Cautious optimism needs to make a comeback

Image supplied by: Supplied by Martin Hayes

This article discusses mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

With the pandemic constantly interfering with our lives, I feel like almost everyone around me has a very bleak view of the future.

I can’t blame them for this—it seems there’s never any good news these days. But it also saddens and frustrates me. I often feel like having any optimism is seen as being naive and unrealistic when, in reality, it doesn’t have to be.

I know this from personal experience.

When I was in high school, I had severe anxiety about a lot of things in my life, like feeling my grades weren’t good enough to get into the university I wanted. This anxiety was compounded by constantly seeing depressing news stories via social media, covering topics like the irreversible impact of climate change and the rise of far-right extremism.

At some point, I made the decision to always assume the worst was going to happen. I believed if I were to think like this, there’s no way I could be let down—either I’d be right or pleasantly surprised.

However, seeing life this way only made me more depressed. When you refuse to believe there’s anything to look forward to, life can seem pointless. I didn’t realize how much it affected me at first, but looking back on it, this fundamental belief I’d deluded myself into having was a big part of why my anxiety was so bad.

After struggling for a long time with these feelings, I finally sought outside help for my anxiety and depression. In therapy, I realized something very important: just because you don’t know what the future holds doesn’t mean it’s inevitably going to be bad. It’s important to see the positive side of things—albeit cautiously.

Should we bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is completely fine? Absolutely not. But I’ve come to realize that unwavering pessimism isn’t as “realistic” as many seem to claim it is.

Even ignoring the mental health impacts, both complete optimism and complete pessimism breed complacency. Either we don’t need to do anything about the state of the world because there’s nothing wrong, or there’s no point in doing anything because everything we do is futile anyway.

But if you truly want people to push for change, you need to offer some bit of hope—no matter how small it may seem.

I know I can’t expect everyone to abandon pessimism—people have their own reasons for feeling this way, and changing one’s mindset about the world is easier said than done.

But I wish people would stop and think more about what pessimism and being “realistic” really means. It’s not worth it to be “realistic” to the detriment of your mental health.

Martin is a fourth-year English and Classics student and one of The Journal’s Copy Editors.


Mental health, optimism, pessimism

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