Pessimism, a chance find & the ups of being down

A Sunday magazine supplement lay abandoned, next to me on a short South West train journey heading into Waterloo last week.  (The journey which led to the event of my last blog post here).  With nothing better to occupy myself with, I picked it up and began speed flicking for anything of interest.

Suddenly I hit upon an item which made me keep the whole magazine.  It was an in-depth item entitled “The Ups Of Being Down”, or possibly an extended extract from The Cassandra Chronicles by confirmed pessimist, Ariel Leve.

In it, the neuroscience and brain chemistry of pessimism is discussed, as well as other affecting factors, and the benefits of negative thinking.  It’s nicely embroidered with citations from pessimists including Thomas Hardy, Enoch Powell, Charles Darwin and Leonard Cohen. 

“Pessmism is playing the sure game…  It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed.”

Thomas Hardy

Here’s a link to the online version.

“All my life I have been negative.  I worry all the time, about everything,” the author writes.  And she asks the ultimate question: do I need to change or how do I deal with it?

If it’s not impacting on others, what’s the problem?  Surely it’s worse for pessimism to stop you from doing something because you believe you will fail, rather than thinking you will fail but doing said thing anyway.

I was heartened by the section where she rebukes those who unthinkingly claim that “It will work out,” when they can’t or don’t know this; it’s just the easiest thing to say.

They say that such conditions are a combination of genetics and environment, that there is a huge genetic component to anxiety and depression, both of which are associated to pessimism.  Recently, and with increasing frequency I’ve ordered myself not to become like my father.

Genes are apparently not enough and a traumatic event is required to flip the depression switch.  And I’ve never had this, for which I should be grateful, but it just makes me feel more unreasonably feeble and weak.

Another leftfield theory goes that if your mother gives you panicky genes, a panicky womb and a panicky upbringing, the brain will wire itself to expect the worse.  My mother gets in an awful state about going to the local shops.  It’s always been an event, something not to be indulged in without a fully concentrated plan. 

This sort of article leads you down blind, impossible to qualify alleys, I suppose, provokes idle speculation.


“I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain.  And I feel soaked to the skin.”

Leonard Cohen  


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