The way you view the world around you is uniquely yours. Perspectives are shaped through years of experiences and outside influence, so no one is going to think exactly as you do.
That said, it’s still common to divide people’s overall perspectives into two camps: optimism and pessimism. These two groups have very different views on life. Having a generally positive or negative perspective can change the way you act.
If you’ve ever heard someone say, “You’re just a glass half full kind of person” or “You need to look on the bright side,” then you’re probably already familiar with the optimism vs. pessimism debate. What’s the difference? Which one is better? Which one are you?
Answering these questions can help you better understand yourself and others and shed a little light on the different ways people view the world.
Optimistic vs. Pessimistic
Optimism and pessimism have to do with how people form expectations about the world and their lives.
Optimistic people form positive expectations. These people are excited about the future, anticipate positive outcomes and are constantly looking for ways to get even more out of their lives. It’s hard to convince optimists to prepare for problems because they don’t anticipate having any in the first place.
Pessimistic people view the world differently from optimists — they anticipate negative outcomes rather than positive ones. These are the people who told you it was going to rain today.
They can be cynical and difficult to excite, and they’re always finding reasons not to do things. Pessimists always expect the worst, and they’re usually also prepared for it.
Your perspective can influence the way you view events in your life. For example, optimists are more likely to attribute negative experiences to external factors, like someone else making a mistake, whereas pessimists are more likely to think something about them caused the problem.
Though these rules are not set in stone, in general, optimistic people think positively and pessimistic people think negatively.
Which Perspective Is Better?
Many people automatically assume that being an optimist is preferable to being a pessimist. After all, being positive is good, right?
Actually, optimism and pessimism are equally important. It’s better to be somewhere between pure optimism and pure pessimism because an accurate depiction of reality is located in the middle. In fact, some offer a third option of perspective, aptly called “realism.”
Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, psychologists think both perspectives influence motivation. Optimists are motivated by possibility and advancement, while pessimists are motivated by security and safety. Optimists are motivated to perform better by thinking about the positive potential and pessimists are likewise motivated by the possibility of loss or failure.
It’s important to have a balance of both optimism and pessimism since the world is neither fully cruel nor kind. Opting for cautious optimism is probably ideal. Luckily, once you know your tendencies, it’s possible to work on changing the parts of your mindset that might not be beneficial.
Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?
After reading this far, you might already know which perspective you hold. If not, there are plenty of quizzes online to help you determine whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. To get you started, here are a few ways you can tell for yourself.
- If you get angry when things don’t go your way, you might be an optimist. Pessimists are usually more prepared for disappointment, which allows them to experience less pain when things go wrong. If you have trouble controlling your anger when things don’t go your way, it might be because your optimistic expectations are too high to live up to.
- If the stories you tell yourself don’t have happy endings, you might be a pessimist. The narratives we tell about ourselves show a lot about our mental state. If you find yourself using misfortune to define your life, your pessimism might be getting the better of you.
- If you have big dreams and you can’t wait to get there, you’re probably an optimist. Just don’t let yourself get carried away on an adventure if you haven’t packed your bags first.
- If you want to be prepared for every possibility, you’re probably a pessimist. That’s OK! Take your time, but don’t let your fear hold you back.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, as long as you understand your perspective and use it to motivate rather than hinder you. Your perspective — positive or negative — is always valuable when used productively.
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