Crazy but true: Having fear, doubt and suspicion about the future may help you live longer than your more cheerful, optimistic compatriots.
The German Study
Researchers from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany have reported that a pessimistic, even fearful attitude concerning the future may actually help prolong your number of days upon the Earth rather than lessen them. In other words, those who more “optimistic” about their future had higher risk of disability and death within the next 10 years than those who held a more dismal or alarmist point of view.
Why is this?
Possibly one explanation is that those who have greater concern for the future are more likely to PREPARE, be at the ready, have more caution and generally take better care of themselves than those who harbor a more sheltered, idealistic world view.
The study gathered data between 1993 and 2003 and asked 40,000 respondents to predict how satisfactory their lives would be in 5 years time. IN 5 years times, they were questioned again.
The results of the second round of interviews revealed the optimistic group as having a 9.5% greater likelihood of coming down with illness and disability, plus a 10% greater chance of dying within the next 10 years, than the grumpier crowd.
The Older, the More Accurate
Those who were older who had a more dismal outlook for the future were the most accurate in predicting their future happiness. Once miserable, continued misery. However, they lived longer, and surprisingly, better.
Young People Overestimated Their Future Satisfaction
Young people “uprate their expectations,” as buzzspeak would say. Understandably, young people by nature have greater hope for their future and believe in the viability of their dreams. Many will end up disillusioned, having a greater distance to fall. This creates stress, which may create health issues and encourage more daredevil behaviors.
Surprising Results of Rich vs. Poor
You would expect that those with a higher income would generally experience less disability than those with lower incomes. To the contrary, higher income folks statistically suffered a GREATER DECLINE in health that those with poor health to begin with and lower incomes.
How could this be? Could it be the “farther to fall, fall further faster” syndrome? Or, was the “richer” crowd more subject to diseases due to older age? Or, when you have more to lose, do you tend to have greater worries? Being worried is not the same as being a malcontent. Worry can wear and tear at the soul, while just being wary may do far less damage.
It’s All About Perspective
It seems that one’s perspective can goad someone into action and make improvements to their lives, or cause them to relax and let the chips fall where they may. Taking care of one’s self, being prepared, having forethought and taking into account the possibility of unhappy circumstances can help increase the length of life.
Without a doubt, those living in a more comfortable and relaxed environment will generally experience a more peaceful and relaxed view of the world. Those in the city generally are more “irritable” than those in the country.
Older people, who tended to have a “darker outlook” on the future, were shown to be the most accurate in their predictions, with optimistic youngsters overestimating their success.
“Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes,” said Dr Lang.
Alain De Botton – Why Pessimism is Healthy and our Modern World is Not
“Happiness is an illusion, see the vanity of the world, misery is the norm, we must face the desperate facts of our situation head-on. Man’s greatness comes from knowing, he is wretched”
In Alain De Botton’s earlier books The Consolations of Philosophy that I first heard him making a point like this- that happiness is an illusion and it’s wise to not expect too much of the world- and he described how both the Buddha and Ancient Greek philosophers came to this conclusion independently, and that really struck me -as so different from the modern world, as a universal wisdom we have lost.
I prefer the Buddhist idea of being neither pessimistic or optimistic but touch each event lightly with your judging mind and just let it go……
Tim Ferriss Talks About Practical Pessimism
Stoicism and a productivity tool – Negative visualization – define your fears, preparation, defining the worst case scenarios, following Lucius Seneca (advisor to ancient Roman emperor) – take out piece of paper, 3 columns: detail all the terrible, negative things in one column, all the things to minimize likelihod of these things happening, line by line actions one could take to reachieve the status quo. On scale 0 to 10 – he saw unlikely transient pain of 2, potential life-changer of 10.
2nd Technique: Rehearsing the worst case scenario. Set aside several days each month and provide yourself with the cheapest, “scantiest” of food, the roughest of dress, necessities, virtually nothing; ask, is this the condition I feared? You then expose yourself to your negative emotions, innoculating yourself so you can make hard decisions, ask for hard things or have to accept or refuse things. You discover what you undervalue things that are EASILY OBTAINABLE. Define your fears, face them, become innoculated so you can move to action irrgardless the situation practical pessimism.
Author David Rakoff on Defensive Pessimism
While it may not work for everyone, author David Rakoff prescribes pessimism as a tool for managing anxiety. speaks with Rakoff about his book, Half Empty, how it originated, and he gives us his personal defense of pessimism.
Book Half – defends melancholy and pessimism – it’s about facing realism, accounting for darkness in our existence. Defensive pessimism – You construct a worst case scenario, detail by detail, work through each detail, and how you meet them head on and stave off disaster, thereby reducing, relieving anxiety. What about hope? Stuff happens. Get ready for it. Everything is cyclical, things will change, this will pass, you’ll get through it. You just gotta try and wait things out.”
7:10 is where he starts.
Rest in peace David
David Rakoff’s third essay collection, contains not only the warning “No Inspirational Life Lessons Will Be Found in These Pages,” but the guarantee that the author will have you “positively reveling in the power of negativity.” It’s never clear whether the pessimism alluded to is Rakoff’s philosophy, Rakoff’s device or Rakoff’s publicist clearing his throat.
In his ambitious opening essay, “The Bleak Shall Inherit,” an interview with the psychologist Julie Norem (author of “The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking”) sets Rakoff off on an attempt to construct his case for the defensive pessimism (expecting the worst so one will never be disappointed) imbued in the nine essays that follow.
The factory-installed defining characteristic of those I run across who ply in the pessimism trade is a custom blend: 95 percent self-absorbed, 5 percent self-aware. Rakoff has a self-awareness that could be recreated only by a team of geneticists working in a lab. The conviction with which he writes is uplifting.
The man has been self-aware almost since birth. Consider this memory: “As a child at a picnic, rocking a hula hoop or something, another child came up to me asking to use it. ‘I’ll be your best friend,’ he entreated. ‘Best friend?’ I said, all of 7 years old but already a prig in the making, ‘I hardly know you.’ ”
Occasionally, the essays are mined with people and notions that are simply in Rakoff’s way. You wonder how many of these selections would be better said than read. But be sure to feast on “Dark Meat,” which chronicles the illicit affair between Jews and pork, and somehow winds up on a book-tour stop at a Holocaust museum in Germany. And suit up for the final triumph of “Another Shoe,” when Rakoff, after receiving a second diagnosis of cancer, prepares for amputation by living life using just one arm.
To file Rakoff under “essayist, brilliant” would be to overlook his formidable gifts as a reporter. In “A Capacity for Wonder,” he scoots from Disneyland to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Mormon Utah, devouring his surroundings just as Calvin Trillin devoured barbecue. Again, you can’t be self-absorbed and that observant.