My father once asked me whether I knew what the difference between an optimist and a pessimist was? I said no, and he told me that in a difficult situation a pessimist says “it absolutely can’t get any worse than this”, while an optimist says that “oh, yes, it can!” Being an optimist myself, I found this to be quite amusing.
The majority of people are very aware of the fact that living as an optimist is far better than being a pessimist. Indeed, how can having a such a negative vision of the surrounding world serve us any good? However, despite most of us understanding this, our behavior is far from optimistic. As we grow up, we become more responsible, we get into the work life, people around us fall sick, taxes, children growing up, etc. Life just seems to get more difficult with every coming year. We can all agree that being a pessimist just seems like the easier choice.
The goal is not to blindly believe in a better tomorrow, but to understand why tomorrow can be better than today. Permanent happiness is nonexistent, at least not in Western society. To be honest, happiness isn’t even what optimism is about. Instead, happiness is something that arises from healthy optimism, from the understanding that the world is not trying to make our life more difficult for us. Optimism with a portion of realism is what we should aim at. To understand it better, let us look at some examples of how the mentality of a pessimist differs from that of an optimist.
1. Taking risks
At first glance, it may seem that when it comes to taking risks, being a pessimist might actually be a good thing. A risk means potential failure, and therefore it is good to analyze all of the possible dangers and to be aware of them beforehand. This way we are able to prepare for them to the best of our ability. However, the problem with this is that pessimists tend to focus on dangers a lot more than on the success itself, which hinders the whole risk-taking process. Moreover, if the chances to succeed are not high enough, the risk may never be taken.
Optimists, in this case, focus on success and look for ways to achieve it. With healthy optimism, the potential dangers are also seen, but they are just not perceived as critically even if they do occur. If it happens, it happens – is the usual attitude.
Lastly, because the dangers are not given as much value as they are given by pessimists, bigger risks with more significant outcomes can be made. As the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
2. Temporary vs permanent
A very common characteristic of pessimism is to see problems as permanent. For example, imagine a business situation where the sales have dropped for whatever reason. A pessimist will most likely think that the sales have dropped for good. This will result in excessive panicking and a potential withdrawal from the market. At other times the business owner may just give up.
An optimist in the same situation will give it some time before making any radical moves. That patience and belief in a better future not only reduces the amount of stress, but also allows space for readjusting to the situation and learning a lesson from it. Instead of panic, a new strategy may come into place, creating more opportunity for further success.
Have you ever noticed how one single problem may freak a person out to the extent that they become hysterical? Or have you ever heard people say that their day sucks because everything seems to go wrong? If so, most likely this person has a pessimistic approach to life.
With pessimism, people often generalize problems and make them a lot bigger than what they really are. Whenever a problem occurs, they tend to see a whole lot of other problems added on to it too.
With optimism, a problem that had occurred stands on its own. It is a problem of a specific situation, and nothing more. It is also dealt with in isolation from other problems. This, once again, reduces the amount of stress, anxiety and confusion, and allows for a quicker solution to come.
4. Me vs they
With pessimism, a lot of what happens in the world is directly linked to the person that is observing it. For example, if someone gives a pessimist a funny look, they may take it personally and think that the one looking has something negative to think or say about them. An optimist in this situation will either not care, or think that the person may simply be having a bad day.
Another example is related to driving a car. A pessimist, making a mistake on the road, will often say that all the other drivers are wrong, and might even call them names. An optimist minds his own business and puts more focus on the road instead of the driving skills of others.
5. Being open and honest
The same people that focus more on the negative, are the same people that have troubles trusting others. When it comes to a loving relationship, pessimists usually need more time to get accustomed to the other person and to trust them. While they are not necessarily selfish, they may have troubles believing in one hundred per cent honesty of the other person. Therefore, it is safe to say that if a relationship gets tough, you would rather be in one with an optimist.
Pessimists tend to anticipate some kind of hidden agenda from others. For example, one person may be helping another with a move to a different city, or with teaching them a foreign language. The one helping might want to ask for money for either the petrol that was used for the move, or for the many hours spent helping to learn the new language. A pessimist in this moment might disregard all of the value and help received, and instead focus only on the part where they have to pay that person. They think that the money was the main reason why they were helped.
An optimist in this case not only focuses primarily on the valuable information and help received, but also on paying the person before they even ask for it. Optimists understand that help from others is worth a lot and that people offering it need to be thanked in some way, be it money or help in return.
Even though the benefits of optimism are apparent, people have a hard time living it. Optimism is not something you follow once in a while, but rather a lifestyle. And while many people focus more on the negative, the majority of people are a mix of the two, which is also not bad.
However, if you feel that you belong more to the first group of people, I urge you to reconsider your world views. Use the above examples to be aware of the way you look at life. Not only will optimism help you to experience more joy, peace and happiness, but you will be able to positively affect the people around you.