From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Downside to Being An Optimist

So I'm an optimist. Clearly. I believe that its better to be happy than not, and that when one is not happy, efforts should be made to change that. Not everybody believes that way. So there's a few things about being an optimist that I have to explain. That I want to get off my chest.

It makes us, or at least me, feel awful when someone assumes that we don't understand sadness or depression. We do. In fact, you'd be surprised. Yes, we're generally happy. When you come to us wallowing, our automatic reaction is to try and buoy you up, help you see the positives. That does not mean we don't understand the suck. That doesn't mean that we don't have times, long periods of it, when our utmost belief in and efforts at happiness don't work. Its terrifying. Sometimes the optimism of even genuine optimists is a facade, turned on as a reaction against the pessimism and depression of the people around them. Both to try and help them, because optimism is auto-mode, and also because they have to defend optimism with their whole soul, especially in times when its hard to believe in it, or they will crumble.

When optimists fall, they fall hard. In my experience, this is something pessimists don't quite get. Being an optimist can be painful. In general, we're happy and doing our thing, but that makes sad and depressed and overwhelmed that much harder to take. Both inside and outside of us. And because we're generally happy, we're not quite sure how to talk about the bad when it happens. We don't want to freak anyone out. Not to be harsh, but wallowers become used to being in a hard place, and used to talking about it and handling it. But when it happens to an optimist, it happens extra bad, and we're alone with it too. To sound totally cheesy and angsty, there have been many times when the closest people in my life have no clue how bad I'm hurting and panicking on the inside, because I'm the "happy one" and I don't know how to not be. Not anyone's fault, just how things are. And I know I'm not the only one.

Being optimistic doesn't mean being naive about or ignoring the ugliness and crap in the world. That's being naive and ignorant. Optimists take the crap and decide to be happy anyway. As much bad as there is, I believe there is also much good, much beauty, and much to be grateful for. I believe pessimism doesn't do anybody any good. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't make assumptions about someone because they're not on Prozac or in therapy. In a sense, they're the ones doing it on their own.

As a side note, I'm doing fine. I'm stressed (who isn't?), but actually doing pretty good. This is just something that's been on my mind for a long time, based on past experience and conversations.

I also hope I haven't offended anybody. I'm not trying to make a statement about depression or clinical drugs or anything like that, I'm trying to make a statement about the assumptions and stereotypes of happy people that frustrate me. I don't think any two people can truly, completely understand each other; for now I think we've got to leave that to deity. Everyone is a unique individual, and I'm talking in generalities here. I'm sure there are points I've missed, things I don't understand. But all this is what I do understand, or at least the way I see things.

I'm interested to hear what you think.

Sarah Allen

8 comments:

  1. Interesting. I hadn't looked at things in that way. I'm a 'fake it til you make it' girl. I get down a lot, but I don't let many people see it. Not quite sure what that makes me.

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  2. I have a little sign above my desk that says:

    The pessimist may be proved right in the long run, but the optimist has a better time on the trip.

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  3. Years ago, I was 'diagnosed' with depression...I knew there was something more than just bad moods, mood swings, feeling down, but pills didn't help, even when the doctor doubled the dose. I was so desperate for a remedy because I hated being that girl, the one who was always unhappy, and making people around me miserable because I was so miserable. I hate taking pills for anything, even headaches, so that shows you how desperate I was. I fought and clawed my way out of that dark hole, and it wasn't easy...it's still not easy at times...but I think you get from life what you put into it. If you're happy, or at least try to be, there'll be - or you'll FIND - reasons to be happy. There's a lot of bad in this world, but people dwell way too much on it, and it's when we dwell on it that things get worse. I really believe that if you put positivity out there, it'll come back to you. It's just as easy to look for the good as it is for the bad, so why not just look for the good...pretty soon, it becomes natural.

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  4. Oh Sarah. Sarah! I know this. I mean, really KNOW this... It's tougher than people think to be 'the happy one'. And it can be very hard for me to express sadness and pain because of it. Thanks for sharing this. I understand it well.

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  5. What a GREAT post Sarah. I am almost 50 years old and been an optimist most all my life. I agree with everything you wrote, including that some people take optimism as a sign of not understanding or acknowledging things can really get ugly at times. I chose to accept and work through the ugliness knowing in my heart that there is always something good that can be found in the hardest times. And yes optimists do fall hard, something others cannot understand. This post gave great insight into the optimist's true nature, thank you!

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  6. This is so very true. One time my ex was asking me how I felt about something bad that had happened, and I said, "I'm fine, I'm happy." He then said something to the effect of, "You always seem happy. Tell me the truth." And to be honest, I really was okay about that particular thing. But sometimes I'm not, and I don't know how to say it. I'm horrible about talking about things like that.
    So I totally get you. :)

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  7. I've known outgoing happy people who actually were quite depressed and hiding it. Not so much "hiding" it as dealing with it. Some great comedians were like this. Optimism is good but not easy. Pessimism is bad but easy. I always try to cheer up people who look a bit off. If I can make someone laugh I feel I've done good. Or maybe I'm hiding....

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  8. I would say that I am an optimist and it can be exhausting!!! Especially with just myself! Because if I am in a bad mood, I almost get pissed off at myself for wanting to improve my mood. Ha ha, sounds crazy right?

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