A Cheerful Pessimist

There a survey that says Danish are the happiest people.

A Danish once said the secret to happiness is low expectations.

I've always wondered how you can combine ideally low expectations, so you're not constantly disappointed, while having ambition: striving and doing great things. These two concepts feel like polar opposites that cannot cohabitate.

Alain de Botton tells us that having low expectations in some areas doesn't mean you lose ambition. You can have ambition and realism, you can be sober in some areas yet still be deeply excited to get out of bed in the morning. You can have these paradoxical positions on issues.

He explores the idea of a cheerful pessimist in a podcast with Tim Ferris.

if you're a little pessimistic about how a lot of things go, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be gloomy all the time. You may encounter moments of pure ecstasy as you realize that there are some very fine things in a world which is otherwise very dark.

I don't think. A backdrop of stark realism/pessimism about all sorts of things. That death and illness can visit us very suddenly without warning. That all our grandest plans can be undone by a blood clot in under a minute. That some of the finest ambitions fall prey to the meanest realities, et cetera. That many of us, perhaps all of us, are going to go to our deathbeds with some very important parts of us still unexplored.

I think it's because things are so dark, because we are operating against a backdrop of darkness. That a glass of beautiful lemon juice or a sincere conversation with a friend or a moment when, yes, things do go right and everything does go right. Why these things matter so much and perhaps much more intensely. It's like the joy of the convalescent who's come out of the hospital and they are seeing the sunlight strike the leaves of a daffodil.

And that daffodil seems more beautiful than it's ever done to the robust football player who hasn't ever paused to appreciate these things. So, as I say, I think it should be utterly compatible with ambition, appreciation, tenderness, et cetera. To keep the really grim things not far from the top of consciousness kind of pretty much every day.

What I took away from this is in all the things we do, we can strive for greatness, but we have to be prepared for the worst outcome. An essential tenet of the Stoics is to expect the worst possible outcome, and then remind ourselves that the worst is survivable.

This encourages to appreciate the little joys of life more deeply. By realizing that life is merciless and we are faced with illness, calamities, or mortality at any given moment, we focus on doing what we love, with the people we love.