Human Behaviour: The doctrine of Optimism

Realists and Pessimists do not hesitate to proclaim a superiority in reasoning over Optimists whenever they get the chance. Last week, dur...

Optimism is more than a positive mental attitude.

Realists and Pessimists do not hesitate to proclaim a superiority in reasoning over Optimists whenever they get the chance.

Last week, during my lonely journey through the aisles of social media, I caught a mockery of optimism and optimistic people. As an optimistic person, it is something I tend to come across pretty regularly off and online.

Realists and Pessimists do not hesitate to proclaim a superiority in reasoning over Optimists whenever they get the chance. This recent clash of beliefs has inspired an examination of all three beliefs and the validity of their philosophy.


Before diving in, let’s remind ourselves of the definitions of all three; Optimism, Realism and Pessimism. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Optimism is defined as ‘an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome’; Realism is defined as ‘concern for fact or reality and rejection of the impractical and visionary’; Pessimism finds its meaning as ‘an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome’.

Optimism is a doctrine of hope, grounded in the imagination of a better future. Realism finds itself as the doctrine of balanced thought, but static and unprogressive. Pessimism is a doctrine of negativity, a belief grounded in highlighting negativity and living to expect or avoid it.

Life's Experiences.

Our lives are defined by our experiences. Our beliefs tend to gravitate towards the theme of various events in our lives. Majority of people who are more familiar with positive experiences tend to hold optimism for future endeavours, with people who have more negative experiences opting for a more reserved or pessimistic outlook of the future.

We all, however, are joined by one common experience, the evolution of humanity which is itself the testament to the power of Optimism.

The thread of the human journey from the Stone Age to the technological age is drenched in the sweat of optimists who envisioned a better future than they lived and sought to make it a reality. Optimism drives the world forward, with each step creating a reality better than the last.

A look through this reveals human challenges over the years and unfolds a great number of things we’ve overcome over the course of our existence in this big blue ball of gas. From death at the hands of common flu to high mortality rate and global poverty, through the actions of optimists, we have survived and for a majority of the global population, thrived.


Benefits of Optimism.

You only need to look through the evidence of all three beliefs to see which has been beneficial to the human race. While optimism has elevated us from the darkness of the Stone Age to the efficient and safer life of the tech era, overwhelming pessimism and realism has delivered little. Despite the unending onslaught of pessimistic actions, even impoverished third world countries can still speak of instances and areas in which optimism has lessened the depth of their suffering.

The differences between Optimism, Realism and Pessimism can be seen through the popular metaphor of a half-filled glass. While an optimist would see it as a half-full glass that could still quench thirst for a while, the pessimist would see it as half-empty that would be insufficient and worsen the thirst. A realist simply acknowledges the glass is half-filled. While an optimist chooses to believe in a positive outcome and carries out actions in service of it, the pessimist sees nothing more than an undesirable result and like the optimist, acts in service of it. A realist does nothing with the information he has observed. I call these people, ‘Legion of the Obvious’.

False Optimists.

Nevertheless, if Optimism is a religion, it isn’t without its own sect of false followers. Those whose beliefs are not grounded in total consideration of reality and the necessary actions to back it up. Those whose optimism fail to contemplate the evil that surrounds their beliefs. Helen Keller called these people ‘False Optimists’.

While we have people whose practice combines both sides of the coin, the abundance of False Optimists falls either on the side of whose beliefs are ignorant of reality, ‘Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house built on sand’. Their belief isn’t in spite of the evil and darkness that surrounds them but in an imaginary world where those beliefs do not exist. Optimism isn’t a denial of the negatives but a desire to move forward in spite of it through calculated actions.

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The other side of the false optimism coin are those who understand the reality they face; they have appropriate solutions but they fail to act in service of that belief. Their mouth professes one thing, but their hands and legs does another.

It is perhaps in the profusion of these set of people that pessimists and realists find superiority in purpose and philosophy.


Among those who consider themselves too wise to be optimists exists what I call ‘Passive Optimism’. The understanding of optimism as a doctrine of hope translates that those who make the decision to keep chugging along in continued existence possess a minute belief that tomorrow might be better. Those who no longer possess this miniscule ray of hope find themselves in obituary pages for suicide.

Realism and Pessimism, while they might help accept one’s circumstance, do nothing to improve it. It is a gross disservice to oneself to choose to live by a belief that holds you from the best that human existence can offer.

Perhaps it’s the familiarity that stagnation brings or the fear of failure, pessimism or realism only seeks to prove itself right. Offering no help in ensuring progress, its only contribution is in ensuring a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. From relationships to business endeavours, the pessimist almost subconsciously delivers a set of actions that ensures the fulfillment of its own beliefs. One of the Holy books says ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’.

Contextualizing this nationally, the consequence of pessimism in the life of a nation is the same as in the life of an individual. While true optimists desire progress and actively work towards it, pessimists keep things at a standstill. Nigeria as a country is  by pessimists who, along with false optimists, have created a culture of negativity in the country. The propagation of a mindset that doesn’t see a better future for the country and an optimism that isn’t backed up with action continues to give life to a prophecy of stagnation.

Optimistic Nation.

Having been given a head start by winning the geographical lottery, our responsibility as custodians of this lottery ticket is that of people who desire and pursue progress, not just by word of mouth but in our actions. In a country of an estimated 180 million people, those who believe in the country and show it are too small comparatively to those who do not.

While optimism starts from the heart of the individual, its national effect exists when it also resides in the heart of the collective. An optimism born not of an ignorance of the evil and darkness that resides in our country, but in the belief of the prevalence of good and a willing effort to always cooperate with the good.

Our reality as a country is a result of the lack of faith in our progress and a complete surrender to the darkened halls of negativity. A mindset that seeks to jump ship to countries where a collective optimism has birthed a more developed and advanced way of life is rather selfish and shortsighted. 180 million people cannot find themselves part of a more established society of optimists.


While realism and pessimism try to establish themselves as the voice of honesty and reason, it is important to remember they are not the voice of progress and of what benefit is a human existence that experiences no progress?

Pessimists and realists would be rather wise to hand over the driving seat to the optimists and use their propensity for highlighting negatives as a means to keep Icarus from flying into the sun.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Without a concrete belief in a positive outcome, without the hope of a better reality… nothing can be done.

Written by Sam Adelowokan.

Sam Adelowokan, Humanist. Big believer in common sense. Arsenal lover.



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Human Behaviour: The doctrine of Optimism
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