Pessimists: Saviours of Civilization

I’ve been intending to write this post for awhile; again, my excuse for being so crap at blogging is that I’ve been very, very dedicated to writing my book. More on that some other time. Right now, I want to talk about the soul-destroying monster that is optimism.

I was talking to The Beholder about my previous post – how I derived comfort from Bill Bailey’s thoughts on the futility of all human endeavour – and TB made an interesting observation. He said he felt the real difference between optimists and pessimists was in how they each look at life. It’s a twist on the old glass is half-full or half-empty thing I’ve not considered before. Optimists look at their life (or their glass) and think how much worse things could be, while pessimists yearn for more, for better things. It made me wonder; are optimists complacent? Could they be the downfall of civilisation?

A few years ago, some scientists went looking for the happiest people on earth. Sounds like a quest from a novel, I know, but it’s true. According to their methodology, Buddhist monks are the happiest, most content, least stressed members of the human race. As I understand it, they achieve this glorious state by yearning for nothing. Longing for material things, for the love or adulation of others, for fame, for power; all these things just make you sad. If you can put these desires aside, you can be happy.

But can you be joyous?

I think not. I think to know real joy, you have to also know real despair. Creativity is unlikely to spring from the mind that yearns for nothing. Contentment may be the death of striving. It is the pessimist, unhappy and longing for a better world, who drives invention, revolution, change. Optimists may be too darn happy with things the way they are.

Fifty percent capacity is not half-full; it’s half-empty, and if you want better things in life, go find the other fifty percent. Want more. Yearn for change. The world isn’t ready for everyone to sit back and give a contented sigh at a job well done

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