5 Differences Between Optimists And Pessimists

Optimism maximizes potential as pessimism squashes it. Look at these five distinguishing differences between optimists and pessimists and tell me – which one are you?

1. Optimists Believe They Are In Control

Optimists believe they can shape their future. They see no reason why tomorrow can’t be better than today was, and they’re right. Circumstances and prior failures don’t matter as much to an optimist.

An optimist’s worldview is such that life improvement is expected. This loops and strengthens itself over time through positive reinforcement, especially with the right strategies.

But pessimists often feel no sense of control over their lives. If they believed they had control, they wouldn’t be pessimists, because that would mean that they choose negative outcomes. Quite often, pessimists base their gloomy expectations on prior experiences. They fail to understand the concept of 2nd, 3rd, and 33rd chances.

2. Optimists Are Forward-Looking

Yesterday is filed away as a joyful or educational experience in the mind of an optimist. There is no day like the present, and hey, tomorrow is looking pretty good too.

Have you thought about this? The present moment is completely neutral. Anything (good or bad) can happen from this moment on. So the optimist sees this neutrality as an opportunity to make something good happen. Another optimist skill is connecting how today’s positive actions almost guarantees a better future.

Pessimists are not forward-looking in general. Yes, they look ahead and see a bleak future, but they often base it on the past, where they like to hang out and drink slurpees. Do you know of any super successful and happy people who see their future as bleak? If so, it’s probably because of some recent news or traumatic event, not their past.

Even if your past was rough, it is possible to have a bright outlook if you believe in yourself (next on the list).

The past can cripple you if you live in it. It can hold you back if you believe you’ve already hit your ceiling. Or it can teach you if you examine it.

If you want to be an optimist, let your past become weightless life lessons. It’s a choice.

3. Optimists Are Confident In Themselves

Confidence is a determining factor for optimism and pessimism. Optimists believe they can overcome whatever life throws at them and continue on their way. Pessimists don’t believe this, and so are “victims” of circumstance.

If you lack confidence, you might be a pessimist for the simple reason that you don’t believe you can do it. The best way to fix this problem is to learn the skills you need in order to succeed. Change your definition of success to progress and focus on what you can succeed with now.

Example: You want to write a Best-selling novel, but you’re pessimistic because of your current writing ability.
Solution: Get better! Change your goal to writing any book or learning how to write better. Stephen King wrote three full books before he had one published.

Remember, it’s hard to be pessimistic when you know you can do it.

4. Optimists See Possibility. Pessimists See Problems.

The positive-minded person says, “What should I do next? There are so many exciting options!”
The negative-minded person says, “What should I do next? I’ve got so many problems to deal with!”

Problems are a part of life. I’ve found it best to ignore the ones you can’t do anything about. A pessimist can see an optimist with the same problems and think, “well, if they had my issues, they wouldn’t be so peppy!” It’s not true. People with all sorts of problems cope with them and still move their lives in a positive direction.

Sometimes the best way to deal with life’s problems is to say, “so what? I’m deciding to move forward.”

5. Optimists Have Better, But Shorter Lives

Optimism produces a better life of course… but shorter!? Yes, according to a recent study.

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” (study 1)

Before you pronounce optimism dead, take a closer look at how they reached this conclusion…

“Five years after the first interview, 43 percent of the oldest group had underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25 percent had predicted accurately and 32 percent had overestimated, according to the study. Based on the average level of change in life satisfaction over time for this group, each increase in overestimating future life satisfaction was related to a 9.5 percent increase in reporting disabilities and a 10 percent increased risk of death, the analysis revealed.” (study 1)

it isn’t clear which of these people were optimistic or pessimistic – it just measured their expectations to actual life satisfaction years later. The people defined as “overly optimistic” could have been slightly pessimistic and had worse life outcomes than expected. And the people defined as “pessimists” who underestimated life satisfaction could have been slightly optimistic and had their expectations exceeded.

A different study found that optimism seems to protect heart health.

“The most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers,” said Julia Boehm, research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH. (Study 2)

And a sense of well-being (clearly connected with optimism) gives many other benefits…

“They found that individuals with a sense of well-being engaged in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, greater well-being was related to better biological function, such as lower blood pressure, healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles, and normal body weight.” (Study 2)

I believe there is a takeaway point here.

According to this research, realistic expectations help us to make smarter choices, and general optimism is very good for the mind and body. To go along with the obvious benefits of an optimistic mindset, it makes sense to be optimistic about your future, but not to let it blind you to life’s turbulence. Neither blind optimism or blind pessimism are good for you.

So be a realistic optimist. :-)

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29 Responses to 5 Differences Between Optimists And Pessimists

  1. Dan Erickson says:

    What? A shorter life. Oh, now I have that to worry about, too. Of course I’m being facetious, but that’s in interesting fact. Great post.

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  3. Aaron Morton says:

    There is a place for both mindsets I believe. Optimism will help you persevere, pessimism will help you see potential challenges that you can then work out strategies to avoid.

    A good distinction article.

    Aaron Morton

  4. I was surprised to find that, especially because most other studies find a correlation between optimism and good health. An interesting thought: would an optimist also see their past as better than it really was? If so, it wasn’t accounted for in the study and the results would imply the opposite of what they claimed.

    I’ve always been optimistic, and I have noticed that when I look back at what has transpired, I feel better about it than maybe I should. When you see the past as life lessons and a conduit to where you are now, and you’re happy now, then you won’t likely be disappointed.

  5. “pessimism will help you see potential challenges…”

    That’s a good point Aaron. Incessant optimism likely isn’t a great idea because it can blur our eyes to reality.

  6. bravokilotwo says:

    Excellent article but I have to disagree on one point…Optimism is not always believing one is in control. I argue that optimism is accepting things or life as it is and on its own terms. Some things we control and some we don’t-optimism and happiness are understanding the difference and acting appropriately in each case. Believing you are completely in control is setting yourself up for disappointment.

  7. Thanks Bravo, I see what you’re saying.

    I agree – we can’t control all things (and I didn’t mean to imply that in the article if I did). But the things we can control (our mindset and actions) make all the difference in most cases.

    “Believing you are completely in control is setting yourself up for disappointment.”

    You have no direct control over the world (influence, yes, but not control) or your results. But you are completely in control of what you do. So I think a good idea is to expect good results to come from your actions (optimism), but understand you can’t control the world (realism).

  8. growthguided says:

    What about the idea of optimism being relate to surrender. I surrender to what the day brings but anticipate positive experiences!

  9. “Surrendering to what the day brings” sounds too passive to me, but I see what you’re saying. Why not carpe diem though?

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  11. Mind Powering says:

    Being in control, forward looking and self-confident sounds like the recipe for success to me so…

    Optimists rule ok!

  12. Lorenz Mac says:

    I agree that both optimism and pessimism have their benefits. The world needs both but the article is spot on when it states that optimists believe that they’re in control. I’m a firm believer that when you believe you can do something, it is eventually going to happen.

    Don’t ever lose sight of your goals :)

  13. I’m a believer in that philosophy too! Cheers Lorenz.

  14. Thanks Mind Powering! Optimists rule, but if they don’t, they’ll expect to soon. :-)

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  19. I believe that both optimistic and pessismistic views can always help you survive. This is really informative as I understand more that pessimistic view is not always looking for pitfalls. Do you agree that being pessimistic can also brings positive feedback on a person?

  20. Jeffrey James says:

    Agreed. Optimists can learn from pessimists how to see the problems in an idea. Pessimists can learn from optimists how to overcome the problems in an idea. But if you have to pick one over the other, be an optimist

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  23. Mustapha Mohammed says:

    Been in between is the best option – not been too optimistic in everything and been a little bit of pessimistic. A little to the left and a little to the left – not a bad game. Good article.

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  25. Allie Shepherd says:

    Hm – the reason I disagree with this is because though Optimists may THINK they are in control, most times, they aren’t. I don’t see how believing a non-truth is helpful in any situation.

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  27. Rafael says:

    Optimists believe they can shape their
    future. They see no reason why tomorrow can’t be better than today was, the pessimist is always right.

  28. Cliven says:

    Unfortunately for the veracity of this article, people seem to be wired for optimism or pessimism. It’s really easy to say “be an optimist” but, unfortunately if you are a pessimist, even working to be an optimist doesn’t just happen by reframing the situation at hand: under the surface you will still be more or less a pessimist with a tendency to think of things in the worst possible light. This articles smacks of being written by someone who’s never actually bothered to investigate pessimism, and just assumed it can be dropped on demand, when in fact it is an entire structure, the base code of the operating system for that person, that is in place and is not a mere habit. It may even be a matter of biology.

    I would also like to point out in defense of pessimism that I’ve seen optimists get themselves into situations that were absolutely ridiculous and who would deny the value of pessimistic caution, and then had to completely redo something at great cost because they refused to take precautions. One of them even bankrupted himself by being too optimistic.

    While I very actively strive to be optimistic in almost everything and maintain a joyful attitude it is systemic to be optimistic or pessimistic. It is not a mere choice.

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