GRAPPLING WITH THE CONCEPTS OF OPTIMISM VERSUS PESSIMISM

By Ing. Yayah A.B. Conteh

Everybody can supposedly be classified as being either an optimist or a pessimist. It is human nature to be one or the other.

Both these classes of people have been found to play significant roles in people’s lives throughout the length and breadth of our societies.

To give it a more befitting definition, optimism is a mental attitude reflecting a belief or hope that the outcome of some specific endeavour or outcomes of any particular magnitude in general, will be positive, favourable and desirable. Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, is the positive expectation derived in any possible outcome from any given situation.

But unlike the optimistic thinker, the pessimistic thinker indulges in the time-worn fallacy of assuming that what has already been established will continue to be. He nurses the belief that bad events are internal, stable and global. And he carefully omits any facts that would overthrow his reasoning.

It has been generally accepted that however different their characteristics, optimism and pessimism both spring from the same cause.

What allows people to pursue their goals, dreams and aspirations, in a positive way, is being optimistic.

Optimists normally dream big and better dreams, which they can direct their efforts towards other qualities possessed by them, which they also seem to respond better to positive feedback.

On the contrary, being pessimistic may help people reduce their natural anxiety and to perform better. Unlike their counterparts, they seem to respond better to negative feedback. For them to correct the problems at hand, they like to know the roots and origins of them. Part of why pessimists generate these sorts of negative thoughts in their opinion is that it enables them to perform better at the end of the day.

Over the years, psychologists have embarked upon the examination of many aspects of optimism and pessimism. This has always left them wondering whether there are more optimists than pessimists.

But these same psychology experts have gone on to assert that optimistic people are more likely to invest, act and put effort into achieving whatever it is that they want to get done. “High optimism will predict high effort and success,” they say.

Oscillating between these two classes of people, in thoughts and beliefs, are the realists who stand poles apart from them. They are those who accept things just as they are and try to deal with them in a practical manner. They believe in showing and discussing realism rather than visionary thoughts. Indeed, realism can be described as the middle ground between optimism and pessimism.

William Arthur Ward did not mince his words when he highlighted that “The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change whilst the realist adjusts the sails.”

Being optimists and pessimists, first and foremost, reinforces the fact that people view the world in different ways.

Life is naturally unpredictable and to cope with this unpredictability, some people choose to think optimistically because they believe it helps motivate them to try, and keep on trying again. But some others, on the contrary, believe that a pessimistic mindset performs the same functions. By cultivating the belief that things might go wrong helps protect them against when things do go wrong eventually.

Despite calamities from economic recessions, wars and famine to a Covid-19 pandemic globally affecting the world at the moment, a new study indicates that humans are by nature optimistic.

These recent studies have, in fact, shown that optimism is 50% inherited from our genes, 40% determined by ourselves and the way in which we decide our lives, and 10% by others (that is, the environment in which we develop). This, therefore, means that we can act individually on our level of optimism by working on that 40%.

Since, because, we can none of us help influencing our fellows, between the optimist and the pessimist, there is that voice of people’s power that spreads with irresistible force and command, and that says, “Give me the optimist every time. He may make mistakes, but his motto is always: Upward and Onward.”

It is largely the optimists who make the world go round. They never know when they are beaten. They refuse to be beaten, in fact. Apart from radiating goodwill, courage, hope and promise, they also inject their fellowmen with their positive beliefs and eventually literally change the face of the world.

The optimist is endowed with other characteristics, too. He is not impulsive, nor is he haphazard. He thinks before he acts. He weighs up a situation and makes up his mind with utmost confidence. And having made up his mind he acts with decision.

The crux of the matter is that optimists generally approach life with a positive outlook, while pessimists tend to expect the unthinkable. They go into new situations with high expectations, while pessimists keep low expectations to prepare for negative outcomes. Indeed, having an optimistic approach to life is key to attaining happiness.

Within the context of an encouraging work environment that is viewed positively by employees and Management, there is a high tendency of workplace optimism facilitating stronger relationships. It is often taken for granted that diligence leads to greater possibilities for the employee, the team, and even the Organization and its valued customers.

One time British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was reported to have said that “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity whereas an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Indeed, optimism doesn’t wait on facts; it deals with prospects.

Nonetheless, some psychology experts claim that it is still better at times to be a pessimist than an optimist because the former harness their negative mood to motivate themselves to work harder and perform better in life. They argue that pessimism, in itself, can be more beneficial than optimism in situations where one is waiting for news about an outcome and there is no opportunity to influence that outcome (such as waiting to be shortlisted for a bidding application which might never see the light of day or waiting for the results of a job interview, etc.,). The pessimist might therefore, claim though, that when he learns to accept, then there is a high probability of him having fewer or no disappointments at all.

Most pessimists are more likely to be depressed than optimists. Both are diametrically opposed in their manner of thinking, with the consequent result that they are more prone to depression and experience more health problems that lead to a shorter life expectancy, in contrast to the optimists.

Pessimistic thinking, in general, is a kind of negative one that is characterized by the belief that bad things are a common occurrence and that there is still hope for the future. People who fall in this category tend to have a low self-esteem and their pessimistic outlook in life gives them the impression that they are incapable of making any meaningful impact in life and on society as a whole. This even leads them to be more pessimistic, providing loopholes for even lower confidence in themselves.

Other schools of thought have asserted that it is not that optimism solves all of life’s problems. It is just that it can sometimes make the difference between coping and collapsing.

So let us try to be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic in our overall outlook on life.

At least if something is not to our liking, then we are at liberty to change it altogether to suit our convenience.

 

Ing. Yayah A.B. Conteh is the Director of the Mechanical Services Department (MSD) of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA).

Tel. Nos : 076640364/077718805.

E-mail: contehyayahab2020@gmail.com.

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