Pessimism is a negative mental attitude in which an undesirable outcome is anticipated from a given situation. Pessimists tend to focus on the negatives of life in general. A common question asked to test for pessimism is "Is the glass half empty or half full?"; in this situation, a pessimist is said to see the glass as half empty, while an optimist is said to see the glass as half full. Throughout history, the pessimistic disposition has had effects on all major areas of thinking.
In the ancient world, psychological pessimism was associated with melancholy, and was believed to be caused by an excess of black bile in the body. The study of pessimism has parallels with the study of depression. Psychologists trace pessimistic attitudes to emotional pain or even biology. Aaron Beck argues that depression is due to unrealistic negative views about the world. Beck starts treatment by engaging in conversation with clients about their unhelpful thoughts. Pessimists, however, are often able to provide arguments that suggest that their understanding of reality is justified; as in Depressive realism or (pessimistic realism). Deflection is a common method used by those who are depressed. They let people assume they are revealing everything which proves to be an effective way of hiding. The pessimism item on the Beck Depression Inventory has been judged useful in predicting suicides. The Beck Hopelessness Scale has also been described as a measurement of pessimism.
Wender and Klein point out that pessimism can be useful in some circumstances: "If one is subject to a series of defeats, it pays to adopt a conservative game plan of sitting back and waiting and letting others take the risks. Such waiting would be fostered by a pessimistic outlook. Similarly if one is raking in the chips of life, it pays to adopt an expansive risk-taking approach, and thus maximize access to scarce resources."
Through history, some have concluded that a pessimistic attitude, although justified, must be avoided to endure. Optimistic attitudes are favored and of emotional consideration. Al-Ghazali and William James rejected their pessimism after suffering psychological, or even psychosomatic illness. Criticisms of this sort however assume that pessimism leads inevitably to a mood of darkness and utter depression. Many philosophers would disagree, claiming that the term "pessimism" is being abused. The link between pessimism and nihilism is present, but the former does not necessarily lead to the latter, as philosophers such as Albert Camus believed. Happiness is not inextricably linked to optimism, nor is pessimism inextricably linked to unhappiness. One could easily imagine an unhappy optimist, and a happy pessimist. Accusations of pessimism may be used to silence legitimate criticism.
Personality Plus opines that pessimistic temperaments (e.g., melancholy and phlegmatic) can be useful inasmuch as pessimists' focus on the negative helps them spot problems that people with more optimistic temperaments (e.g., choleric and sanguine) miss.
Philosophical pessimism is not a state of mind or a psychological disposition, but rather it is a worldview or philosophical position that assigns a negative value to life or existence. Philosophical pessimists commonly argue that the world contains an empirical prevalence of pains over pleasures, that existence is ontologically or metaphysically adverse to living beings, and that life is fundamentally meaningless or without purpose.
There are several theories of epistemology which could arguably be said to be pessimistic in the sense that they consider it difficult or even impossible to obtain knowledge about the world. These ideas are generally related to nihilism, philosophical skepticism, and relativism.
Richard Rorty, Michel Foucault, and Ludwig Wittgenstein questioned whether our particular concepts could relate to the world in any absolute way and whether we can justify our ways of describing the world as compared with other ways. In general, these philosophers argue that truth was not about getting it right or representing reality, but was part of subjective social relations of power, or language-games that served our purposes in a particular time. Therefore, these forms of anti-foundationalism, while not being pessimistic per se, reject any definitions that claim to have discovered absolute 'truths' or foundational facts about the world as valid.
There is another strain of thought generally associated with a pessimistic worldview, this is the pessimism of cultural criticism and social decline which is seen in Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. Spengler promoted a cyclic model of history similar to the theories of Giambattista Vico. Spengler believed modern western civilization was in the 'winter' age of decline (untergang). Spenglerian theory was immensely influential in interwar Europe, especially in Weimar Germany. Similarly, traditionalist Julius Evola thought that the world was in the Kali Yuga, a dark age of moral decline.
Conservative thinkers, especially social conservatives, often perceive politics in a generally pessimistic way. William F. Buckley famously remarked that he was "standing athwart history yelling 'stop!'" and Whittaker Chambers was convinced that capitalism was bound to fall to communism, though he was himself staunchly anti-communist. Social conservatives often see the West as a decadent and nihilistic civilization which has abandoned its roots in Christianity and/or Greek philosophy, leaving it doomed to fall into moral and political decay. Robert Bork's Slouching Toward Gomorrah and Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind are famous expressions of this point of view.
Technological pessimism is the belief that advances in science and technology do not lead to an improvement in the human condition. Technological pessimism can be said to have originated during the industrial revolution with the Luddite movement. Luddites blamed the rise of industrial mills and advanced factory machinery for the loss of their jobs and set out to destroy them. The Romantic movement was also pessimistic towards the rise of technology and longed for simpler and more natural times. Poets like William Wordsworth and William Blake believed that industrialization was polluting the purity of nature.
Bibas writes that some criminal defense attorneys prefer to err on the side of pessimism: "Optimistic forecasts risk being proven disastrously wrong at trial, an embarrassing result that makes clients angry. On the other hand, if clients plead based on their lawyers' overly pessimistic advice, the cases do not go to trial and the clients are none the wiser."
This article speaks to the classic view that mental health requires accurate self-perception. Using a representative British sample (N = 1,601) it finds that, as measured by two established well-being indicators, those with mistaken expectations, whether optimistic or pessimistic, do worse than realists. We index unrealistic optimism as the difference between financial expectations and financial realizations measured annually over 18 years. The effects are not small, with those holding the most pessimistic (optimistic) expectations experiencing a 21.8% (13.5%) reduction in long-run well-being. These findings may result from the decision errors and counteracting emotions associated with holding biased beliefs. For optimists, disappointment may eventually dominate the anticipatory feelings of expecting the best while for pessimists the depressing effect of expecting doom may eventually dominate the elation when the worst is avoided. Also, plans based on inaccurate beliefs are bound to deliver worse outcomes than would rational expectations.
Turning Negativity into Productivity Dealing with a pessimist on your team can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Attempts to ignore or counter frequent negative comments may simply incite further negativity. Good news: by being proactive you can help the pessimist change his behavior and enable your team to achieve greater productivity.
Everyone strives to have a healthy and balanced mindset. What makes a person healthy mentally? Who is better, the optimist, pessimist, or realist? Which one are you? It is time we dig deeper into these three personas.
Pessimistic optimists are persons who are both optimistic and pessimistic. They have negative thoughts and fears, but they balance this out with seeing the good and positive outcomes of the situation.
There is nothing wrong with being optimistic, pessimistic, real, and wishing for the ideal. What matters most is that you know and are aware of realities and how things work. You can both be hopeful and expect the worse at the same time.
Humans consistently search for meaning to explain life events. When a person views situations from a pessimistic mindset, this is considered a negative bias (Dember, Martin, Hummer, Howe, & Melton, 1989).
Individuals who are pessimistic will often interpret negative events as internal, global, and stable; whereas positive events are often viewed as external, specific, and unstable (Gillham, Shatte, Reivich, & Seligman, 2001). These relationships are presented in Figure 1 below.
Importantly, however, an association between pessimism and negative outcomes is not always straightforward, as it is possible to feel simultaneously pessimistic and optimistic about a situation. Moreover, defensive pessimism may actually be beneficial in some situations.
While studies have often reported better outcomes from optimists versus pessimists (Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994), more recent research has also addressed the role of a realistic mindset, in which expectations are based in reality versus fantasy or illusion.
The researchers found that having realistically pessimistic (versus unrealistically optimistic) health expectations was related to both reduced depressive symptoms and risk of death. Similarly, unrealistic optimism (versus realistic optimism) when health is deteriorating was associated with a 313% higher death rate. 781b155fdc