Germans are often accused of being particularly pessimistic, but apparently, pessimism is only an old person’s problem. Young Germans are optimistic.
I read about an international study that found Germans between 18- and 30-years-old have a carefree view of the future. Eight out of 10 young German citizens expect good things from the future, making them almost as optimistic as Americans, where nine out of 10 are happily looking ahead. And 60 percent believe Germany’s best years still lie ahead.
That’s not fair. I come from a generation of devoted pessimists, who were told the world would last only another 20 years. Part of my childhood memories was the forests dying off. Forests were dying all through my childhood, but now my childhood is over and the forests aren’t dying any more. The forest problem was followed by nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.
We read “The Cloud” by Gudrun Pausewang, a book about how a child became the victim of a nuclear reactor catastrophe. Michael Ende contributed “Momo,” about gray men taking over the world, who steal time from people. Just about every possible effort was made to paint a terrible, depressing future for me.
Then there was the 1990s recession that told us that, sadly, we would never get another job again. And that’s how I became a full-paid-up member of the pessimist generation, who still see a nuclear catastrophe coming and are amazed their children were actually born with arms and legs. Now, those kids are growing up without a care about the future.
The Eurozone is falling apart and economic growth is paralyzed, but European youth are apparently as unconcerned about the future as their American peers.
The Eurozone is falling apart and economic growth is paralyzed, but European youth apparently are as unconcerned about the future as their American peers. They are blithely optimistic. I would love to be, too, but the psychologist Wolfgang Schmidbauer once said that pessimists, in general, have the more realistic attitude. They know that life will turn out badly, that the people you love will die and your own life will become increasingly difficult. Just contemplating this prospect is enough to put anyone in a bad mood once in a while.
The optimist, on the other hand, is far better at suppressing things. What’s coming isn’t so important to them… they just let it happen. A few years ago, that was considered superficial and hollow, while it was the pessimist who was the deep-thinking, intellectual person. Yet studies show that today it’s the optimists who have a better chance of finding good jobs and advancing their careers. They are not more intelligent. They are not more capable. But because they suppress their fears and concerns, they are successful.
By the way, Gudrun Pausewang’s latest book focuses on a nuclear catastrophe happening shortly before the last nuclear power plant in Germany is to be shut down in 2061. If that were to happen, I’d be 87 years old. And if I am not devoured by Alzheimer’s by then, I’ll be able to say, “I told you so.”
I’m already looking forward to that.
The author is an editor at Zeit Magazin. He can be reached at email@example.com