My heroes have always been pessimists.

“I guess I just prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth.”–Janeane Garofalo.

As long as I can remember, I have been a pessimist. I have justified it to myself on the grounds that if one expects the worst, one will never be disappointed. However, I can’t pretend that it’s a wholly rational impulse. Quite the contrary, it seems to be an instinct.

More than just pessimism, what I have is a kind of superstition about being confident. I always have this feeling that if you get confident, you’re asking for karmic payback. It’s like the idea of hubrisin Greek tragedy–I feel like you’re tempting the Gods (metaphorically speaking–I don’t believe in the ancient Greek Gods) when you get to feeling good about yourself.

Some people are always cheery and expecting the best. I’m not sure who’s in the majority, but I suspect it’s the optimists.

Not that everybody is all optimistic or all pessimistic. I have a friend who is always pessimistic about her favorite sports teams, but is in general a fairly optimistic person. I like to think I’m pretty realistic about stuff I have no control over, but anything I’m actually doing myself I feel sure I’ll screw up.

Incidentally, I think pessimism is what enables me to read old-time conservative writers like Spengler and Nock. Despite being opposed to their politics, I recognize in them a gloominess that I can relate to. We all feel that the world is going to hell, even though we have different reasons. Spengler felt it was because of decadent liberalism, Nock was upset because he thought the State had too much power, and I think it’s because people are unable to resolve their differences through education and intelligence, but we all would agree that things are bad.

How about you? Do you feel that “a sunny disposish will always see you through“, or do you feel, as I do, that if your spirits are soaring, it means only that they will hit the ground with more force?


  1. I think a middle path between the two, based on reason and realism is ideal. To a large degree your mindset determines what happens in your life, so I think pessimists bring misfortune on themselves. On the other hand, I don't think it's healthy to be positive about everything to the point of denial.

  2. It's an interesting question. I have been told that I look at the negative, and expect the worst. I still believe there is more good than bad in life, so maybe it's just more interesting to see the dark side of things.Yeah, to a point, pessimists have an aura around them which might determine some life steps.I don't think it's something one can really change though. I don't plan on skipping, today. : )

  3. Good point, Thingy. It is more interesting to see the dark side. "The essence of drama is conflict", as they say. (And as I never tire of repeating.)You're probably right, John, but the classic pessimist response is always "I AM being realistic." They–we–always think the worst-case scenario is the realistic one. Do you think this is learned behavior, or is it innate?

  4. Pessimism? Optimism? Meh. Realism – that's the ticket.You say "the glass is half-empty." He says "the glass is half full."I just want to know who the hell's been drinking from my glass.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?