Health · Lifestyle

Practising Positive Pessimism

(try saying that five times, fast)

Unsplash: Austin Chan

I know what you’re thinking. “Positive pessimism? That doesn’t make sense! What is this girl on?” Well, bare with me and I’ll explain, alright?

I guess “realist” is probably the most familiar term when describing this outlook, but “positive pessimism” does differ slightly. In case ya didn’t know, a realist is someone who just accepts a situation for how it is and deals with it accordingly, and that’s something I can generally get behind. Y’know, what else can you really do? You can’t change what’s happened once it’s happened, or if you know there’s nothing you can do. Optimists hope, but hope doesn’t really actually affect anything, does it? It only appears to work when the Universe is in alignment, and if it’s not then it’s just exhausting being disappointed all the time.

To me, “positive pessimism” is being a realist, but you consciously hope the best or whatever you want to happen happens. You don’t just immediately, instinctively expect it. I go, “Yeah, this’ll hopefully turn out fine, but if not, ok.” I don’t allow myself to get carried away or build my hopes up. I’m an overthinker, which is simultaneously really handy and also really draining. It makes me err on the side of caution because I think about all the different ways something can go, and they’re normally bad (the pessimism part), but I don’t fully believe that any of the bad possibilities is how it’ll actually pan out (the positive part). I hope, but not too much – I gotta keep my energy for other things.

Normally when someone asks me if I’m an optimist or pessimist (tragically common question on first dates, if you hadn’t noticed), and I answer with the latter, they tend to go, “Oh, that’s a bit sad, isn’t it? Aren’t you happy?” Well, yes, in some ways I am. I’m in the privileged position of being a white, middle-class, educated female, and I enjoy the benefits of that. However, there are many things in life I have found that hope doesn’t affect, and so there’s no use being an optimist. Hope won’t cure my chronic diseases or my insecurities. To try and keep the tone of the date light, whether it’s going well or not (probably not), I always explain myself like this:

“Well, if you’re an optimist, you’re either proven right or you’re left disappointed. If you’re a pessimist, you’re either proven right or you’re happily surprised. I’d rather have two potential positive outcomes rather than one.”

Unsplash: Josh Couch

The foundation of practising positive pessimism is keeping yourself grounded in Reality (yes, I write Reality with a capital R – I was a science fiction student and I developed habits that are hard to break). Every time we have an optimistic thought, we’re basically projecting a fantasy that has a set of variables (things that you have determined will happen). While hope is a fundamental part of the human experience, it’s not tangible, and the thing about hope is that it’s only ever “proven” if the situation goes as hoped. In real life, you rarely get to control the variables on a whim. For an overthinker like me, hope and optimism aren’t really things I can get on board with because there’s too many variables that suggest other outcomes are more likely. Hope and optimism sorta become a waste of time. It’s a bit shit, I get that, but y’know, what can you do?

Sure, I have had plenty of positive experiences in life – I was accepted into all my chosen universities, I’ve been in good relationships, I was able to land a position in my dream field of work straight out of uni, and I’ve always been incredibly lucky when it comes to timing. Thing is, none of this happened because of hope and being optimistic. I didn’t wish any of this into existence. They happened because I worked hard, or I made smart decisions, or I laid the groundwork for that particular path early on, and so the outcomes ended up being positive. Hope played a part, sure, because I recognise that nothing in the universe is set, and so anything could’ve happened, no matter how hard I tried to control the situations and make any variables work for me. It is a part of human nature to hope.

Being a positive pessimist means being able to take a step back and assess a situation when it happens, but also being able to assess a potential situation well before it happens. These are just generally good skills to have in life – foresight can inform hindsight, you can learn from past mistakes to make the future better. Thing is, when you apply these skills broadly, you can figure out the balance that works for you between realistic and optimistic expectations.

I have certainly found that the more I practise “positive pessimism”, the less times I’m left disappointed or shocked, and I feel more grounded and more centred because I’m rarely taken off-guard. It’s pretty nice feeling relatively secure most of the time (look at all those hedgers – wow)! I’m a pretty logical person, so this mindset fits well with me. Also, another part of “positive pessimism”? Don’t be a dick to the optimists. They think the way they think for a reason, as you do, so there’s no need to pull the superiority card on them when one literally doesn’t exist.


I really didn’t know if I was gonna post this or not. I think I’ve made about four or five drafts of this post because it felt like no matter how much I edited it, it sounded so preachy? I’ve just always found how people think and how they view the world really interesting, so I thought I’d share mine. In fairness, writing this felt like doing a piece of uni coursework – I really have no idea if I’ve described “positive pessimism” well, but I’m hoping you’ll get the gist? Please give me a 2:1? I tried my best?

If you’re still a bit confused or you’ve got any questions, you can always leave me a comment, or you can message me on Instagram at @heybooblog (plug plug plug)!

Talk to you later,

Boo x

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