Literally hundreds of studies show that pessimists give up more easily and get
depressed more often. On the other hand, it has been learned that pessimists see reality
more accurate than optimists. So, why evolution has allowed pessimism and depression
to survive and prosper? Why didn’t pessimism which is the base of depression and
suicide die out epochs ago? What counterweighting function does pessimism serve for
the human species? ――more to comer both in English and in Japanese.
We are animals of the Pleistocene, the epoch of the ice ages. Our emotional makeup
has most recently been shaped by one hundred thousand years of climatic catastrophe:
waves of cold and heat; drought and flood; plenty and sudden famine. Those of our
ancestors who survived the Pleistocene may have done so because they had the
capacity to worry incessantly about the future, to see sunny days as mere prelude to
a harsh winter, to brood. We have inherited these ancestor’s brains and therefore their
capacity to see the cloud than the silver lining.
Sometimes and in some niches in modern life, this deep-seated pessimism works. Think
about a successful large business. It has a diverse set of personalities serving different
roles. First, there are the optimists. The researchers and developers, the planners, the
marketers――all these need to be visionaries. They have to dream things that don’t yet
exist, to explore boundaries beyond the company’s present reach. If they don’t, the
competition will. But imagine a company that consisted only of optimists, all of them fixed
upon the exciting possibilities ahead. It would be a disaster.
The company also needs its pessimists, the people who have an accurate knowledge of
present realities. They must make sure grim reality continually intrude upon the
optimists. The treasurer, the CPAs, the financial vice-president, the business
administrators, the safety engineers――all these need an accurate sense of how much
the company can afford, and of danger. Their role is to caution, their banner is the yellow
These mild pessimists――call them professional pessimists――seem to make good use
of pessimistic accuracy (it’s their stock-in-trade) without suffering unbearably from the
costs of pessimism: the bouts of depression and the lack of initiative we have seen so far
in this book, and the ill health and failure to attain high office that we will see in the later
So the successful corporation has its optimists, dreamers, salesmen, and creators. But
the corporation is a form of modern life that also needs its pessimists, the realists whose
job is to counsel caution. I want to underline, however, the fact that at the head of the
corporation must be a CEO, sage enough and flexible enough to balance the optimistic
vision of the planners against the jeremiads of the CPAs.
Perhaps a successful life, like a successful company, needs both optimism and at least
occasional pessimism, and for the same reason a corporation does. Perhaps
a successful life also needs a CEO who has flexible optimism at his command.