´ Defensive Pessimism -
January 15, 2016

People opposed to optimism argue that defensive pessimism allows them to deal with inevitable disappointments better. Defensive pessimism prepares you whereas optimism makes you walk into problems smiling but without second thought.

So what are the costs of defensive pessimism? It’s basically relinquishing all the benefits that optimism and the positive emotions it results in have been found to have. Among other things you’re saying no to:

  • more positive interactions
  • higher satisfaction in marriage and family in general
  • success in different domains such as academia, sports or sales
  • better ability to cope with the death of someone close
  • higher pain tolerance
  • smaller likelihood of suffering from disease and depression

That doesn’t mean that defensive pessimism doesn’t have its perks. Negative emotions in general narrow down our focus which can be useful. Furthermore it can help us make more accurate predictions about things like how likely it is that certain bad events happen. However this ability to see problems is absolutely useless if we don’t act on it.

A helpful approach would be to cultivate general optimism but use defensive pessimism as a tool to trigger concrete actions when we suspect, that we haven’t thought risks through or fear that something might disappoint us so much, that we prefer not investing ourselves emotionally.

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