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Pessimism Versus Optimism

Pessimism can be understood as the tendency to think negatively, while optimism is the opposite tendency to anticipate the best outcome.¹ For instance, a pessimist would more likely anticipate a call from an unknown number to be from a bill collector. In contrast, an optimist would more likely anticipate this call to be from a nice acquaintance that they met the other day.¹ Research demonstrates that there are benefits to being optimistic in some circumstances and pessimistic in others.¹ Optimists, for example, demonstrate fewer depressive symptoms and less suicidal ideation.

While some studies have found that an optimistic outlook can lead to a longer life, others have found that pessimism about the future can actually increase longevity.¹ This can be attributed to pessimists’ tendency to anticipate negative outcomes. This prepares them to deal with difficult emotions by considering a variety of strategies to solve potential problems.³ However, the results of other research show that compared to optimists, pessimists nurtured little hope for the future and were more at risk for depressive and anxiety disorders, with subsequent impairment of social functioning and quality of life.² Pessimism has been linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression. One study even identified increased pessimism as a suicide risk in adults.¹

Ultimately, everyone’s positive and negative expectations regarding the future affect their vulnerability to mental disorders, especially mood disorders.²


  1. GoodTherapy. “Pessimism.” GoodTherapy.Org Therapy Blog, GoodTherapy, LLC, 5 Dec. 2019,

  2. Conversano, C., Rotondo, A., Lensi, E., Della Vista, O., Arpone, F., & Reda, M. A. (2010). Optimism and its impact on mental and physical well-being. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 6(1), 25–29.

  3. Thomas, S. P. (2011). In defense of defensive pessimism. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 32(1).

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It takes practice and dedication to be more optimistic, but it can be learned. One useful approach is to look for the positives in negative situations - look for opportunities, growth, and learning that may come up in difficult times. Also, try to do positive affirmations every day - say affectionate and gentle words to yourself to focus on the belief that things will work out well in the end. I wrote an article a long time ago called How to Be More Optimistic that is sure to motivate you. Finally, take time to connect with people and places that bring you joy and peace so that you can choose positivity over pessimism when you encounter difficulties.

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