Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism


Optimists seek pleasure, pessimists avoid pain, and realists do both. Our society is so pumped up on optimism that anything other than unbridled ambition is seen as aberrant behavior. Optimists tend to see the future outcome of all events and actions as advantageous to them. They are driven by the desire for pleasure, although they don’t see the implicit contradiction here. Desires always come from a sense of lack and are always painful. So to be driven by endless desires is to be constantly in pain – although in the world of the optimist denial is so deep that the pain is never seen. Looked at purely objectively the outcome of any effort can either be advantageous or disadvantageous. For example, the hopefuls that start a business tend not to reflect on the fact that 90% of such businesses will go broke within a year, and 99% of them will struggle over the long term. I will come back to this statistic later. In any case, to be in denial of reality is not a good thing, and in the case of the optimist, it may cost them a home, relationship and even sanity itself. Optimists are unwittingly driven by the life-force to become wealthier, more famous, more attractive – anything that reinforces the illusion that their survival is more assured. The irony is that optimism more often destroys lives than reinforces them.

The pessimist generally gets a bad rap, and in our optimistically biased society, they are treated like lepers – outsiders. The primary driver for the pessimist is the avoidance of pain. It’s a much wiser approach to life and will have fewer disappointments. The optimists set themselves up for disappointment, anxiety and possibly depression. Pessimists by their very nature will tend to avoid these conditions. Pessimists tend to focus on the hard facts of life – we suffer and then die. The facts that the optimist tends to deny, and cause untold anxiety when they materialize, have already been embraced by the pessimist, and as such, the pessimist is more prepared for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The weakness of unbridled pessimism is that genuine opportunities will be lost. While living, it makes sense to seek a life that is as pleasant as possible. A pure pessimist will predict that every opportunity can only have a negative outcome. Instead of an impartial estimation of the likelihood of a good or bad outcome, the pessimist will always assume bad.

To be a realist is the most difficult, but most rewarding of the three options. The realist simply tries to use reason to navigate through life. We all suffer and die, but the realist will try to minimize the suffering without increasing it through the unpleasant side-effects of optimism, or the missing of opportunities through total pessimism. “Reason” is the key to the life of a realist. In the example of the chances of business startups succeeding the realist will do the necessary homework, and depending on the opportunity, decide accordingly. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to “bet the farm” on a business venture, but maybe a way can be found that minimizes the risk.

The optimist is the one most worthy of our sympathy. The disappointments, anxieties, and wasted energy very often destroy such people. Pessimism is a healthier route, but realism based on reason is the best we can do. But as always realism requires effort and an ability to avoid the highs and lows of optimism and pessimism, so it will be less attractive.



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Action from within the machine, no matter how elevated we think it is, is just action from within the machine. Non-action from the observer is the only thing that matters.

Don’t be afraid of the bad times, it is the good times that should be feared - they will give you confidence and hope and you will be poorly prepared for the inevitable bad times that inevitably follow. Don’t be a sucker.

"The best philosophers were not academics, but had another job, so their philosophy was not corrupted by careerism." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

when I look with the eye of a philosopher at the varied courses and pursuits of mankind at large, I find scarcely one which does not appear vain and useless. Descartes

Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; everyone thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not desire more of this quality than they already possess. Descartes

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