Happy ever after?

Blog pessimist

According to a study of 40,000 people by the American Psychological Association out today, being a pessimist can actually help you live longer. The lower your expectations for what life will bring you in old age, the longer you are likely to live and the better you will be able to cope.

Does that square with your experience of grumpy old men and women? It doesn’t mine. I don’t think a tendency to grumpiness and pessimism means you are going to live longer – it just seems longer.

My dad, who lived to a good, but not extraordinary, age was one of the kindest, cleverest men I’ve ever known, but if ever a glass was half full it was his. He could wake up to a clear blue sky and before he’d put the kettle on he’d be warning, “It won’t last.”
It wasn’t an age thing – he was always a worrier. The most romantic thing he ever did was buy my mother an extravagantly expensive painting with his first proper pay packet after he qualified as a dentist. It was a thank you to Mum for supporting him while he slogged his way through night school, then dental school, till he finally opened his first surgery in up-and-coming Wembley. But before he strapped the painting to the top of the car, he asked the London gallery owner to promise to buy it back should he ever fall on hard times. And the gallery’s handwritten promise is still there in black and white on the receipt – we found it filed away when we were clearing the house.

When we were kids we lived abroad on a boat for a while and even though the boat was as seaworthy as a Caister lifeboat and the water was as flat as a millpond, he would start every crossing worried that the weather would get up and we’d be tossed into the sea like toast on the tide. My sister and I spent so much time reassuring him we never had time to worry ourselves – in the end we made him a cardboard panic box to fix to the wheel to reach for in case of emergency. It was filled with two hand-rolled cigarettes. Happy days.

My mother, on the other hand, who outlived him by seven years, could see the bright side of a damp patch. “Nah,” she’d say as water seeped across the ceiling from a dripping radiator. “Trick of the light,” and trip off to another room with a less-troubling view.

Her glass and her home were always overflowing – with, cats, piles of papers, washing machines – creating a cheerful optimistic clutter and chaos that drove Dad stomping off to his workshop with its racks of chisels and spanners pinned to the wall and the comfort of an unending supply of things that needed fixing. To my dad the sound of grinding gears was a portent of a three-figure garage bill and imminent carnage on the roads. To my mum it was par for the course and a chance for anyone who didn’t like it to offer her a lift.

Dad started dreading old age when he was in his 40’s, and worried most about dying before Mum, convinced that she wouldn’t survive without him. So naturally he died in his sleep after a day spent chopping wood and sorting his workroom. My husband, who popped in on them by chance a few days earlier, said he had never seen him so cheerful. We should’ve known that meant trouble.

Mum, on the other hand, suffered a stroke shortly before she died and knew she was on her way out. But even in her last days she was looking forward, if it was only to the next halting sip of pineapple juice or to seeing Dad, who, she said, sailed past her hospital window at night in that old boat – coming to take her home.

So who is best equipped to face a long old age? The optimists or the pessimists? Let me know by leaving a comment below or Tweet me at @AmandaAtCandis.

4 Responses to Happy ever after?

  1. Helen Stephenson says:

    Hello Amanda

    I think a lot of people tend to worry about everything from money,clothes, houses,cars what neighbours friends think I was one of them then 3 years ago I lost my wonderful Mum to cancer and to have to go through that hell and watch someone you love die in front of you makes you realize that life is far too short to worry, we arent on this earth for long and time should be spent enjoying life and not stressing about things we cannot change! Worry does not help a situation its a pointless waste of negative energy we should savour and enjoy every day and tell our loved ones how much they mean to us and that we love them, for me anyway taking a light hearted and optimistic view of life is so much better than being pessimistic besides doesnt frowning give you wrinkles lol Enjoy life and be happy : )

    • Amanda Blinkhorn says:

      Hi Helen, thank you so much for sharing those wise words – I’m only sorry you had to go through such tough times but I’m sure from what you say that your optimism helped carry you and those you loved through them

  2. Eliza says:

    Hi Amanda
    I’m reading your blogs with great interest. They’re so well-written for one thing – a refreshing change in this short-hand world of txt and msg – ing. FYI (there I go again) I’m from the North and we say a glass is half empty if referring to pessimism, half full if referring to optimism. I’m a follower of my own father in this. A gritty Cumbrian realist, he staved off pain and disappointment by expecting the worst. Optimism is fine, but not if it’s blind! As for longevity, who knows? But I do know that disappointment is a real killer.

    • Amanda Blinkhorn says:

      Thank you for your kind words Eliza – and I agree – a bit of gritty realism goes an awful long way

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