Oh, thank God January’s over. It’s a shame it leads into February, obviously, which is by far the bleakest month and frankly doesn’t get enough bad press for my liking, but at least I can now abandon my New Year’s resolution in good conscience.

I said I wouldn’t make any this year. Arguably, I didn’t, if we take such resolutions to mean efforts towards self-improvement. Mine was more a desperate attempt to keep my head above a rising tide of despair.

I committed myself to trying to be more optimistic. To try to break the habit of catastrophising. To try and see the good in people, situations, life instead of always zooming in – so very quickly! So very accurately! – on the bad.

At first, it felt quite good. Certainly novel. Rusty, unused parts of my brain clanked into gear, a bit like when you have to try and help with your child’s maths homework. A week or two in, I read Hannah Ritchie’s Not the End of the World, a book about how the planet is still salvageable and which digs beneath the headline horrors to separate fact from emotion, effective from popular measures and so on, and that spurred me on for another few days.

Waking up with pains in my neck and shoulders every morning and having to try out various pillow combinations to try and combat it? What a privilege it is to age! And how lucky I am to have all these pillows and ibuprofen available to me! £20 has fallen out of my pocket at some point in my travels today?

It will probably end up in the hands of someone who needs it more than I do – a little inadvertent wealth redistribution, the universe righting itself, who can complain? A welter of headlines about the various ways in which women’s rights are being rolled back around the globe? Let us hope this is the last, flailing convulsions of the patriarchy before it finally falls into ruins!

You will see by now the problem, I’m sure. The problem is that optimism makes no sense. Not at the micro-level, nor the macro. You start by trying to see the best in someone who has cut in front of you in a queue or elbowed you out of the way to nab the last seat on the train (I am 5ft 2ins, with no presence or charisma whatsoever – this happens to me a lot) and before you know it you are imagining the imminent collapse of hierarchical social systems that have endured since the dawn of time and are in fact only busy buffing out recent scratches inflicted by the oppressed masses and putting on a new extra-thick coat of varnish so that it doesn’t happen again.

Or you are Jeremy Renner, who recently gave an interview insisting that the snowplough accident that hospitalised him with 30 broken bones, a pierced liver and collapsed lung has left him feeling “blessed … wonderfully sensitive and youthful” with “a lot of callousness squashed out” of him. Which is lovely but possibly also a sign of someone still working through some trauma.

No. I had thought, vaguely, of optimism as a moral good. Something that kept you engaged with the world, a spur to ambition, a way and a means of making it better. And of pessimism, my natural inclination, as a drag on happiness and on progress. A bit like thinking of early birds as virtuous and night owls (hi, again!) as lazy wrong ‘uns.

But now I know that this is all wrong. Optimism in this day and age at least, which is unfortunately the only one we have, is delusion. Pessimism is realism. Or, put more brutally, one has you living a lie, one the truth. Which do we normally say is better?

The truth is that people are rarely evil but they are inconsistent, weak, selfish and often let you down. It is better to know this and have your defences prepared, your independence from others in important matters assured, and your expectations calibrated appropriately.

The truth is that the global community is not in one of its occasional periods of peace and/or affluence. It is a mess and in parts a dangerous mess. We all need to nut up, face facts and decide what we can do about it. Even if we still believe the long arc of the universe bends ultimately towards justice, wouldn’t it still be nice to shorten it? Make that bend, you know, a bit more pronounced.

Optimists (or the pathologically blinkered, or liars – no offence!), ever hoping for the best and/or unicorn dust to solve things, aren’t going to do that. It’s a job for a grim-faced army of pessimists, prepared to stare a crappy and rapidly deteriorating situation right in the eye, assimilate all the unpleasant facts and know that this won’t do.

Optimists, your time is up. It’s time to join the real world and get to work.

QOSHE - I tried to be optimistic for a month - it made me more delusional than ever - Lucy Mangan
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I tried to be optimistic for a month - it made me more delusional than ever

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05.02.2024

Oh, thank God January’s over. It’s a shame it leads into February, obviously, which is by far the bleakest month and frankly doesn’t get enough bad press for my liking, but at least I can now abandon my New Year’s resolution in good conscience.

I said I wouldn’t make any this year. Arguably, I didn’t, if we take such resolutions to mean efforts towards self-improvement. Mine was more a desperate attempt to keep my head above a rising tide of despair.

I committed myself to trying to be more optimistic. To try to break the habit of catastrophising. To try and see the good in people, situations, life instead of always zooming in – so very quickly! So very accurately! – on the bad.

At first, it felt quite good. Certainly novel. Rusty, unused parts of my brain clanked into gear, a bit like when you have to try and help with your child’s maths homework. A week or two in, I read Hannah Ritchie’s Not the End of the World, a book about how the planet is still salvageable and which digs beneath the headline horrors to separate fact from emotion, effective from popular measures and so on, and that........

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