Healthy Pessimism

I took an extended, self-imposed break from social media throughout the fall and into winter. It wasn’t 100%, but I did step away from the constant scrolling. I opened my apps only when I had something I really wanted to say or especially liked an image I captured. Otherwise, I stepped off the merry go round. It was peaceful. I didn’t miss the way I compare my life to others and find it lacking. I didn’t miss the hourly doses of manufactured perfection coming at me from every direction.

Speaking of perfection, I can get serious writers block when I sit down to my laptop and don’t have fully formed ideas for a piece of writing in my head. After staring at my screen for a good long while and unable to form any semblance of cohesive thought today, I went looking on my own blog for some inspiration. I found some buried in a particularly gloomy post from last spring. It had been a hard winter (a tough 20 months really, due to a grueling entry into motherhood). I started listening to On Being podcasts and one in particular pulled me from my mental prison. Krista Tippett's interview with Alain de Botton is mostly about love, sex and relationships, but deviates just a bit at the end to discuss a less western approach to life. He suggests an "acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures." 

We have an enormous loneliness around our difficulties. We need solace for the sense that we have gone wrong in an area where perfection was possible. Anyone who comes along and says, "It's normal that you are suffering. Life is suffering," is doing a quite unusual thing in our culture which is so much about optimism. It sounds grim; it is in fact enormously consoling and alleviating and helpful in a culture which is oppressive in its demands for perfection. (We need) a certain kind of pessimistic realism, which is totally compatible with hope, totally compatible with laughter, good humor, a sense of fun.

This was a breath of fresh air then and it is now. That sense of lacking, of less-than, of suffering - it isn't unique to my experience. Suffering is the reality of all of our lives, even if a few of us are able to pretend, from time to time, that it's not.  

Mindfulness is a big part of wellness, and mindfulness is, in essence, a practice of awareness and non-attachment. When we only see perfection in others and demand it of ourselves, we’re moving through life pretty unaware and attached. So here’s an idea for our personal and collective wellness - let’s start to let go of our addiction to presenting and digesting idealized lives. Let’s tell each other our stories of how life is messy and complicated and unglamorous. I’ll start. Because that’s where the good stuff is.


Rebekah Papé is a writer, yoga and wellness teacher and The Riveter member. She teaches yoga and meditation on Fridays at The Riveter Capitol Hill and works with clients one-on-one to support mindful, vibrant lifestyles. 


Photo credit: Amy Galbraith Photography