Optimistic Or Pessimistic?

If you have to choose one or the other, is ‘optimistic’ or ‘pessimistic’ the better choice? You get to set the criteria.

Welcome to a new feature at Intellectual Roundtable: Throwdown Thursdays! Each Thursday we’ll list a classic pair, and ask you to choose between them. If you want to provide the reasoning for your choice, all the better!

This week, we give you the choice of optimistic or pessimistic. You can decide what that means. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Are you an optimistic or a pessimistic person?
  • Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
  • Does being optimistic or pessimistic prepare you better for life?
  • Do you prefer that your friends and/or partner are optimistic or pessimistic?

Or come up with an interpretation of your own!

How Can We Appreciate Life More?

After last week’s question addressed death, this week we want to ask about the reverse: how to get the most out of our lives. A key part of being happy is to appreciate the pleasures and the joys of life.

In one respect, this should be easy, since there is so much of which to be appreciative. We live in a golden age, with greater knowledge about ourselves, about the universe, and about the world than we have ever had, as well as having increased ease of access to that information. In addition, we can travel just about anywhere in the world we might want to go, and food and goods from anywhere in the world can be delivered to our doorstep.

While money is important to be able to access these and other benefits of our society and income inequality continues to increase, it’s also true that more people across the world have been lifted out of poverty than at any time in human history.

On the other hand, it’s hard to appreciate what we have when we see all that we don’t. It is human nature to be constantly trying to improve our circumstance in the world, and that means identifying life’s deficiencies and striving to overcome them.

On top of that, it seems like we are surrounded with negativity. The ever-increasingly interconnected world means problems from other places take on greater significance at home. If news coverage is always focused on the problems of the country or the world, from natural disasters to war and political unrest, it can be very difficult to be optimistic about your life.

And yet, it is important for our own mental health, as individuals as well as collectively as a society, that we appreciate what we have. How can we do that, without losing sight of those less fortunate? How can we appreciate what we have without feeling guilty when there are people who don’t have what we have? How can we overcome the negative environment that surrounds us?

How can we appreciate life more? How can we focus on what we have and not on what we don’t?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life?What is the purpose of money?How can we maintain wonder?What does it mean to be thankful?What was the best time in your life?

What Are You Optimistic About?

Sometimes the world can feel like an overwhelming place. Clouds can darken anyone’s horizons. Holding on to optimism is important for a healthy outlook on life.

When you look to the future, what are the highlights you see? What are you optimistic about?

Related questions: How is hope different from optimism? How can we maintain wonder? What is your retreat from the world? What amazes you?

A tip of the Intellectual Roundtable cap to the the Edge.org series of books, which are a great source of inspiration for the Intellectual Roundtable. What Are You Optimistic About? is one of more than a dozen such compilations.