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What is a Pessimist?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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A pessimist is a person who nurtures a consistently negative attitude, expecting the worst of people and of situations. This outlook persists regardless of facts or circumstances that might indicate a more balanced or positive reality. He or she relates to the “half empty glass,” ignoring the fact that the glass is also half full. This type of person typically believes that the world is quite bad and is growing bleaker all the time.

Pessimism is a temperamental trait, whereas depression is a clinical disease. In some instances, both pessimism and depression might be present, and it might be possible that a consistently negative attitude could lead to depression. In terms of treatment, this type of person suffers from a habit of thinking negatively that can be willfully changed through treatments like psychotherapy. Persistent depression, on the other hand, is linked to decreased levels of serotonin and typically requires medication.

For some people, a pessimistic attitude serves as a source of sardonic humor and might even be a coping mechanism. People that fall into this category might feel they are actually warding off negativity by being prepared for the worst. "If you continually expect the worse, you are apt to be pleasantly surprised a lot. If you always expect the best, you may be disappointed frequently." This can be a reasonable rationale for some people.

Some researchers believe, however, that this negative attitude might negatively affect his or her health. Studies conducted in the Netherlands between 1995 and 2001 suggest a possible link between pessimism and heart disease. The studies, published in The Archives of General Psychiatry, followed over 900 Dutch citizens from ages 65 to 85 over the six-year period. Each participant was ranked on a scale of optimism and pessimism. The study found that 30.4% of the optimistic participants died during the study period, compared to 56.5% of the pessimistic participants. While factors like diet and smoking were accounted for, it should be noted that participants were not screened for depression.

Whether or not a link does exist with heart disease, it has become widely accepted that a positive attitude is certainly helpful in life. If being a pessimist doesn't shorten life, being an optimist will likely make it more enjoyable.

Virtually anyone who nurtures a habitually negative temperament can transform from a pessimist to a more positive person with time and effort. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy can help a person to change his or her thinking habits. If the cost of therapy is prohibitive, a more affordable method might be for the person to seek out self-help books that teach how to recognize negative thinking patterns and replace them with positive ones. Local classes and seminars might also be of assistance. With practice and diligence, positive thinking can often become a habit.

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Discussion Comments
By anon990519 — On Apr 25, 2015

Optimistic or pessimistic are just human theories. The Bible is a way to proper counsel of life. Optimism has a negative side, and so does pessimism. Check an optimistic person. He takes all his family on a journey without being thoughtful of the negative side of traveling on the road, he gets all his family in a fatal accident and they all die. He invests in a business, gets dumped, frustrated and commits suicide, but if things had worked out, it would have been a good investment and he would be flourishing in life.

On the other hand, a pessimist would save his family and his money. So you see, both have gain. The difference is what matters to you in life. For some it's security and for others chance, I guess. I believe you do not need to struggle to push something living on the edge over the edge.

Luck also comes along to their side as most of pessimist people fall under Capricorn. They are patient and prudent people so they get what they hope for in a step by step manner. Life is not about who gets to the top fast. If it is all about the top and all will get theirs, then it doesn't matter who gets there first, for as both will get the same pleasure of being on top.

The Bible says the race is not for the swift, nor money for those who have knowledge. It all happens to them by chance. Pessimistic people are wise and the Bible talks of the negative side of having wisdom, so is negative said of not having wisdom. Pessimists are blind, but so are optimists. This is so that no man should boast before God.

By anon928014 — On Jan 27, 2014

Well I'd just like to say I am a pessimist and a misanthrope. I came from a very good family. But they were neither well educated nor wealthy people. As I grew older it seemed as if I just grew distance from people. I always felt so different.

I was a model for about six years. During that time I gained so much social notoriety. People were always attracted to me. But all they could ever see was the physical person. No one ever truly ever cared to know what my hopes and dreams were. I spent my life as a public figure who lived my life for other people.

So one day, I packed a suitcase and moved 300 miles away. Long story short, I found love, bought a new house, and even became financially stable. But then 2012-2013 began. The economy took another turn for the worst. I saw millions of Americans losing jobs and their unemployment benefits, as well as other problems such as the defunding of state budgets.

Every day is a mental struggle. I constantly worry about government shutdown or the implementation of martial law.

The point is, I feel that only about 5 percent of the population actually understands what it going on behind this wall of lies and corrupt politics. I just cannot be happy with the level of life that I am provided. I try to achieve more every day. But not even the material things in life bring me pleasure anymore. I feel awful because my lover is such a nice and easy going person. I feel like my negative attitude is such a drag on our relationship. I constantly tell them that we should break up, but they refuse to leave me.

I honestly feel that no one completely understands me, nor do I expect them to. I am very surprised that I haven't given up on life or on drugs or something. An I just now realized that maybe, just maybe that is enough reason to go on living. Thank you so much for this article. You could have very well saved a life today. I really appreciate it.

By anon233828 — On Dec 09, 2011

What if everything that happens to you is always negative? What if everything you do has a negative outcome? No matter what you do negative things just happen. Maybe one is not a pessimist but put here to serve a purpose. Maybe they're here to have bad and negative things happen to them to let everyone see and feel how lucky they are that there not them.

Life has such an irony to it sometimes. There is no half empty or half full glass. What if there is no glass at all? Then what? What if one just accepted what they are in life? That is just the way thing are in life sometimes. Always thinking or saying bad and negative things keep happening to you does not make you a pessimistic person. Maybe you're the pessimist? Maybe they know, realize and accept what they are? That's life sometimes!

By anon187455 — On Jun 17, 2011

People are either evil or too dumb to even speak to. Most are so self interested they will slit your throat in a heartbeat. You are right to be wary of them and this world. It's dog eat dog. There is no good in this world -- just death and decay. And that's the most positive I can be about this hole we call "Earth."

By anon184963 — On Jun 10, 2011

What is major reason for becoming a pessimist?

By anon168938 — On Apr 19, 2011

I am a pessimist with a positive attitude. I pay my bills ahead of time, just in case it happens to get lost for a couple days. I'm not a last minute shopper, items might be sold out on account of any holidays. I get to all my appointments almost an hour ahead of time, because traffic might be heavy or there might be an accident blocking traffic.

If my hubby lies to get out of something concerning his job, I think of what his boss would say if he found out the truth, so I prepare him just in case his boss approaches him.

Yes, I think of the worst outcome in life, and prepare myself for it, but, I never say "see, I told you so", or smirk when I know I'm right. And I always speak positive things to other people, letting them know they can do anything if their heart is in it. I'm happy most of the time, but there are times, like others, even an optimist, when I get depressed about something. So, being a pessimist is not always a bad thing.

By anon144016 — On Jan 18, 2011

I had to end a 16 year friendship because my friend is always negative. He's the worst pessimist I've ever known, always telling me what I am trying to do won't work.

I have done several projects which have made me money and having him around is like dragging a millstone. He's also a very jealous person but I tell him he should try rather than close his mind off.He has made himself into a real loser.

I am happy and successful and he's poor and afraid to try anything to help himself. If everyone in the world were like him, nothing would be done.

By anon132698 — On Dec 07, 2010

I can accept the fact that i am a pessimist, however,

90 percent of the time, it turns out that i was right on

cue when predicting what i did.

By anon123482 — On Nov 02, 2010

I am pessimist because i come from the less fortunate social class. I have university degrees. I am a very hard working person.

However i have not got any job yet so i feel negative all the time. I am telling myself that i will never get a job because you are not wanted by everybody.

I try all the time to be happy and enjoy myself but i cannot. I am always thinking of problems and suffering.

Can you help me please?

By anon90042 — On Jun 14, 2010

"For some people a pessimistic attitude serves as a source of sardonic humor and might even be a coping mechanism. People that fall into this category might feel they are actually warding off negativity by being prepared for the worst."

These two sentences perfectly describe the reason for the unbearable misery surrounding the lives of those closest to a pessimist.

I say pessimists are cowards who hide behind the veil of Murphy's Law to feel good all the time, even when things go wrong. "I told you so" actually makes these self-centered sensitive baby types feel good, which is all they want out of life.

Instead of making mistakes and learning from them, pessimists think they know everything and stagnate in life instead of growing as responsible and reasonable people.

I submit that as an optimist, my views might not be objective, and I have been told by pessimist friends things like, "In the past you haven't done anything like that so you don't know for sure" or "Watch in a few weeks -- you won't be doing that anymore." Sure in their own way they try to be helpful and 'ground' their friends, but the stifling madness of their mother henning borders on paranoid envy at the fact that someone can live their lives devoid of the fear of failure, which pessimists clearly have. (From my perspective of course.)

Thank you for the article, it was very informative.

By anon73310 — On Mar 26, 2010

I am a pessimist. I am generally happy, never depressed because I don’t expect much to begin with. Optimistic people (positive thinkers) annoy me. They are often let down by unexpected occurrences.

I have been put on special projects at work because of my unique ability to find problems before they happen, or before money is spent for development in the wrong direction.

I predict the worse and think of the unthinkable. If anything, I would say it has made me more successful.

On the downside, I drive others crazy and constantly analyze what will or can go wrong with any situation.

I am almost always right, if not pleasantly surprised with the opposite outcome of the event.

I’m a boy scout, always prepared for the worst. I love to say “I told you so”.

In my world things are more likely to go wrong than right, and they do. When they do I’m pleased to have predicted it.

We are what we are. Take advantage of it without trying to be labeled as a negative thinker. Pessimists and negative thinking are two different monsters.

By anon62007 — On Jan 24, 2010

How do you deal with a partner who is a pessimist? It's ruining our relationship by the minute. The situations range from going to meet his family (after two years) to every time we get in the car he thinks the tire is flat. It is driving me insane. i'm thinking of just letting it go. sad

By anon56061 — On Dec 11, 2009

i am a pessimist.

By anon55133 — On Dec 04, 2009

I hate being a pessimist, because it completely ruins the life I know I can have. I am sure that it has caused my depression despite the article saying that psychotherapy can help -- it can't.

Whenever I've gone to therapy I've thought it wouldn't work and because of that, it hasn't, and it never will. It literally ruins my life, and it kills me.

By anon44134 — On Sep 04, 2009

How can you help someone become a positive thinker and not dwell on negative things in life?

By anon32952 — On May 29, 2009

By developing habitual patterns of thinking that are always negative.

By angs — On May 26, 2009

How does someone become a pessimist?

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