Optimistic melancholy

The good but distant future

Approx. 2 mins to read

I’m not sure yet whether isolation during the global pandemic has simply made me more acutely aware of this feeling, or whether quarantine is genuinely increasing the frequency with which I feel it, but today (and many days before it, and many days generally), I suffer from a great sense of melancholy.

What I’d like to talk about here is the tension between this feeling and the sense of overwhelming optimism which frequently accompanies it. It sometimes feels like melancholy is conflated with pessimism, but (and I acknowledge that others might feel differently), I don’t believe that it should be, and it’s not how I experience it.

Anyone close to me would very likely say that I’m highly optimistic, and that I regularly encourage others to be, too—particularly about the long term. This leads people to believe (and to say as much) that I’m always happy, but happiness and optimism aren’t related to me. They can exist at the same time, but they’re not inextricably linked.

What is true for me is that when I’m feeling particularly melancholic, I find it much more difficult to communicate how optimistic I am. It’s difficult to find the words, or the tone, but the feeling itself isn’t any less. Frequently I can find it in me to push through for some short period of time, but doing so can leave me with far less energy for much else afterwards.

I think about this a lot for a couple of reasons: I believe optimism to be a virtue and believe that (particularly in the macro) we should largely, and collectively, aspire to it. I also believe that we should not assume that optimistic folks are inherently and consistently happy, nor that people who appear to be unhappy cannot be optimistic.

Aside from melancholy, it’s also possible to feel profoundly pessimistic about something happening right now (or in the near future), whilst feeling wildly optimistic about the distant future. In some circumstances, that can be a very helpful and healthy way to exist (at least for me). Discontent with a current situation drives future improvement in it.

I wrote this because I’d like to remind myself today and in the future that it’s perfectly okay to feel this way, and to communicate to others something that might not be obvious about me. I frequently feel melancholy and regularly lack the energy to do do very normal things, but I very rarely feel pessimistic about my future, or for the future in general.

If any of this resonates with you (or heck, even if it doesn’t) and it would help to chat about it, feel free to reach out wherever you find me on the internet.

Apr 30, 2020