belief, the healthy pessimist is not against “happiness”, he just simply understands such emotion is not something meant to be felt all the time but a moment to be cherished. The erroneous thinking of “happiness” as a permanent state, is the reason why many feel depleted trying to chase the elusive dream. Healthy pessimists, seek to live balancing joy and peace which are often result of inner work.

Precisely because the healthy pessimist knows the inanity and meaninglessness of life, he does not despair in the big scale of things, he does not get unnecessarily alarmed. He feels worry, pain and sadness but knows they will pass; he also recognizes when action is needed.

Our spirit finds peace through knowledge of self and the assumption of our own vulnerability, which to many is a foreign concept. Perhaps it is time to think of healthy pessimism as humanism.

Pessimism, well understood, is realism of thought and action, there is no healthy pessimist who wants to surrender to the clutches of death, yet there are many who have tried the easy fix of false positivism and have sadly chosen to give up on life for the dream they painted seemed so foreign to their reality, leaving them feeling inadequate and worthless. It may be redundant to point this out, but the healthy pessimist understands, it is more than natural to have days which are tough to deal and which might even bring you down to your knees, yet he gives himself permission to feel ALL emotions… working through them.

To the healthy pessimist the most precious gift is tranquility; accepting life will have cycles. For those who faced deep trauma, it is natural there will be consequences which will affect life; he just chooses not to be victim nor to deny his pain. He learns to give himself permission to be different than the “norm” without punishing self.

Often as the healthy pessimist faces the shadow, he learns how to overcome the troubles of existence, without ever falling into a sick avoidance that only leads to an obsessive neurosis. Evils and pains will come; when this happens, the healthy pessimist is prepared and will know how to face them and if overwhelmed, it will allow the emotions to flush through, knowing in feeling, facing the subconscious, one creates room (clean room) for new things.

As stoics taught us, the healthy pessimist is a covert and intellectual revolutionary. He does not wait innocently for things to change by simply wishing them so; in view of the inevitability of evil, he works on a remedy.

The pessimist does not set faith in hope, but doses it and knows its dangers, as such he believes more on ideals than hope.  As Leopardi wrote regarding unrestrained hope, “who waits, despairs,”–there is nothing worse than disappointed expectation. When the healthy pessimist sees an opportunity for improvement, he uses it without believing his action will become a universal rule; in other words, he understands that just because one can take advantage of a positive conjuncture, the world will not necessarily improve, since not everyone will be willing to cooperate for the common good–this also allows him enough sobriety to value and respect the power of choice.

As you can see, the healthy pessimist or skeptic is someone who has achieved such lucidity that he does not mind recognizing the lack of foundation within this world and even the absurdity of existence. He does not despise the fact there is neither (at least in a tangible way) nor wants to flee from it; instead he wishes to explore it to its ultimate consequences. In times of barbarism, pain and hopelessness, the sensible pessimist is the last to throw down his weapons and never falls into inaction.

Perhaps if more and more people understood the value of teaching healthy pessimism, many more lives who are now lost, would have felt accepted as they were; after all acceptance is where it all begins.

What is the point of creating figures of light, of chanting, meditating, etc. if we are not willing to rebuilt our foundation, to admit shit happens, things hurt and is okay to feel as if you are losing your mind at times, because it is all part of life.

Both healthy positivism and healthy negativism are needed in life; its called balance. To deny one aspect of life won’t lead to healing or illumination only to more ill or hut people walking around with masks, because it feels unsafe to do so otherwise. To build a persona, you need layers upon layers of false masks. To build character, you will need to be willing to face the pain.

By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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