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Pessimism And Optimism Essay

Imagine you divided everyone in the world into two psychological groups. You put all the optimists on one side and all the pessimists on the other (let’s leave the realists aside for now).

Amongst the optimists the conversation would all be about fantastic plans for the future and how things can only get better.

Meanwhile the pessimists are having what might seem to the optimists like a depressing discussion. Far from working out how to make their dreams come true, they’re worrying about all the things that might go wrong. They’re worried that even the things they have will be taken away from them by some cruel twist of fate.

To the optimists, the pessimists seem too down on everything, always just a little too keen to pour cold water on any exciting plans.

To the pessimists, though, the optimists are out of touch with reality. Can’t they see what a nasty, cruel and accident-prone world we live in? They are deluding themselves!

Which is better?

Over the years psychologists have examined many aspects of pessimism and optimism. They’ve wondered whether there are more optimists or pessimists. And they’ve tried to find out which approach is ‘better’. Naturally both camps are fascinated to see which way this one goes.

In fact there’s good news for all. There are some advantages to optimism like it seems to make people feel better about life. But there are also advantages for pessimism in that thinking the worst helps some pessimists cope better with the world.

But we should be less concerned with which is ‘better’ or which camp is larger and more interested in why people see the world in such different ways in the first place.

After all, when an extreme optimist talks to an extreme pessimist, it’s like they come from two completely different worlds. How do people come to be polarized in this way?

What’s my motivation?

A clue comes from a new line of research into how both pessimists and optimists use their differing views of the world to motivate themselves.

We all know how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen in the future. Life is always throwing us curveballs and most of us accept that our plans often don’t work out. It’s not that we’re doing anything wrong, just that life is unpredictable.

To cope with this unpredictability some of us choose to think optimistically because it helps motivate us to try, try again. For others a pessimistic mindset performs the same function. By thinking about what might go wrong it helps protect us against when things do go wrong.

In both cases what the optimistic and pessimistic standpoints are doing is working in service of motivation. Each provides a protective buffer against what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

Insight from anagrams

Evidence for this connection between motivation and optimism or pessimism was found in a new study by Abigail Hazlett and colleagues (Hazlett et al., 2011), published in Social Cognition.

In two initial studies optimists were found to have a ‘promotion focus’. In other words they preferred to think about how they could advance and grow. Pessimists, meanwhile, were more preoccupied with security and safety.

This suggested a connection with motivation, but we need a true experiment for stronger evidence. So, in their third study they had participants trying to solve anagrams. However they were split into two groups. While doing the anagrams half were encouraged to think optimistic thoughts and half pessimistic thoughts.

The researchers also measured participants’ natural tendencies towards either optimism or pessimism. This meant that some people would be using their preferred strategy and others would be forced to think against the grain.

What the results showed was that pessimists performed better when thinking in negative ways. At the same time optimists were more engaged with their task when they were thinking positive thoughts.

It also turned out that people’s performance depended on how persistent they were at trying to crack the anagrams. It seems that when the optimists were using their preferred positive thinking strategy, they were more persistent. And the same went for the pessimists, who were most successful when thinking negative thoughts.

Different strokes

What’s emerging, from studies like this, is that both optimism and pessimism have important roles to play in people’s lives.

Being optimistic allows people to pursue their goals in a positive way: to dream a bigger and better dream, which they can work their way towards. Optimists also seem to respond better to positive feedback, and part of being optimistic may be generating this feedback for themselves, i.e. thinking positive thoughts.

On the other hand being pessimistic may help people reduce their natural anxiety and to perform better. Also, pessimists seem to respond better to negative feedback. They like to hear what the problems were, so they can correct them. Again, part of why pessimists generate these sorts of negative thoughts is that it helps them perform better.

So it’s different strokes for different folks. Optimism and pessimism aren’t just accidents; this evidence suggests they are two different, but effective, strategies of coping with a complex and unpredictable world.

Related Articles

It is a general notion that an optimist will see a glass of water half full but a pessimist will see it half empty. Pessimist is a person with stitched lips but an optimist having the will power to break free from it. The ways we look at things are the key holes for a better future.

I believe that we are run by our positive and negative thoughts and they are the deciders of our future. If we dwell on positivity then positive outcomes are assured but when negativity lures our mind, we are locked up behind our own made up bars.

But sometimes the thoughts which arise in our minds are the results of past memories. If we had a good past with a good start then we will always be filled up with positive vibes but when something bad or distorted happens to us, it makes our lives vulnerable because we dwell on it.

Markus and James were best of friends, like two peas in a pod but with a difference in attitude.

Markus was always a free willed person, and never relied on the door that knocked discouragement. He made the world seem fine when darkness lured his hearth. James was a total opposite, like a parallel line facing another. He could not be pointed out as a negative guy, but a person of assertiveness and false perceptions. As said before, everybody has the past where they can choose to get absorbed in it or to get out of it. James was one of them. He never made an attempt to get out of darkness. He always chose what he never meant to be. One day, Markus and James saw a man cleaning the garbage chute. “If I don’t get a job sooner, I will end up like him,” James said. To that, Markus replied “I think you should get a job so that those people shouldn’t suffer. Make your world better so that they can become better.” That was the power of optimism which left James speechless.

An innovative thought which made James go awe because he never thought it that way. James always saw things with new perceptions that always had a positive outcome even in harsh times. Markus held James’s hand with determination because he wanted to make light visible in his eyes by tearing apart the darkness within him. Darkness over here refers to the inability to reach the ladder of success because one is afraid of heights. Now for example, think of two worlds where one world is ruled by optimism and another one by pessimism.

How would it be?

The optimist would have everything in right manner because their positivity would make it so, but pessimist would remain stagnant, repulsive and opposite minded and it would lead them to an unhealthy environment and to an aimless path.

The success of every individual is possible because of his hopeful, positive and rose-coloured attitude. Many successful people could reach success because their thoughts were progressive, even when their failures were stagnant. The knowledge about optimism will make a person have a different view towards life but when he is ignorant about this quality called optimism, he will miss being real in life, because being scared or imagining defeat never bought good to anyone. It is the very reason why numerous people could achieve what they wanted in their life and that lead to inventions, discoveries and innovation

Thus, the conclusion over here is that an optimist will always remain ahead for success but a pessimist will remain where he is.

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