Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Positively Pessimistic

I'm trying hard to be less negative, more positive - not in a Amway style, I hasten to add!

I have been a negative person all my life, and although studies have shown pessimists actually to be more realistic about outcomes, optimists are happier. I have heard this so many times and just brushed it aside thinking, "optimists are fools" and "it's ridiculous to just tell me to think positively when I'm a natural negative," especially when bad stuff happens. It wasn't until a couple of weeks after someone (a dear but even more pessimistic and depressive friend) repeated the "we are more realistic" statement to me, and wandered off looking very down about the world situation, that I had a sudden flash of understanding. It will seem very odd to any optimist reading this, but I realised that positive thinking doesn't have to be a matter of prancing around denying the reality that the roof has fallen in or the car has broken down, but that it can mean that one can focus on how to fix of things rather than on the brokenness of them. It can mean looking forward to the next good time, rather than focusing on the empty space between now and then. It can mean focusing on small present pleasures rather than on the absence of large joys.

Pretty obvious to the natural born optimist, but not to me. There are so many good things in my life that I could focus on and truly, I am trying. Every time I catch myself thinking of the family and friends who have not texted / rung / emailed me, I now stop and think instead of the ones who have.

Now when I discover that something I had been looking forward to isn't going to happen, I am trying to just feel sad for a moment and then move on to looking forward to the next good thing - instead of my usual churning misery for weeks.

I'd been looking forward to going to the Balloon Festival Night Glow this Saturday, something we did every year for about 15 years - but we haven't been the last 3 or 4 years. Mac hasn't been for even longer than that, saying he's sick of it. This year, Jeff and I had planned to meet up with friends at a Balloon Festival homeschool activity at the Night Glow - but then tonight he decided to go to Auckland for the weekend to see his brother instead. I didn't want to go on my own - I feel nervous about walking distances in the dark to get back to my car, and I don't much like driving on my own when I'm tired either. I was pretty tired and grumpy after a very busy, hard work day, but I tried really hard to just put it aside and think of other things. Normally, I would have bitched on about it to Mac (not to Jeff) but I didn't. I did mention it casually - and Mac said, "Well, if you want to go, I'll go with you." I was stunned! There's been a couple of things like that lately, and I'm wondering if it is my changed behaviour that makes him feel more willing to do things - maybe it's easier when he doesn't feel pressured by my unhappiness?

Is it possible that I could be happy with small pleasures rather than continue to be obsessed with the sadness of lost chances? Or even to hope that there are ways of fulfilling, at least partially, the lost dreams? Folk dancing instead of ballroom and ceroc? I hate the thought of folk dancing, it always seemed pretty naff, something that real people don't do, just weirdos and old people. I am old, too old for the sort of dancing I didn't know I wanted to do until it was too late, but maybe if I can just change my mind set, I could enjoy folk dancing? Is that really possible?

So many self help books talk about having dreams come true by turning them into goals. But the older I get, the more my dreams become unattainable. I think if I am to survive this horrible getting older stuff, I have to learn to downsize my dreams, and remind myself that when I am approaching 70 and 80, I don't want to be looking back and wishing that, at 57, I had done things I was capable of doing, but didn't because I was too busy being miserable about what I didn't do at 17, 27, 37, 47. I need to use my ability as a pessimist to see reality, to dream dreams that are attainable.

Still, probably pointless trying - given that I'm a natural pessimist and depressive......


David said...

Hi Cally... I used to think I was a pessimist by nature. I now think I was (and am) mildly depressive by nature, whereas I was (and am no longer) a pessimist by training. Pessimism is learned; it can be unlearned. Optimism likewise. There are enough self-fulfilling prophecy moments in any life that either lesson will work pretty well most of the time!

Cally said...

Thanks for the comment David. I will ponder it some more. I do know that I have been mildly depressed all my life, except where I have been extremely depressed (to the point of suicidal)but I have learned (in my 50s) to keep it to the mild.

I'm trying to get past the pessimism too, but may be running out of decades ;P

Ruth said...

I am such a pessimist about my life and my family (not dh or kids). But I'm a total optimist about the outside world and people in it! SO for me the challenge is to bring all the optimism into my own life that I have in my dreams, today and every will take a lot of practice. Sometimes I'm happy to stay pessimistic, as if it's too hard to change to the positive, lol. Have you seen the film 'what the bleep do we know?' it's interesting and quite uplifting...

Cally said...

Yeah, I watched it a while back, but was really tired at the time, need to watch it again.

Sadly, I'm a through and through pessimist. But I am trying to be more positive.