GOOD news! According to Britain’s Telegraph online, pessimists “finally have something to rejoice about.”
I doubt there will be any celebration -- the idea that pessimists who fear the future live longer than their cheerier companions is hardly going to boost our moods.
The Telegraph’s source is a 10-year-long American Psychological Association study of 40,000 adults, which revealed that those who didn’t anticipate a “satisfying future” were most likely to get a pretty good one. Meanwhile, their chirpy counterparts were more likely to pop off or become disabled within a decade.
What a depressing prospect from a Darwinian point of view. So we grumblers can only look forward to a population teeming with naysayers like us? Great. I suppose we’ll all go around quoting Quentin Crisp, who once said “To what do I attribute my longevity? Bad luck.”
And why do we crybabies outlive our positive-minded chums? “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions,” the lead author of the study postulated. Or maybe bile is a preservative – did you ever think of that, Perfesser?
Another study released by South Wales’s Glamorgan University in 2010, and seized on by the Telegraph, revealed that humans start getting crabbier at the age of 52, which for me was two years ago.
“By the time we reach 50, Brits are laughing just three times a day,” the newspaper reported in tragic tones, “while the average 60-year-old manages a hearty guffaw just 2.5 times in the same period.”
It’s those half-guffaws that worry me.
We’re too busy complaining to laugh, I suppose -- and probably for good reason. Yet nobody wants to admit that listening to others moan can be highly entertaining. Where would we be without the perpetual discontentment of Woody Allen, who once claimed “I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers”?
Allen has also remarked that “Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” That’s two complaints for the price of one, and, to my mind, perfectly delightful.
My Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations would be just 20 pages long, not 500-plus, if it avoided negative remarks. Stand-up comedians and political cartoonists would have nothing to say.
And yet people still roll their eyes when they hear someone whine. Maybe that’s because they feel that if they listen to somebody else’s troubles, they’ll be expected to cure them. In reality, all the faultfinder often wants is 10 seconds of sympathy. Is that so much to ask?
The other day a Facebook friend posted an article she’d come across about how depression and freelancing go hand in hand. The headline of the article was not “Freelancing: Is there anything worse?”
The story simply pointed out that working from home, which obviously has its pluses, also has its down sides, including social isolation, lack of control over one’s schedule, and, often, a feast or famine state of affairs when it comes to assignments. If the article’s writer, as P.G. Wodehouse put it, “was not actually disgruntled, (she) was far from being gruntled.”
Naturally, however, some thunderous twit saw fit to be outraged about this thesis and felt compelled to bring up Africa. “Go for a walk. Harden the f--- up,” growled the deeply compassionate “B34NS” in the comments that followed the story. “Think kids diving for diamonds in Sierra Leone get depressed, tired, worried about sustaining? How hard is the life of a 1st world freelancer. I personally enjoy the flux.”
Well, goody for you, B34NS, said I, and, probably, many other freelancers. As long as you’re happy, and somebody in the most dire straits on earth is not, we’ll all agree that there’s no middle ground.
Maybe B34NS should make the acquaintance of the comedian Phil Haney, who wrote an article published on Neatorama.com called Things Could Always Get Worse. Haney points out the obvious fact that people constantly gripe about how bad they’ve got it, forgetting that other human beings have real problems. Then he lists and describes a bunch of individuals whose situations are clearly worse than anything you or I could imagine. They include the Iranian fellow who sought refugee status at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and, after somebody stole the briefcase containing his papers, had to remain there for 18 years. Things actually did get even worse for him -- apparently he wound up in a shelter.
Haney suggests that the next time we’re tempted to kvetch about, say, having a flight cancelled, we ought to think about that brave soul. Well – I certainly feel better. Don’t you?
Of course, for everybody, life has its highs and lows, and counting our blessings is always worthwhile.
On the other hand, as classical scholar and poet A.E. Housman once wrote, “I still go up my 44 stairs two at a time, but that is in hopes of dropping dead at the top.”
With that attitude, he lived to be almost 80.