The pessimism has its value

Matheus Ulhoa
4 min readJul 2, 2020

And it should be balanced with our optimistic view on life

Photo by Nick Shandra, Unsplash.

Are pessimists depressed? I don’t have a clue, never studied this topic, but I tend to think there’s a positive correlation and a proneness for pessimists to get depressed later on. Whether or not, what control we have over pessimist thoughts? What positive outcomes we can extract from that?

The value of pessimism is showing us that our biggest fears are not so intimidating, while there are incredible upsides on the other side of fear.

The power of general pessimism to destroy our lives

General pessimism, invariably, drains our energy. When talking with a pessimist, we feel weirdly bad. Everything seems to be ruins full of misery, fear, a chaos of regrets, and no solutions on sight.

I’m personally not sure if a pessimist is someone with mental suffering, but what can we do with our pessimist thoughts that jump in our minds once in a while? Ignoring it is the solution? I don’t think so.

Fight-or-flight response

In situations of fear, our mind enters the survival mode of the fight-or-flight response. This is automatic, and it’s the reason some people unconsciously react to a robbery even though they heard many times they shouldn’t. Reasonably, any item of value is less significant than our lives. This is merely the principle of scarcity: we have just one life to lose.

Ignoring pessimism is more harmful than good. These thoughts might come back and stronger later on. The solution for me is to analyze such thoughts and think critically about them.

When I was a kid I was weird. Unlike the other kids, I enjoyed observing the world around me. Instead of playing like a Spider-man stick on the roof, I liked to be with the old people, like my grandma’s siblings hearing their stories. This possibly made me observe my thoughts and people more often than the average.

Because of the joy of observation, I intuitively spend time observing any pessimist thought. This made me able to use it in my favor, as a fuel to move forward.

Preparing mentally for the worse

The critical analysis of pessimist thoughts for me is all about preparing ourselves mentally for the worse scenario as possible. Does it mean I want the worse? No. I seek the best, I want the best life I can have and I pursue that.

But thinking about the worst-case can bring you two things:

  • A huge fear of inaction, where you remain where you are, that forces you to move forward — the flight response.
  • A sensation of peace, recognizing your fears are bearable, not permanent, with counter-actions to minimize risks while they offer an interesting upside for pursuing your goals and having the life you want.

Curiously, when we simply ignore bad thoughts, we’re not able to find conclusions and strategies to overcome fears. The bad thoughts will return, in different shapes, in a different situation, bigger.

Analyzing our thoughts and emotions is something I incorporated late in my life. It is incredible how it gives me a peaceful sensation of clarity. This reasoning is present in meditation practices and also just seen it in a chapter of The 4-hour workweek, from Tim Ferriss.

The Stoic idea of practicing misfortune

A few years ago I got to know the Stoic idea of practicing misfortune. The idea is simple: live some days of your life as if you had nothing.

See how it doesn’t hurt.

Free yourself from your fears.

This matched entirely my way of dealing with pessimist thoughts.

Stoicism is a philosophy I recommend for this Pandemic, when many people are anxious and still feeling pessimistic about their lives: losing or not a job, with the economy or politics. A book to start: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, from Ryan Holiday.

It is fantastic how Greek and Roman Philosophy, and overall the classic literature, are classics for a reason: they are atemporal wisdom.

What you can do now to minimize risks

Whether you’re planning a career move or you’re simply fearful of the “new normal”, there are always strategies to minimize our risks.

  • On personal finances, build a reserve of emergency. The goal for this money is not to grow. Like in The Richest Men in Babylon, the joy of a few coins shaking in our bag brings the peace of mind: “My family is covered.”
  • On career, acquire useful knowledge that may serve you as survival tools. What abilities and knowledge do you have to build your life from scratch if necessary?
  • From a holistic perspective, build multiple streams of income. Can you sell any knowledge you have? Learn about subjects that interest you and a bit about technology + marketing/sales. We’re all sellers. We sell our values to build meaningful relationships. We sell CV’s to get a job. We sell results to get a promotion or career move. We sell products and services, directly or not.

Analyze your feelings and emotions. The value of pessimism is showing us that our biggest fears are not so intimidating, while there are incredible upsides on the other side of fear.

Facing misfortune, going upstairs, and the rewards on the other side of fear. Photo by Avi Richards, Unsplash.

Stay optimistic because even when we don’t know a solution, we can find one. Make a rough plan, and improve it along the way. We have this power!