The dark side of optimism: Musical dreams, belief, and gambling

Musgrave, George; Gross, Sally-Anne and Klein, Maike. 2024. The dark side of optimism: Musical dreams, belief, and gambling. Musicae Scientiae, ISSN 1029-8649 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Being a career musician is typified by high risk. Despite low earnings, many musicians pursue their careers driven by self-belief, high expectations, and optimism. However, failure to obtain the success many optimistically aspire to has been seen to pose psychosocial risks relating to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. While studies have shown dispositional optimism as having many health-related benefits, it has also been conceptualised negatively in encouraging a tendency towards loss-making in one key area: gambling. In this article we develop the argument that the risks of professional music-making are analogous to gambling, and the optimism displayed by many aspiring career musicians may therefore represent a form of what Berlant calls cruel optimism, with negative effects on mental health and wellbeing. In doing so, we draw on Berlant’s theoretical position to examine the potentially harmful intersections between risk-taking behaviours and creative desire. Drawing also on our clinical experience, we consider when and how musicians who are emotionally struggling with their work might find it advantageous to reorient their careers, or even withdraw from the labour market altogether, to support their health and wellbeing, and the challenges around the loss of identity these can present.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


musicians, wellbeing, mental health, risk, costly persistence, cruel optimism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute for Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship (ICCE)


16 January 2024Accepted
19 February 2024Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

17 Jan 2024 09:57

Last Modified:

19 Feb 2024 14:49

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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