Saturday, December 12, 2015

When Negative is Positive

Being realistic about life isn't being negative, but in fact is a positive assertion of life itself.

A reader writes that many of their friends think that their reality-based perception of the world is "unduly negative" and that they should "lighten up" about things.   It is an interesting comment at a number of levels.

I have noted time and time again that reality is value-neutral.   The better you can perceive reality the better off you will be, financially, emotionally, or whatever.   The more you live in a fantasy world, the poorer you will be and the more miserable you will be - as your fantasy world collides with mean, old, reality, time and time again.

And one way to perceive reality as it is, is to use mathematics.   "Do the math" I say time and time again, whether it is buying a house, a car, or getting a college education.   Yet few people do.   Kids go to the college that sounds like the most fun, and major in something that sounds easy, rather than think about how to pay back those student loans or whether the college is worth what they are charging for tuition.   People lease or buy cars for emotional reasons, rather than practical ones.  Folks buy expensive homes to show off, not to save on rent.   A column of numbers - honestly figured - cannot lie to you.

Oddly enough, a lot of people like to sell the opposite idea - often literally selling it in self-help books, religions, motivational programs, or whatever.   They tell people that if they just think positive thoughts they will be happy and more successful.   And while there is a nugget of truth in this (being unduly negative and looking for the cloud in the silver lining all the time will make you depressed) it tends to over-simplify things.

For example, here on our little island (which is a microcosm of society and like a petri dish of social experimentation) there are a number of older people who are very negative all the time about almost everything.   The President is a Negro!   Obamacare will bankrupt the government!  The island administration didn't ask them before changing [fill in the blank].  And so on and so forth.

This negativism isn't based on a reality-based perception of the world but rather a negative fantasy version of it.   To these folks, everything is awful because nothing is done the way they would have done it.   Or just because it is sort of fun to sit around and bitch about things all day long.

A more rational and realistic view of the world, of course, is that very little of what goes on is the way you'd like it to be.  For example, I think my picture should be on the $100 bill, and than lots of them should be sent my way.  For some reason, this always fails to pan out.   

On the other hand, there are a lot of things in the world that, while not exactly the way I'd like them to be, are, on the whole, pretty decent, particularly when you are living in the wealthiest country in the world.

We should appreciate how lucky we are.

Why is this?  Well, one aspect of reality is that a lot of awful things are going to happen to you  or could happen to you in your lifetime.

For example, no matter how you try to avoid it, you are going to die, and it won't be pretty or neat.   Your parents are going to die, and so is your spouse.  And likely if you have a pet, they will die, and you will have to have them put down, which is a heart-wrenching experience.  These are things that are going to happen to you no matter what.

On another happy note, it is likely you will be in one or more car wrecks in your lifetime.   You or a loved one will get sick, possibly with a terminal illness.   Your house may catch fire.   You could be caught in a dangerous storm.   You could lose your life's savings, get fired from your job, lose your house, etc.  And for the most part, you can't control these things, and no, it often isn't "fair" how bad luck is apportioned around.

Life has enough negative consequences as it is - why go looking for more of them?

And yet we see this in daily living.   Many young people today love to dwell on the negative - they can't pay back their student loans, housing costs take up most of their paycheck, that sort of thing.   The same things that annoyed me when I was that age - when we all were.

Or right-wing nuts are convinced the country is going to pot, often literally.   They claim the system is "broken" and needs to be replaced.   Trump for F├╝hrer!

The reality is, of course, that things are not nearly that bad.   Unemployment is hovering around 5% where it should be.  Interest rates are at historical lows, as is inflation.   This is nothing like the triple-whammy we had back in 1980, with mortgage rates at 14%, and inflation and unemployment at 10%.   We survived that, as well as gasoline rationing, and thrived.   Did I mention gas is under $2 a gallon today?   Funny how the news doesn't report low gas prices, but reports high ones.

Having a realistic view of the world - a firm grip on reality - isn't negative but positive.   By accepting that life contains a whole lot of negative shit, you can appreciate the positive aspects of life - and live in reality.

The fantasy-world people, on the other hand, do the opposite.   Most Americans deny death exists and pretend it will never happen to them.   When bad things do happen to them, they cry "Oh, God, why me?" instead of "Gee, the law of probability has finally caught up with me!"

And the fantasy-world people are the first to believe in nonsense which causes them no end of grief.  Hey, why be negative about leasing a new car?   It's fun!  You get to have this nice car, for a couple of years.   When the bill comes due, down the road, well, too bad for that dude.   He'll stew in his own juices about what a rotten deal they got out of life and how "someone took their money away" (that someone being a younger version of themselves).

And hey, why bother confronting reality when you can drown out the awful silence with some religious dogma or a new MLM scheme (the same thing, really) or by believing in conspiracy theories or whatnot?

Deny reality!  Don't let mean old reality into your life!   Live in a fantasy world!  It's so much more fun and insulated and numbing.

The problem is, of course, that reality eventually crashes the party.   It will butt its way into your life no matter how long you try to deny it.   And the consequences are worse, the longer you deny it.   If you put off paying the piper for 5, 10, or 20 years, when the bill comes due, there will be a lot of interest to pay.

And that is reality, plain and simple.

Embrace life as it is - the good and the bad.   When you realize how much bad there is, you will really appreciate the good, and stop looking for more bad to whine about.

And the better you can accurately perceive reality, the better off you will be, financially, physically, and emotionally.  And the more you will appreciate how good things really are for you.