Explore pessimism and find out how to overcome it.
We all experience life in unique ways as we pass every word and event through our minds’ filters. When we sift everything through the filter of pessimism, we absorb some information —mainly the negative things—while ignoring the other information, which makes us see mostly the dark side of things. Indeed, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines pessimism as “the attitude that things will go wrong and that people’s wishes or aims are unlikely to be fulfilled” (APA, 2022).
Pessimists typically have a gloomy or skeptical outlook, also known as “seeing the glass half empty.” As a result, they may focus heavily on what can go wrong, be genuinely surprised when things work out in the end, or question the validity of the positive outcomes. Because they always expect the worst things to happen, they aren’t willing to take risks. Moreover, they may think that nothing good will last long and feel as if the rug will be pulled from under their feet at any moment. With this perceived lack of security, they may never feel confident in their successes or position in society. Since they tend to focus on their weaknesses and insecurities, they may have low self-esteem and confidence.
We have discussed what pessimism is, but how does pessimism manifest in everyday life? Here are a few examples.
A student always expects difficult exams and bad grades.
A worker expects to be laid off eventually.
A job applicant expects to fail the job interview.
A person on their way to meet their partner’s parents believes that the parents will hate them.
A husband whose wife didn’t answer her phone worries that something terrible must have happened to her.
On her way to her yearly doctor’s appointment, a woman expects to be diagnosed with a terminal illness.
A person refuses to go out on dates because they don’t expect to find true love.
A driver who hears a strange engine sound expects that their car will break soon, and the repairs will be extremely costly.
A person who didn’t receive a response to their text message assumes that their friend must be mad at them for something.
How To Overcome Pessimism
It might be hard to shake off pessimism, and it is okay to be a little pessimistic. After all, a healthy dose of pessimism can help us prepare for adversities and not get caught off-guard. However, if you want to overcome excessive pessimism, here are a few strategies that can work.
Positive affirmations. One way to keep pessimism at bay is repeating positive statements to yourself. Try writing down a few simple positive affirmations somewhere within your reach and repeat them often. Here are a few suggestions.
Today will be a productive day.
Success is within my reach.
I am capable of doing great things.
I am prepared to do my best.
Things often turn out all right.
Practice gratitude. Pessimists tend to hold on to adverse experiences. Try flipping that script and write down a list of good things that have happened in the past and everything you appreciate. And when you recite your affirmations, also tell yourself something that you are grateful for.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present without judgments. Thus, you avoid attaching a negative label to everything when you practice mindfulness and see things in a more neutral (or realistic) light.
Reframe your thoughts. If you catch yourself expecting adverse outcomes, try to reframe your thoughts. For example, if you tell yourself, “I don’t want to go to this party because I won’t enjoy it,” try saying, “I may or may not enjoy the party, but I won’t know if I don’t go.”
Do what you can and hope for the best. You may still expect the worst. When thinking about a future event, it is important to remember that terrible things are actually rare. And if you put in enough effort and are prepared for the worst, great things do indeed happen.
Nobody chooses to be a pessimist, but some of us have a negative outlook, and our pessimism can suck the joy out of everything. Of course, pessimism isn’t always bad, as long as it is balanced with a healthy dose of optimism. Yet, if you are overly pessimistic, you may start experiencing anxiety and show symptoms of depression. Luckily, pessimism is something we can overcome.
APA (2022). Pessimism. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved 19 May 2022.