Here are three things that I have learnt this month; Suede are fantastic, I’m terrible at predicting my own results and optimism is overrated. I’d already had an inkling as to the latter – what else can one learn from watching Tonbridge chuck away a three-nil lead? – but with the advent of Judgment Day (or Results Day, as it’s officially known) upon me yesterday, my knack for persistent and annoying pessimism came into its own. However, it’s safe to say that my results would have been less sweet had I been optimistic about them, and judging by the Facebook statuses of thousands of paranoid, jittery teenagers, it’s almost unanimously echoed. So why is being pessimistic supposed to be such a bad thing?
I accept that it’s annoying to have a black cloud hovering over the person sitting next to you, whether it’s in a lesson or at a football match. Listening to frequent refrains of “Pfff – I’ll be lucky to pass that exam” probably becomes dull and repetitive, and is homicide-inducing when coming from someone without anything lower than an A on their results sheet. Whilst no one likes someone who comes out of an exam saying that it went brilliantly when all around them are squeaking through sobs about how terribly it went, false modesty is equally infuriating. So, for anyone in close proximity to a pessimist, it’s not surprising that the virtues of optimism are extolled as being good for one’s health. Happy people are usually popular, albeit not in the stereotypical Queen Bee way; they’re usually feel-good and upbeat, and it’s infectious – people want to spend time with happy people so they can be happy.
But here’s the thing. I find that pessimism makes you a more interesting person. Even if it’s monotonous to always be fearing the worst, one has to consider that there are less positive adjectives in the English language than negative ones. There’s a lot more scope for amusing barbed comments, as anyone who’s ever had a bitching session with me can ascertain. Optimists just aren’t as funny as pessimists – they may laugh a lot, but they aren’t the ones making the put-downs. Ugly Betty’s eponymous protagonist isn’t as funny as Wilhelmina, Amanda or Marc, she’s just nice. But the majority of the show’s watchers would cite their favourite characters as one of the aforementioned. Self-depreciation is a career for many comedians, like Jo Brand. Honesty is arguably a better attribute than providing an optimistic smokescreen – people warm to ‘genuine’ people. I’m genuinely pessimistic because I’ve learnt it from my father; preparing yourself for the worst means you’re more likely to arrange things for the best. And that’s when pessimism is a good thing.
More to the point, if you steel yourself for disappointment, the worst that can happen is that you prove yourself right. If you do well, it comes as a genuine surprise; you’ve been so caught up in your gloom that you take hyperbole out of this world (see what I did there? Made hyperbole hyperbole? Never mind) and become genuinely convinced that failure is imminent; therefore, your success tastes far better if you’ve been bemoaning what a failure you are for two months. Take Tonbridge’s victory against Ashford (Middlesex) two seasons ago; two-nil down with seven minutes to go, until three goals snatched a very late win. It’s a fantastic feeling. Whereas if you’re optimistic and list your chosen university on your Facebook page before your fate is confirmed, karma will laugh and close the door to your first choice. Well, not really, but you get my drift; an over-confident optimist is as bad as the gloom and doom merchants. There’s nothing more humiliating than having to remove that university from your Schools & Universities information page and replace it with a lesser known one.
Last but not least, a poem from my GCSE English anthology comes to the fore. ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning tells of a duke whose wife is too generous with smiles, so he has her killed. See where optimism gets you? Dead. Thanks, Mr Browning, for that pearl of wisdom.