Should we be idealistic or pessimistic?
If we are idealistic we hate pessimism (and vice versa)
It happens. We are feeling over the moon with joy – bubbly about life, hopeful about the future. Yet the person next to us is cynical. They sigh and shake their head and otherwise communicate that we are mad.
It irritates us. We want to shake them. Can’t they see the sun is shining? Can’t they see that however painful life is at the moment, it is life and it’s beautiful?
Or perhaps we are the one feeling down. All we can see are the troubles and trials that are crouching on the horizon, ready to billow into our lives. Our Loved One’s suffering is just too much, and there is no relief on hand. To our disbelief and possibly anger, the person beside us can’t seem to control their giggles. They (inadvertently) tease our sadness and spout enumerable things to be ‘thankful for’.
But it doesn’t help and internally we shake our fists. Can’t they go away and be happy elsewhere?
When someone’s emotional state is at odds with our own, we judge them. We grumble at their ‘shallowness’ or their ‘pessimism’.
Emotions are not easily swayed
I think this irritation is a result of fear.
We fear that the presence of the opposite mood will overwhelm our own state, and make it invalid. We fear optimism because we don’t want it to belittle our sadness. We fear pessimism because we don’t want our happiness snatched away.
Perhaps these are valid fears, but I don’t think they give enough credit to our emotions. Both optimism and pessimism are acceptable and appropriate in their time and place. And when they are valid, they are unshakable. They cannot be disregarded or laughed at, even by the presence of the opposing emotion.
You see, emotions are only to be feared when they are ungrounded. That is why we (rightly) fear or at the very least, express some caution in regards to, emotional extremes. Optimism that flutters here and there on every unfounded hope is to be feared. So is a pessimism that rocks wildly in the presence of each vague threat.
Emotions are not to be feared
As long as either emotion is grounded it is not to be feared. Some people believe Christians should be long-faced and woeful, echoers of death and coming judgement. Others think we ought to skip along, always with a happy smile and ‘Jesus loves you’ stickers. Such extremes are rare, and, if unfounded, are worthless. Yet when we look at the Bible we see that not only does it embrace both outlooks, but it grounds both of them.
Our pessimism is valid because the world is broken and failing. The Bible testifies to this. The world is a terrible, shocking place, filled with a crumbling creation and depraved, evil people. God does not dismiss our pain, and so we need not be afraid that we will discover it is invalid in the face of another’s optimism.
Optimism is also appropriate. Yes the world is broken, but it is being mended by a master Healer. Yes we weep now, but there is hope to come, and thus we can be hopeful now as well. Something inherently Beautiful is happening, and we are part of it.
Emotions can be groundless
Of course, at times our outlook does not match our beliefs. We may feel depressed for no specific reason, in spite of the hope that we have intellectually. Or we may feel incredibly optimistic – but more because our hormones have reached a particular level, than because our worldview has dramatically altered.
Some us are naturally more inclined to one attitude above the other. Some temperaments are more melancholy, others more happy-go-lucky. That is life, and that is why we need each other.
Even taking this into consideration, we may swing between moods hourly or be caught in the grip of a single one for months. It may all depend on what the weather is like or when we have last eaten.
In these situations our emotions are still ‘valid’ – in the sense that they are our real experiences at that point in time – but they do not truly reflect our inner reality.
This is hard.
Emotions need not be defended
Yet because of Christ we need not begrudge others their differing outlooks, or fear they will overwhelm our own. The reality and hope held forth in the Bible means that we can be gracious towards others and accept their mood even if we can’t participate in it.
It means both optimism and pessimism are valid and helpful – and we need not unduly fear either.
What is difficult is when our state of mind does not match our reality. When either emotion crops up for ‘no reason’. In these cases it is helpful to measure our emotions against those of others around us, and hold fast to the truth that we are not judged by our emotions nor do they determine the outcome of our situation. Even in this situation we need not defend our emotions. They exist and they are real for us, but they are not necessarily truth.
Our Truth exists outside of ourselves.
It lives in a Person.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
//Are you more inclined to optimism or pessimism? How do you tend to react when someone close by you holds the opposite outlook? How do you deal with the fact that at times your emotions do not match your reality?
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