Optimism Versus Pessimism

Presented by BetterHelp.

Do you know people who always seem super sunny and content? Who seem to always see the “glass half full” and try to make the best of every situation?

What about people who always seem a bit grim and dark? Who tend to see the “glass half empty” and focus more on the negative?

Why are some people more optimistic and some people more pessimistic? And what about being “realistic”?

This article will dive into these questions and explain the relationship between optimism/pessimism and psychology and the mental health implications.

So, read on to learn more!

The Science of Optimism and Pessimism

There’s a fascinating body of scientific literature and research on optimism and pessimism, and it’s far more than this short article can cover. That said, we’re going to take a look at the neuroscience behind optimism and pessimism and, a bit later on, how you can work on achieving a more positive and moderated mindset.

Scientists can explain optimism through various biases. There are three primary ones:

  • The fading affect bias – This bias comes from the fact that negative emotional experiences tend to fade faster than more positive ones.
  • The “just world” hypothesis – This belief is largely perpetuated in society and suggests that the world is largely fair, whether that’s influenced by religious beliefs or secular ones. For example, whether someone says that “God is just” or something like “He had it coming” or “What goes around comes around.”
  • The planning fallacy – This fallacy refers to our consistent underestimation of how long things take, even when we’ve done them a hundred times before.

Pessimism also has its underpinnings in cognitive biases, for example our emotions tend to skew negative, and we tend to spend more time worrying and thinking about negative experiences. We also tend to jump to the worst-case scenario, which can be referred to as “awfulizing.”

As we will see below, however, both optimism and pessimism are essential to human behavior.

If you would like to learn more about optimism and pessimism and how it relates to psychology and mental health, you might consider the helpful guidance available online through BetterHelp.

Is Optimism or Pessimism Better?

So, the question that many people want to know the answer to: “Is optimism or pessimism better?”

The answer isn’t so simple, however. Some of us are more innately optimistic or pessimistic, and that’s generally okay, so long as we aren’t way in the extreme of one or the other.

Optimism helps keep us motivated. If we had zero optimism, it would be quite hard to even get out of bed, do our work, cook, clean, etc.

On the other hand, pessimism can help keep us from being too naïve and from being taken advantage of. It can also help us recognize our limits, which is important in order to not be continually disappointed.

Finding a Balance

So, is optimism or pessimism better? As in most things in life, finding the right balance is key! So, read on for a few helpful tips to help keep you straying too far into either extreme.

Pause Before Speaking

Thinking before you speak (or act) can totally revolutionize your life. If you are a pessimist, your gut instinct might be to contribute something negative. If you pause just a second, however, you may be able to more readily overcome that tendency.

People in general will appreciate you more if you do not always contribute something extremely pessimistic or optimistic each time you open your mouth. It can be difficult, but you can train this with time. You will appear more thoughtful as well, as an added bonus.

Practice Gratitude

One of the best things anyone can do is develop a routine of practicing gratitude. You can simply sit and reflect on what and who you have in your life that you are grateful for.

When we relativize our own situation, we are much less likely to give in to total pessimism and cynicism. After all, most of us have lots to be grateful for. For example, the simple fact that you’re reading this means that you have an internet connection and a computer or phone.

Lean on Your Support System

It’s vital to have at least one person in your life who you can count on for unconditional love and support. And when you feel like you may be in the extremes of either pessimism or optimism, it can be really helpful to talk to others.

When we feel extremely up or down, other people can give us an important perspective that can help us rediscover a healthier equilibrium. Be sure to nurture your relationship with your support system—and return the favor—so that you can have this important connection when you need it.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Mistakes and failure are simply a part of life—as a matter of fact, an absolutely essential part of life. Why? Without making mistakes, we don’t progress as human beings. It’s true for schoolwork, learning a language, learning an instrument, cooking, and just about everything else.

If you learn from your mistakes, you’re much more likely to have a positive and constructive view about failure, which is an important trait shared by successful people.

Laugh It Off

Humor is a wonderful tool for developing a more positive mindset. Rather than immediately complain and think only of the negative, a little levity can go a very long way. It will also have the benefit of helping the people around you feel better about the given situation.

Not taking things—including yourself—too seriously is also essential in order to not go too far in the direction of naivete and unbridled optimism.

Stay Present

Mindfulness is a great practice for staying in the present. Whether you practice meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or journaling, there are many ways to help you process what’s happening in your life and stay grounded.

Much of the consternation in our life comes from dwelling on the past or having fear or excessive hope for the future. If we can remain more focused on the present, we’ll tend to stay more balanced. 


Optimism versus pessimism: which is better? Who’s to say, really! Both optimism and pessimism have their place in our lives.

What’s most important is that we try to stay away from the extremes of one or the other. Practicing the tips above can help you stay balanced and more mentally healthy, no matter what’s going on in your life.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov