Some people see the glass as half empty. Half full. I see the glass as entirely full, half of air and half of whatever. Usually. Stuck in a limbo between optimism and pessimism is this weird state of just existing within a plethora of undefined feelings. Let me explain.
There are two ways I could describe my current state.
Option #1: I’m in college, working on a degree. My teachers seem pretty reasonable, my classes seem difficult enough to challenge me, but intriquing enough to keep me motivated. There’s butt tons of people I haven’t gotten the chance to interact with. I’m in a very long lasting relationship with someone I can very easily relate to. I’m employed and have a roof over my head. I have a band that’s been around for quite sometime, that people actually come to watch. I get to play keyboard and scream. At any given time, there’s usually at least one person I can call and talk to. I can dress up and play in short comedy movies. I have my own car, and a best friend with a matching tattoo. My birthday is coming up soon and I’m going to throw a big fun party.
Option #2: I’m in college working on a degree that I’m not sure I want or need. I’m pretty sure it’s taking away from the time I should be spending trying to remain in good standing with my friends, so that they don’t all talk shit about me the moment I’m gone for more than a few days. I won’t have enough time to put into classes, and the lecture/exam format, essay writing is going to stress me out beyond belief. There are butt tons of people that seem like pure, unadulterated ignorant morons. I’m in a relationship with someone, but I can’t say I’m happy a lot of the time. I have a band that’s being torn to shreds and not going anywhere because my real best friend moved to California. And it’s weird to call him on the phone, because there’s nothing new to talk about, and I don’t want to just call and complain about how nothing is getting done, even though I legitimately miss him. I have a job that I dread going to in the morning that pays nowhere near enough. I can dress up and be in comedy films that are produced by a friend that the rest of my friends have some sort of problem with. I have my own car that’s destined to break at any moment, and I have a best friend with a matching tattoo, who sometimes I envy because of her free spirit and gorgeous face.
Same story. Different tone. I wouldn’t necessarily say that one’s the optimistic way of looking at it, the other, pessimist’s haven. I would say that both sides of every subject are worth taking into account and looking at as if it were on a white and black striped background. What sticks out more? What needs work?
How the hell am I supposed to throw a birthday party at which people from different parts of my life don’t throttle each other!?
So in comes the rhetoric of argument. Not taking a side, necessarily, but considering all of the factors and taking the least detrimental route.
Cracked told me moving overseas is a bad idea, however, in my case, I can see how it would help immensely. Regarding social values, language, and occupational opportunity, it may be worth my time to at least consider a semester abroad. Thinking outside the box? Or ignoring the problems completely? I’m still suck on that one.
My apologies for making the introduction more of a personal aside, than a true contemplation about optimism versus pessimism. But really, it’s realism. Reality that deserves contemplation in its purest form. Is it unrealistic to not take some things with a sense of permanence to better yourself? Now, for the science mumbo-jumbo.
In the Eighth Edition of David G Myers’ textbook, Psychology, he elaborates on the question of optimism versus pessimism. Initially he elaborates on the importance of attributional style. People with a negative attributional style “attribute poor performance to their lack of ability or situations enduringly beyond their control” (Myers 627). These are the people who respond to situations with an attitude of “I can’t do this” or “There is nothing I can do about it.” Such students are more likely to persist in getting low grades than are students who adopt the more hopeful attitude that effort, good study habits, and self-discipline can make a difference (Noel and others, 1987; Peterson and Barrett, 1987). Although mere fantasies tend not to fuel motivation and sucess, realistic positive expectations do (Oettingen and Mayer, 2002).
My interpretation lies with the explanations of Norem, Goodhart, and Showers. “Self-disparaging explanations of past failures can depress ambition, but realistic anxiety over possibly future failures can fuel energetic efforts to avoid the dreaded fate.” (Myers 627). Sometimes, yes, that negative view can be channeled into positive energies. I don’t remember who told me jokingly that pessimism is the best route, in that you’re always either proven right, or pleasantly surprised. Worth the contemplation with the enthymeme that blind optimism can be hurtful when it’s illusory. I’m going to throw in prayer there. Two hands working do more than a thousand optimistic hands clasped in prayer.
When talking to a few people I know, the findings of Kruger and Dunning in 1999 are pounding in my head. “Ironically, people are most overconfident when most incompetent.” One needs competence to recognize competence. If you ain’t know what good grammar be, you ain’t even best reco-nyze that yours be poor, fool. “Ignorance of what we don’t know helps sustain our confidence in our own abilities.” (Myers 629). The prominence of that ignorance, or perhaps my lack of competence to perceive the correct amount of that ignorance, makes it easy to develop almost a condescending view of that world, and a general poor outlook for humanity.
I’m not sure if option 1 or option 2 is the best outlook for me. Actually, I’m sure neither of them are. A correct amount of both, balanced in a way that seems most constructive, yet realistic is probably the most effective route.
The glass is half empty, half full, 100% full, whatever. The important thing to remember is, somewhere there is a version of that glass composed entirely out of anti-matter. And if you can’t think outside the box sometimes, you’ll get stuck in a path of blinding optimism, hindering pessimism, or sheer confusion.
Myers, David G. Psychology. 8th ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007. Print.