I have pretty low expectations for this article. Oh sure, I spent a lot of time on it, and I personally think it’s a great read. But I’m kind of worried that you will hate it. Worse yet, I’m afraid you’ll hate me for writing it. You might take to Twitter and call me a featherbrained, elitist millennial. And then I’ll cry into my kombucha-flavored macaron. Or even worse, you might not read it at all. You might click away and go visit some lesser site, leaving me and my feathered brain to shout into the Internet abyss.
Or at least, that’s how I would start out thinking if I were prone to defensive pessimism, a phenomenon in which people imagine worst-case scenarios in order to manage their anxiety. But what defensive pessimists do next is key: They come up with strategies to avoid having all of those bad things happen, thus ending up better-prepared and less anxious in the long-run. In my case, that might mean topping this article with a clever title or even pre-writing some 140-character barbs to rout the haters.
This type of negativity might sound like apostasy by American standards. Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 classic, The Power of Positive Thinking, sold 5 million copies and was a New York Times bestseller for 186 weeks. One of the most common things to say when someone expresses worry is, “Just think positive!” Optimism does have its health benefits, but according to Julie Norem, a psychology professor at Wellesley College, trying to force positivity is a bad strategy for the truly anxious.