One study in 2008 was able to capture this: When given a word puzzle to solve, the participants who exercised defensive pessimism did better while under a “threat motivational state”: when they were made to imagine what could go wrong, or the consequences of doing poorly. And on the flip side, their performance actually worsened when the researchers prompted them to think more positively.
But if you just sit there and lament all the seeds to be sown that’ll inevitably get eaten by birds, or blown away, or otherwise never grow, you reap no rewards — simply complaining without acting isn’t an effective strategy. Make your pessimistic powers work for you: Expect the worst, then work to prevent or prepare for it.
However, we must remember that our mind-sets come as varied as we do, and rarely, if ever, are we entirely at either end of the positivity spectrum. But, if you do tend toward the negative, cheer up — or rather, don’t, because seeing the worst in everything could be better for you.
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Doyne, Shannon. “Do People Complain Too Much?” The New York Times, 6 May 2013.
Khazan, Olga. “The Upside of Pessimism.” The Atlantic, 22 Feb. 2018.
Lang, F. R., Weiss, D., Gerstorf, D. and Wagner, G. G. “Forecasting Life Satisfaction Across Adulthood: Benefits of Seeing a Dark Future?” American Psychological Association, 2013.
“Optimism and Your Health.” Harvard Health Publishing, 1 May 2008.
Scott, Elizabeth. “What Is Pessimism?” Verywell Mind, 11 Oct. 2020.
Seerya, Mark D., Tessa V. West, Max Weisbuch and Jim Blascovich. “The Effects of Negative Reflection for Defensive Pessimists: Dissipation or Harnessing of Threat?” ScienceDirect, Oct. 2008.
Selva, Joaquín. “The Upside of Defensive Pessimism: The Potential Benefit of Anxiety.” PositivePsychology.com, 14 Jan. 2021.
Sirois, Fuschia. “The Surprising Benefits of Being a Pessimist.” The Conversation, 23 Feb. 2018.
“We Need More Maestras on the Podium”
By Abigail Soriano Cherith, age 17, North Hollywood High School, Los Angeles
In the midst of a quiet concert hall, all eyes shift to one musician. This musician has the power to breathe life into the notes on the page, and with a quick flick of the wrist, has the power to snuff it out. One who has so much control over the orchestra and choir is usually called the “maestro.” It so happens that this “maestro” is a woman, and this woman is my mother.
Because my mother is a conductor, growing up, watching a woman conduct was very normal for me. I cannot say the same for others though, and that is no surprise; there are significantly fewer female conductors than male conductors. According to the League of American Orchestras, of the 103 ensembles with the highest budgets, only 12 have female conductors.