The Bright and Dark Sides of Optimism and Pessimism

We got the glass-half-full metaphor all wrong.

Gustavo Razzetti
Jan 12 · 9 min read

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William Shakespeare

Our perception of life is a matter of perspective. We were taught that pessimists see the glass as half-empty while optimists see it as half-full.

Optimism Rules the World

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde

Optimism wasn’t always the ruler. Historically, it was associated with simplistic and unrealistic people, especially in literature such as Porter’s “Pollyanna.” Psychologists, like Freud, dismissed it considering it ‘illusory denial.’

The Half-Empty Frame

“Optimism is not simply the absence of pessimism, and well-being is not simply the absence of helplessness.” — Christopher Peterson

Alison Ledgerwood doesn’t buy that most of us see the glass half-full — she believes that our perception of the world tends to lean toward negative thoughts.

The Optimism Bias

“We are more optimistic than realistic, but we are oblivious to the fact.” — Tali Sharot

Interestingly enough, as Sharot explains in this entertaining talk, we are more optimistic about ourselves and families, but not so optimistic about others, including our own country.

The Bright Side of Pessimism

“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.” — Bob Knight

The defensive pessimist focuses on the worst-case scenario — s/he identifies and takes care of things that optimists miss. This approach can help us better prepare for events that are out of our full control such as a job interview.

Stop Looking at the Glass

“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.” — Henry James

Do you see the glass-half-full or half-empty?

Labels get us stuck

Calling people — yourself included — either optimistic or pessimist gets them stuck. It forces us to adopt one view rather than switching between them as necessary.

Integrate both negativity and positivity

A positive approach to life is not just about seeing only the bright side but accepting the two sides — both optimism and pessimism have advantages and disadvantages.

Life is fluid — empty the glass (and fill it again)

A positive life is more about what we do than the labels we wear.


We help teams and people drive positive change by liberating the best version of themselves. Insights on #leadership #selfimprovement #teambuilding #innovation #orgculture.

Gustavo Razzetti

Written by

I help teams and organizations build purpose-driven cultures. Creator of the Culture Design Canvas. Insights →


We help teams and people drive positive change by liberating the best version of themselves. Insights on #leadership #selfimprovement #teambuilding #innovation #orgculture.

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