>Is optimism overrated?

>Barbara Ehreneich recently wrote a book called ‘Bright-Sided’ In it she argued that optimism is infectious, and that it contributed to the current economic recession. She argues that shortly before the crash, in the US in particular, people were starting to hold optimism above the facts i.e. ‘if I believe in it enough it will happen’. She even cites a story in a podcast about someone who is fired because they seemed too pessimistic, asking too many questions about what problems the housing market could bring.

She argues that this one-sided attitude (that optimism is always good and pessimism always bad) has entered general culture. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. But when she started displaying pessimism it seems many people thought her response abnormal. People wrote to her saying that she should treat her condition as a positive opportunity to reflect upon her life, embrace spiritualism and generally become happier.

I have to say I’ve noted similar things myself. In fact I took a job as a Sales Manager at the start of the recession. It was a small company and I knew very little about sales. It turned out neither did they. At a senior meeting I was told that despite the then current market trends, they still expected the business to grow on a certain path (I can’t remember by how much). I asked what they based this on and where they expected the sales to come from i.e. what were their biggest market areas in the past. Amazingly, they didn’t really know. I was promised some data but I never got it. So how did they come to their conclusion? Sheer optimism is my guess.

Do you think there was too much optimism prior to the crash? Maybe you think there still is?


  • >No without optimism there would be no progress. There needs to be an optimistic approach to everything, there is not point setting out to do something expecting to fail. Otherwise there is no point trying. That said there also needs to be a safeguard in case something goes wrong. (safety harness for rock climbers)

  • >I think that was her point, that there should be a safety net. I didn't read the book, just listened to a podcast, but it sounded like she is probably just making an exagerated case to argue that there is a new sense of 'cultural optimism' that is or did blind people to the facts and therefore remove the safety harness. I think someone with a bit of pessimism can be an asset to a team as long as the general mood is optimistic. it's like human psychology. We are happy on average 60% of the time, yet this leaves 40% to experience negative emotions. Why? Because we need negative emotions to motivate us to get things done, and frighten us away from dangerous risks. Pessimism is surely similar. We need to be optimistic most of the time but still maintain a balanced perspective so that we don't blunder into things without thinking about the consequences.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s