The Other Side of the Coin: Pessimism

Pessimism is, according to the Oxford dictionary, “a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen” or, as I like to define it, a perception of events as inherently negative and discouraging — that includes blaming yourself and having a negative worldview and low sense of confidence.

I understand why someone would choose to become a pessimist. After my dad’s assassination, the most natural way for me to react to such a tragic act would have been to become a pessimist outright. I knew that my life was going to be different, but I decided that it was going be unique.

I knew my life would be forever touched by that event, but I decided to always appreciate the fact that I was given another chance. I knew my life would be twice as hard, but I decided that my life would be twice as good.

Pessimists are people who expect the worst so they are never unpleasantly surprised. They think about the world in terms of “always” or “never.” They often feel entitled and like they are the victims of circumstances. Where optimists see possibilities, pessimists see problems.

Seligman says in his great book The Optimistic Child, “Pessimism is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement and even unexpectedly poor physical health.”

Pessimism is essentially a bad habit developed from exposure to poor examples from parents, teachers, or others who provided major influences during the formative years of our lives.

Pessimism has been proven by thousands of researchers to have not only damaging effects over time but also, more worryingly, a strong correlation with negative life outcomes, including decreased life expectancy, poor mental health, decreased success in work and sports, and a harder time with adversity. For me, the threat of these would be more than enough reason to get a little positivity into my life.

Thinking patterns or habits like pessimism are reinforced by repetition. The more you repeat it, the more likely you are to keep doing it. By the time a person reaches adulthood, these habits become deeply entrenched in us and our personalities, values, and beliefs.

How do they affect us?

Rather than allowing us to see the situation as it is, these patterns superimpose themselves onto our perception of reality. The same training of repetition is used when training animals, like dogs, to learn certain skills.

One of the reasons why I decided to write a book at such a young age was because I’ve realized that my generation is one of the most pessimistic in human history, and I wanted to urge them to become more optimistic.

In this globalized and changing world, we need more optimists to solve the challenges ahead, and if we don’t become more optimistic people, we will barely stand a chance.

We’re taking progress for granted and not learning enough from the past, from all the struggles and difficulties our predecessors lived through.

Today, more people die from accidents than from violence.

More people die from eating too much than from eating too little.

More people die from old age than from infectious diseases.

This generation is living at a better time than all the rest of human history.

And Now, A Quiz

Take this quiz to determine whether you are an optimist or pessimist.

A. You’re told the situation is hopeless; how do you react?

  1. “I’m really surprised.”
  2. “I don’t believe it.”
  3. “It always seemed likely.”
  4. “It’s just what I expected.”

B. You’re single and trying to ask someone out. The first person you try says no. What do you do then?

  1. Move on to the next person and try again.
  2. Think, “I’m ugly to that person but I’ll try again.”
  3. Think, “I’m ugly to everyone but let’s try one more time.”
  4. Give up and never try again.

C. Choose the exclamation you use the most:

  1. Nice!
  2. 2. OMG!
  3. 3. Wow!
  4. 4. Ugh!

D. You have a pop quiz in math. You haven’t studied lately, and it’s pretty hard. You:

  1. Talk to your teacher.
  2. Just try your best.
  3. Take your quiz and hope you get a good score.
  4. Don’t even attempt to do well.

E. You overhear your name in a group of people you know, but not that well. What’s your first thought?

  1. Meh, it’s probably another person with my name.
  2. Ooh, wonder what they’re saying!
  3. Oh no, what are they saying?
  4. I’m sure they’re saying something bad, but who cares.

F. You’re about to get on a roller coaster; what’s the worst that could happen?

  1. I could make a bad face for the picture they’ll try to sell me later.
  2. We could get stuck up there for hours; I’ve seen it happen!
  3. Um, the whole thing could crash to the ground, killing all of us.
  4. You won’t see me on a rollercoaster. Do I look like I want to die today?

Have your answers now? Great. Add up the numbers you chose and then divide them by 6.

If you got:

  1. You’re an optimist.
  2. You’re an optimist with some pessimistic tendencies.
  3. You’re a pessimist who sometimes tries to find the positive side of things.
  4. You’re a pessimist.

The first step of change is to realize and identify what you are and how you really think. And then, once you’re aware of your own thoughts, actions can ultimately lead to us achieving our goal of becoming optimists.

From the book Generation Optimism by Juan David Campolargo Copyright © 2019 by Juan David Campolargo. Published by New Degree Press.

In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Generation Optimism. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect with me on social media: Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

You can also find my book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble — here is the link to buy it: [HERE]



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Juan David Campolargo

I do and share “stuff” that makes people more optimistic, ambitious, and curious. Learn more about me and read more (