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"…hopeless, but not serious." January 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, science.
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Why pessimism is so widely prevalent.

But when it comes to the still bigger picture — the fate of civilization, of the planet, of the cosmos — pessimism has historically been the rule. A sense that things are heading downhill is common to nearly every culture, as Arthur Herman observes in “The Idea of Decline in Western History.” The golden age always lies in the past, never in the future. It’s not hard to find a psychological explanation for this big-picture gloominess. As we age, we become aware of our powers diminishing; we dwell on the happy episodes from our past and forget the wretched ones; moving toward the grave, we are consumed by nostalgia and foreboding. What could be more natural than to project this mixture of attitudes onto history at large?

Reasons to be optimistic about optimism –

Optimism bias no doubt causes a good deal of mischief, leading us to underestimate the time and trouble of the projects we undertake. But the mere fact that it is so widespread in our species suggests it might have some adaptive value. Perhaps if we calculated our odds in a more cleareyed way, we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. couple of decades ago, the psychologist Shelley Taylor proposed that “positive illusions” like excessive optimism were critical to mental health. People who saw their abilities and chances realistically, she noted, tended to be in a state of depression. And there is new evidence that optimism may in some ways be self-fulfilling. In a recently published study, researchers in the Netherlands found that optimistic people — those who assented to statements like “I often feel that life is full of promises” — tend to live longer than pessimists. Perhaps, it has been speculated, optimism confers a survival advantage by helping people cope with adversity.

Reasons to be optimistic about pessimism :

But pessimism still appears to have its advantages. Another recently published paper observes that over the last three decades, the people of Denmark have consistently scored higher on life-satisfaction than any other Western nation. Why? Because, say the authors, the Danes are perennial pessimists, always reporting low expectations for the year to come. They then find themselves pleasantly surprised when things turn out rather better than expected.

And the perfect blend

….the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus came up with a formula nearly a century ago that remains the perfect blend of optimism and pessimism: Things are hopeless but not serious.

There….there…I now have an answer to questions such as a) “Hi man, how are things ?” b) “Hey, whats up.” c) “Hey, howz life treating you ?”

Yeah, the answer is the same : Things are hopeless but not serious.

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