What kind of harms does pessimism cause people?

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What kind of harms does pessimism cause people?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

There are some gloomy, pessimistic people who have got quite negative expectations about people, incidents and future. They often say, “I am very unlucky; things never go well with me; even in my happiest times, I experience something very sad shortly after. I have always been betrayed by people whom I trusted; nobody ever got to understand me; everybody has tried to use me. Whatever I try, I ruin it.” Everyone must have met at least one person like this in their lives.

So, what is wrong with such people? Is there really a black cloud following them secretly? Why do they always fail or lose? Why cannot they find what they are looking for in anyone and why do they always complain? And how can we help them?

I have had many patients who came to me with such complaints and most of them had depression. These people, whom I took pity on at first, had something that disturbed me. I thought that they themselves also played a role in their own misery, but how? I failed to describe it. The idea flashed in my mind while I was reading a research paper on alcoholism. You know, it is the cliché motto of alcoholics: “I drink because of a reason.”

A research was carried out to test the validity of this motto. Sad incidents experienced in the last six months by people who began to drink again because of stress they received although they had quit drinking alcohol were investigated and were compared to the similar incidents experienced by the control group which did not have alcoholism problem.

The result is very interesting: There is almost no difference. That is to say, problems of those who say “my problems make me a drinker” are not much tougher than non-drinkers. So, what does it mean? It means that the problems do not stem from what these people experience, but from the way of seeing their experiences.

After that, I began to evaluate my patients from this point of view. It was really so. Those people saw incidents which could be experienced by anyone in the worst way possible and tortured themselves indeed.

Even when they experienced something very nice, they saw the darkest side possible or delayed their happiness saying, “let us wait and see, sure something wrong will turn up soon.” And they always complained: “I have never had a nice day; I have always been knocked for six.”

And then I remembered a description of the sign Sagittarius (as I was also interested in astrology): “A typical Sagittarius person is both optimistic and lucky.” And I also remembered a description of Capricorn: “They are pessimistic and not so lucky. They succeed only after lots of troubles and efforts.” Let us put astrology aside, could there be a relationship between pessimism and unluckiness and between optimism and luckiness?

I conducted an imaginary experiment. I chose two people: Mr. Optimistic and Mr. Pessimistic. They applied for a job position in a company. Mr. Optimistic was joyful: “This job is just for me. They will certainly employ me. This is the opportunity I have been waiting for. I will just outstand and be promoted soon.” However, Mr. Pessimistic was in a different mood: “No, they will not employ me. Why would they choose me? Even if they employed me, I am sure something wrong would turn up. They would not like me and I would be restless.”

The result was so obvious from the beginning that my imaginary experiment lasted very short. Mr. Optimist would be employed and be promoted soon. And, on the other hand, even if Mr. Pessimist was employed, he would say “I knew it” because of the first problem he encounters and would resign. He would always experience problems in his professional and social life and would complain about his “bad luck”: “Everything turns up wrong for me”.

Yes, this was the point. It must also have been the reason for most people’s depression: Seeing things in a wrong way, as if from behind “black glasses”, always expecting negative things to happen and demoralizing himself and thus inviting negative things to happen, in a sense. Then I discovered that this point of view had already been formulated as “Cognitive Theory of Depression” and was already adopted. Cognitive therapy was already the “trendiest” and effective method of psychotherapy.

One’s negative ideas of himself, his neighborhood and future, groundless generalizations, negative expectations and automated thoughts had to be realized and changed under control.

Actually, we have been reading this formulation in the interpretations of the Quran without much emphasis on it for years. As in the comparison of two brothers who walked into a garden stated in the “Eighth Word”, “A person who thinks positively, sees positively and he who sees positively enjoys his life. He who thinks negatively sees negative images and misses the joy of life.”

Eventually, I found the truth, after a long time though. And, I had to show it to my patients, too.

“Look, Mr. Mahmut, problems you have experienced are not so different from those which anyone experiences indeed. However, you see only the dark side and never look on the bright side of things. You make generalizations out of negative details and say “everything is wrong.” Moreover, as a result, you either overlook or miss good things.”

“For instance, remember what you experienced in our previous conversation. What did you tell me? You, as five friends, were chatting nicely. Then one of your friends said something to you, which suggested a sort of mockery to you and you were very offended. Then you became introvert and kept saying, “nobody loves me” to yourself, which let you down even more. However, during chatting, those people treated you nicely for a long time and even complimented you. However,  you, because of just one word, forgot all good words and tortured yourself. You remember, don’t you?”

Yes, this world is not Heaven; but it is not Hell, either. Yes, humans are not angels, but they are not demons, either. Actually, not everything is necessarily either white or black. Remember, there are shades of gray, too. I do not mean that everything is beautiful.

Of course, there will be ugly and sad things as well since this world is not Heaven. Nevertheless, we should look on the bright sides so that we can keep our spirit high and find more beauties. And we, as human beings and not angels, are supposed to make mistakes and commit faults for sure. However, even the most sinful people have certainly got lots of virtues and talents. We should try to see them, too (both in ourselves and in others).

Make some effort; I recommend a kind of fight with your mind and soul.

You should think not how it comes up in your mind, but how it is supposed to be. You should take control of negative thoughts that come up in your mind automatically. You should question yourself to determine whether proofs support your depression or you reach wrong conclusions by sticking to a small part of the whole and making generalizations out of it.

If you like (as you are a religious person), you can put it into practice like this: How would our Prophet (pbuh) think if he were in this situation?

Would he demoralize himself with negative thoughts or would he be grateful by looking on the bright sides of things?

As a hint, I would like to remind you a hadith: One day while the Prophet (pbuh) was walking around Madina with his Companions, they came across a corpse of a deceased dog. The companions said: “How bad it has gone, it smells really awful…” Yet the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Look at its teeth, how beautiful they are!”

I would say in conclusion: In order to avoid depression, we should arrange not only our behaviors but also our thoughts in accordance with the sunnah. Then we can see the beauties in life and lead a joyful life.

In short, “khuz ma safa, da’ ma kadar.” (Take what is cheerful and leave what is sorrowful.)

Yusuf Karaçay, Zafer Magazine

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