Is it safer to be pessimistic? (2023)

What is pessimism?

Pessimism is not a mental illness, it is a mental illnesscharacter traitwhere someone has a more negative or, some say, realistic view of life. A pessimist typically expects adverse outcomes and is cautious when things appear to be going well.

APA definition of pessimism

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines pessimism as "the attitude that something will go wrong and that people's wishes or goals are unlikely to be met."

Pessimism is not a trait most people strive for. It is associated with negativity, glass half full attitude, depression and more.mood swings. However, a healthy dose of negative thinking isn't necessarily bad.

While we're often told to smile, think on the bright side, and make lemonade out of lemons, it's not always practical, advisable, or healthy. In fact, sometimes a little pessimism can be a good thing.

Pessimism vs Optimism

Pessimism is the opposite ofoptimism. While someone with pessimism generally has a negative outlook on life, someone with optimism sees things from a positive angle and tends to see the bright side of things rather than focusing on their downsides.

For example, someone might look at a rainy day with pessimism and think about how it ruined their plans or how unhappy they would feel if they got wet. Someone with optimism would look at the same rainy day and think how good the water will be for the flowers, or would be happy to see a rainbow.


Pessimists expect bad things to happen and tend to look on the negative side of things, while optimists expect good things to happen and look for the bright side when life isn't going well for them.

The pessimism-optimism spectrum

Psychologists align pessimism and optimism. On one side of the line is a pure pessimist who may believe that life is meaningless and purposeless (nihilism) or have a lot of cynicism. At the other extreme is the pure optimist, who can be so positive that he distances himself from reality.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle of the pessimism-optimism spectrum. Everyone has their ups and downs when their mindset is more negative or positive. Life circumstances and the effects of time and experience also influence our relative pessimism or optimism.

People can be more optimistic in one area of ​​life and less optimistic in another. However, the mindset generally leans toward one end of the spectrum. This leads to a more or less pessimistic personality.

(Video) Scientists Want To Make (Some) People More Pessimistic

signs of pessimism

How can you tell if you or someone you know might be a pessimist? Signs of pessimism are:

  • You are surprised when things actually work out.
  • You don't go after what you want because you think you're likely to fail.
  • You tend to focus on what could go wrong in a situation.
  • They feel that the risks almost always outweigh the benefits.
  • your experienceimpostor syndromeand underestimate your abilities.
  • You tend to focus on your flaws or weaknesses rather than your strengths.
  • You are often irritated by people with an upbeat attitude.
  • you usually participatenegative self talk.
  • They assume that all good things will eventually come to an end.
  • You find it easier to live with the status quo than to change things for the better.

While you may not feel all these pessimistic signs or think like this all the time, pessimists tend to engage in many of these ways of thinking to some extent.

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Causes of pessimism

There are many reasons why certain people end up having a more pessimistic personality. They include:

  • Genetic
  • family dynamics
  • previous experiences
  • Social and environmental factors

A study of 5,187 teenage twins and their siblings suggests that genetics can explain a third of the variation in whether someone tends to be pessimistic or optimistic, with the remaining variation being due to their environment.

A fundamental difference between the mindset of an optimist and a pessimist has to do with theirs.explanatory style. This is how people interpret or explain what is happening in their lives.

For example, if someone with pessimism does poorly on a test, they may interpret that negative result as a personal error or lack of intelligence. Someone with optimism might simply attribute low test scores to being tired that day or because it was a difficult test.

(Video) The Difference Between Optimistic and Pessimistic People

effects of pessimism

Those with more pessimistic views tend to have less social support, less resilience, less ability to cope with stress and greater propensity to do so.Depressionjanxiety disorders. A tendency toward pessimism can also affect your outlook on life.

A pessimist will often downplay the positive aspects of a situation while emphasizing their focus on the negative. An optimist will do the opposite, magnifying positive events while minimizing negative ones in a situation.

The tendency to downplay the negative, a trait that encourages optimists to aim high and keep trying even after setbacks, can create a false sense of security that leads to an inability to anticipate and plan for potential pitfalls. It can also surprise an optimist when things don't go as expected.

At the same time, minimizing the negative and maximizing the positive can help an optimist navigate the same difficult times that can lead a pessimist to a darker, more forlorn place.

An optimist may look for new solutions instead of dealing with problems. They are often hopeful for the future and the future.coping skillsovercome difficult moments and prepare them to transform a negative situation into a positive one.

Numerous studies suggest that being less pessimistic than optimistic is more important for good health.In other words, you don't have to be overly cheerful to reap the benefits of not being overly negative. Limiting the negative health effects of overly pessimistic thinking seems to do more than that.Positive thinking.

Benefits of Pessimism

Although the factors that contribute to pessimism are mostly negative, pessimism also has a positive side. In fact, there can be some real benefits to a healthy dose of pessimism.

Pessimists are usually betterprepared for hard timesand you can avoid risks that the most optimistic thinkers might ignore. Research has shown that pessimists tend to anticipate obstacles more easily because they expect things to go wrong, which means they are more likely to anticipate difficulties.

For example, a 2013 study published inJournal of Personality Researchfound that negative thinkers are more likely to build safety nets.They are also more practical and emotionally prepared when things go wrong and don't find their worldview in crisis when bad things happen.

Another study from 2013, this one inpsychology and aging,found an association between underestimating future life satisfaction with positive health and longevity outcomes in older adults.In other words, the study found that thinking your life wasn't going well was linked to some health benefits.

Pessimism can be positive or negative, with both types having an impact on one's life.

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Risks of Pessimism

Too much pessimism has several clear downsides. Some of the biggest pitfalls of being too pessimistic are:

  • Dwelling on negative thoughts is bad for well-being. Studies suggest that women may have higher rates of depression because they have higher rates of depressionugly, melancholy and reflection.Ruminating and meditating are components of pessimistic thinking.
  • Overly negative thinking contributes to depression and anxiety..I likeSymptoms of Anxiety DisordersThey are overly concerned, brooding, and thinking about the worst case scenario. Likewise, bad moods, negative thoughts, low self-esteem and worry are not only characteristics of pessimistic thinkers, but also factors in depression.
  • Pessimism contributes to negative health effects. A negative outlook is associated with a variety of other increased health risks, such as heart disease and all-cause mortality.
  • Pessimists tend to have more stress and less coping skills.. One study showed that pessimism in older people was linked to higher levels of stress, greater focus on the less positive parts of their lives, and a greater tendency to look back more negatively in general, which reduced life satisfaction. .

Pessimistic people tend to experience more isolation, more conflict and stress, poorer health, and lesswell-being. On the other hand, optimists experience healthier stress levels and higher perceived life satisfaction.

A 2015 study found that "greater optimism was associated with better physiological adaptation to a stressful situation, while greater pessimism was associated with worse psychological adaptation to stress."

Another troubling component of pessimism is that it can makestressful situationsthey feel worse than they really are. On the other hand, more optimistic thinking can help a lot when dealing with challenging events.

Pros and cons of optimism

One of the greatest risks of pessimism isNOBe optimist. Important scientific research has found that optimists tend to be healthier, happier, more successful (financially, socially, and in many other ways), and have stronger, more fulfilling relationships.

But life on the bright side isn't always sunny. Downsides of optimism include a greater propensity to take unwarranted risks related to personal health and safety, e.g. for example, not wearing a seat belt or getting vaccinated, or in relation to finances, for example. B. Investing in a risky venture.

Even considering the potential downsides, the benefits of optimism are enormous.

  • Positive thinking correlates with greater relationship satisfaction in dating couples.
  • Greater optimism is also related to greater search probabilitysocial assistancein times of stress and difficulty, along with a reduced level of interpersonal conflict.
  • Greater optimism in couples correlates with better health, as studies have shown that a partner's optimism plays a role in promoting the health of both.
  • Optimism is associated with warmer and more outgoing personality types, and pessimism is associated with more hostile and submissive interpersonal styles.
  • Research has linked optimism to increased longevity.
  • Optimism is also associated with greater life satisfaction, coping skills, social support and more.resilience.

Pessimists may be less surprised when crises strike, but optimists don't stay as long in negative situations as they tend to focus on finding solutions rather than thinking about what went wrong.

live with pessimism

How to maintain optimism without missing opportunities to prepare for crises? There are a number of steps you can take.

(Video) Mark Halperin: Better to Be Optimistic Than Pessimistic

Hoping for the best, planning for the worst

Hoping for the best and planning for the worst allows you to enjoy the many benefits of optimism without feeling vulnerable and unprepared. To reap the benefits of pessimism, think about the things that could go wrong and create contingency and contingency plans to deal with the unexpected. Then focus on the positives and consider these alternative plans.

remember what's important

Taste and remember what you have and intend to cultivategratitude. Stress arises when we feel that the demands of a situation exceed our resources to cope with it. So take the time to take stock of your strengths and resources.

Taking into account the resources availablereduces stressand help you feel empowered throughout your life.That mindset can really help when you're faced with a crisis.

practiceconscienceis another useful strategy. Mindfulness is a technique of focusing on the here and now instead of worrying about the past and the future.

Remember that whatever comes your way will pass.

Positive PsychologyResearch has taught us that major setbacks don't keep people unhappy for as long as they anticipate. After a few weeks or months, people who have had significant experiencesCrisisThey usually return to their normal level of happiness (or unhappiness).

Optimists tend to feel happier overall, and pessimists tend to feel less happy. If you're pessimistic, you can always learnbecome an optimist. Sometimes going through a crisis gives you the right motivation to do it.

A Word from Verywell

“Making the best of things” may be a cliché, but this approach could be the key to good health, longevity and zest for life. In fact, studies show that, outside of people living in poverty, people with a lot of money are generally no happier than those with little.

It's those who have close friends and a strong sense of community, those whofeel gratitude, and those who have a purpose in life feel happier.The bottom line is that a general bias towards optimism is ideal, including some pessimism.

Applying positive psychology to stress management


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